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U.S. official asks to keep lid on Union Carbide case

U.S. official asks to keep lid on Union Carbide case

Indian-U.S. relations are going to be pretty important for the foreseeable future. I’d imagine, then, that implicitly threatening the victims of the Bhopal Union Carbide (now owned by Dow Chemical) disaster of 1984 to be quiet or else isn’t a very smart thing.

Apparently deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman didn’t get that memo.

India’s Planning Commission deputy chairman sent Froman an e-mail requesting U.S. assistance in securing a loan from the World Bank. Froman replied that he’d look into it, and then proceded to lose all common sense:

While I’ve got you, we are hearing a lot of noise about the Dow Chemical issue. I trust that you are monitoring it carefully… I am not familiar with all the details, but I think we want to avoid developments which put a chilling effect on our investment relationship.

In case, like Froman, you’re not familiar with the details of Bhopal, 25 years ago, a large amount of methyl isocyanate leaked from the plant and spread over the city, killing at least 3,000 immediately and contributing to the deaths of approximately 25,000 more. Local journalists had repeatedly warned that the plant suffered from lax safety regulations to no avail. Birth defects, cancers, growth deficiency, and other health issues are abnormally high in the affected area.

Finally last June employees of the plant received punishment. Local Indian managers were convicted, but received what were perceived as little more than slaps on the wrist. Campaigners have demanded Union Carbide — including then chairman Warren Anderson — itself be reprimanded, but no action has been forthcoming. Amnesty International called the convictions "too little, too late." 

Making Froman’s e-mail even more asinine, his threat wasn’t even credible. Regardless of further actions taken against Dow Chemical, the U.S. is going to invest a lot of money into India for both geopolitical and economic reasons — making Froman’s message one that really should have stayed in his drafts folder.