A relative calm

Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and subsequent government contract work given to Halliburton, protesters have made huge showings at the company’s annual shareholder meetings.
But this year, while the protests continued, the detractors were calmer and fewer in number. That’s in part because Halliburton moved its annual meeting to Duncan, Okla., instead of at its traditional Houston hotel venue.
More than 200 shareholders attended the meeting in the town of 22,500 where the company is the largest employer. But only about 100 protesters turned out for the meeting — less than half as many as last year. Sixteen were arrested after trying to leave the fenced-off area designated for company detractors.
Even so, Maureen Haver of the Houston Global Awareness Collective said she’s pleased considering the remote location. Duncan is about two hours south of Oklahoma City and three hours north of Dallas.
“I come from an oil family. I’ve seen both sides. I understand that people are just trying to make a living,” Haver said. “But the bribery and overcharging and investigations . . . they’re not just hurting other people. They could be potentially hurting their own shareholders and employees in the end, too.
“We’ve already seen what happens without transparency in Houston. We had Enron.”
Halliburton Chairman and CEO David Lesar said he respects the protesters’ First Amendment rights, but disagrees with their arguments. Last year the company’s earnings per share from continuing operations saw a five-fold increase despite a declining workload in Iraq.
“I respect their views even if I disagree with most, if not all, of them,” he said. “If they want to use a forum like this to express those views then God love ’em. This is America and people have the right to do that.”
Michael McPhearson, an Army veteran who served in the first Gulf War and has a son serving in Iraq right now, is active in Veterans for Peace.
He traveled to Duncan from St. Louis for the protests outside Halliburton’s annual meeting and said his biggest problem with the company is that Vice President Dick Cheney, who used to head Halliburton before Lesar took over in 2000, has profited too much from the military and Halliburton operations in Iraq that go hand-in-hand.
“I understand the concept of people getting compensated even after their job is over. It’s not that, but it’s that it’s so much. Why can’t he donate that money, give some of it back?” McPhearson said.
“And now there are stories of soldiers not having enough food, enough water, not getting their mail. If soldiers were doing these critical jobs instead of Halliburton they would be getting done, because they recognize that could be their buddy on the other end who’s in need,” he said. “I just don’t think civilian leaders and executives at Halliburton really care about the soldiers.”
Lesar told shareholders, “I’m proud of our folks there and … we will continue to support the troops.”
After the meeting, he told reporters, “I can’t change the fact that my predecessor is now the vice president of the United States.”