Texaco and Ford: Against Roosevelt and for Franco
Repository: Wikimedia Commons
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Date Created: 1936-06-04
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Torkild Rieber (1882-1968), shown here on the cover of Time magazine, a naturalized US citizen from Norway, served as CEO of TEXACO, the Texas Petroleum Company, between 1935 and 1940. He exemplifies like few others the important support that prominent American companies gave to the Francoist side during the Civil War, support that was often based on anti-communism and affinity with the cause of the rebel military.
Of all the US companies, TEXACO is the outstanding example. During the war, it sold the Francoists more than three and a half million tons of petroleum products worth twenty million dollars. It was this petroleum that allowed the rebel armed forces and those of their allies to operate on land, sea, and in the air. Since at this time the oil industry was controlled by a small number of American, British, Dutch and Soviet companies and neither Germany nor Italy was in a position to supply fuel to Franco, the role of TEXACO was crucial.
Other important US companies also supplied the rebel military. Automakers Ford, General Motors and Studebaker provided more than 10,000 trucks, and chemical company Dupont de Nemours also sold important military products. Moreover, these companies sold to Franco on credit, hopeful that he would win the war, as he did.
TEXACO knowingly and flagrantly breached the US neutrality laws of 1935, 1936, and 1937 that prohibited the sale of weapons and supplies for military use, and even the granting of credits, to either side in the Civil War. Rieber, who made two trips to the rebel zone during the war, where he met with Franco, circumvented these prohibitions by sending oil tankers to Francoist ports that were documented as destined for Belgian or Dutch ones. After they had set sail and were on the high seas, the tankers’ captains would receive orders diverting them to new destinations. In addition to letting Franco acquire Texaco products on credit, Rieber gave him a substantial discount by waiving the freight charges.
Rieber also took actions to hurt the Republicans. He ordered the head of his Paris office to provide Francoist intelligence services with all information about the itineraries of all tankers from any company carrying oil to Republican ports. This information contributed to these tankers being torpedoed by so-called “pirate”, actually Italian or Francoist, submarines or their detention by the Francoist navy.
Even after US authorities learned of TEXACO’s activities, Rieber was summoned to a meeting with President Roosevelt, and the company paid a large fine, Rieber continued to supply the Francoists throughout the war. His tenure at TEXACO would come to an abrupt end early in World War II. British intelligence leaked information to the US press that Rieber was providing oil to Nazi Germany and supporting its espionage activities. Franco did not forget Rieber, however. He put him in charge of US transactions for Spain’s official oil monopoly, CAMPSA, and later awarded him the Cross of the Gentleman of the Order of Isabel the Catholic, the most prestigious honour his regime granted to foreigners.