Occupying a land mass slightly larger than the state of Maryland, Equatorial Guinea has been occupied by the Portuguese and the Spanish. The country gained its independence in 1968 and quickly devolved into political chaos under President Francisco Macias Nguema, who abrogated the nation’s new constitution and suppressed almost all parts of society in his quest for absolute power. Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo led a successful coup attempt in 1979 and had his own struggles with power, as he appointed many of his relatives to his cabinet and rigged elections from 1982 to the present. The discovery of large oil deposits in Equatorial Guinea in 1995 has attracted foreign investors, many from the United States. These investors have contiued their work while mostly ignoring Equatorial Guinea’s terrible human rights record.
Lay of the Land: Equatorial Guinea consists of the former Spanish territory of Rio Muni, sandwiched between Gabon and Cameroon on the west coast of central Africa, and the volcanic island of Fernando Po, 125 miles away in the Gulf of Guinea, plus a few smaller islands.
Pygmies originally settled Equatorial Guinea, and some of them still live in northern Rio Muni.
Since the mid-1960s, the Peace Corps has not had a presence in Equatorial Guinea, given the country’s poor human rights record and the region's general instability. As well, American-based NGOs have very little involvement in the country.
The US Embassy in Malabo was quietly reopened by the Bush administration in 2006 following intensive lobbying by the US oil industries. Equatorial Guinea maintains an embassy in Washington, DC, and recently opened a consulate in Houston, Texas. President Obiang has met with many senior American leaders over the past few years, as well as many corporate leaders. He has also opened sessions at the United Nations in New York.
Top US imports from Equatorial Guinea from 2009 were overwhelmingly dominated by crude oil, which decreased from $2.2 billion in 2008 to $1.8 billionIndustrial organic chemicals dropped from $160 million to $66 million.
Riggs Bank Guilty of Failing to Prevent Money Laundering by Equatorial Guinea President
The following human rights problems were reported in 2008 by the State Department: abridgment of citizens' right to change their government; instances of physical abuse of prisoners and detainees by security forces; poor conditions in prisons and detention facilities; impunity; arbitrary arrest, detention, and incommunicado detention; harassment and deportation of foreign residents with limited due process; judicial corruption and lack of due process; restrictions on the right to privacy; restrictions on freedom of speech and of the press; restrictions on the right of assembly, association, and movement; government corruption; violence and discrimination against women; suspected trafficking in persons; discrimination against ethnic minorities; and restrictions on labor rights.
Albert W. Sherer
Purificación Angue Ondo became ambassador of Equatorial Guinea to the United States on Dec. 2, 2005. She served as ambassador to Cameroon from 2000 to 2005. In the early 1990s she served at the Ministry of Women’s Promotion.
One of the worst dictatorships in Africa, oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, will soon receive a U.S. ambassador with prior African experience in Sudan and prior dictator experience in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Sudan. Mark L. Asquino was nominated by President Obama on March 16, 2012, subject to confirmation by the Senate.
The son of Louis and Eleanor Asquino, Mark Asquino was born in 1949 in East Providence, Rhode Island. His father ran a sheet metal and roofing business in East Providence. Asquino graduated from East Providence High School in 1967, and earned his A.B. and Ph.D. in American Civilization at Brown University in 1971 and 1978, respectively. His doctoral thesis was titled, “Criticism in the Balance: The Literary Anthologist as Literary Critic and Promoter in Nineteenth-Century America.” From 1975 to 1976, Asquino was the Fulbright Lecturer in American Studies at the University of Oviedo in Spain, and was also a lecturer at the University of Rhode Island prior to entering the Foreign Service.
Asquino began his Foreign Service career with the U.S. Information Agency in 1978. Early overseas assignments included public affairs junior officer trainee at the embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, and assistant press officer at the embassy in Panama City, Panama. From 1982 to 1986, he served as director of the U.S. Cultural Center and assistant cultural affairs officer at the embassy in Madrid, Spain. Asquino also served as cultural affairs officer at the embassy in Bucharest, Romania, from 1991 to 1994, and as information officer at the embassy in Santiago, Chile, from 1994 to 1998.
After completing Russian language training, Asquino served as public affairs officer at the embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, from 1999 to 2002. At first, this was a quiet, backwater assignment. But after the U.S. decided to attack neighboring Afghanistan over its refusal to turn over Osama bin Laden for planning the September 11, 2001, attacks, Uzbekistan became a front-line state that the U.S relied upon for help in Afghanistan. As such, Asquino conducted regular briefings and assisted the hundreds of American and international journalists who came to Tashkent in those years.
From 2003 to 2006, Asquino was deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he directed the mission’s move to the new capital of Astana. Following this posting, he returned to Washington to serve as principal deputy coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) at the U.S. Department of State from 2006 to 2008.
Asquino was deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, from 2008 to August 2010, when he returned to Washington to serve as a Senior Public Diplomacy Fellow at George Washington University for the 2010-2011 academic year. He is currently executive assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.
He is married to Jane Asquino.