Thursday, October 04, 2007

Free Burma

Free Burma!
This post is dedicated to the brave people of Burma seeking to free themselves from a military dictatorship.

I am woefully ignorant of the history and social background of this country, but that is a deficiency I aim to correct. This post will remain at the top of my homepage at least through October 4, perhaps beyond.

In the meantime, I'm part of a netroots surge in support of the Saffron Revolution.

For starters, I have a few questions...

►Where are the famous US news teams? Where's CBS, NBC, ABC? Where's CNN? FOX?

Al Jazeera is on the story. Here is a video.

Here are links I am reading...

Background On Burma at the Karen Human Rights Group

MYANMAR: Muslims Back Monks, Warn China (29-Sept-2007) at South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG) blog

Safe Haven Orphanage Blog

Companies linked with Burma

A military dictatorship has ruled Burma for several decades. It is one of the worst human and trade union rights offenders in the world. There are not only forced labour and other serious human and trade union rights abuses on a large scale, there is no freedom of association and no democracy. The international trade union movement believes that it is impossible to conduct any trade or engage in other economic activity with Burma without providing direct or indirect support, mostly financial, to the military junta.

Albert Einstein Institution as described by Source Watch, extension of the Center for Media and Democracy

Open Society Institute as described by Source Watch

October 1, New York Times...

Natural gas from Myanmar, which generates 20 percent of all electricity in Thailand, keeps the lights on in Bangkok. The gas, which this year will cost about $2.8 billion, is the largest single export for Myanmar’s otherwise impoverished and cash-strapped economy.

Thailand’s gas imports highlight the dilemma facing China, India, Singapore and Malaysia, among other countries, as they vie for Myanmar’s hardwoods, minerals, gems — and access to its market of 47 million people.

At a time of spiraling world energy prices, the prospect of extracting resources appears to override the embarrassment and shame of dealing with a junta that has attracted world notoriety. For this reason, the countries that have the most leverage over Myanmar seem to be the most reluctant to use it, analysts say.

This is not encouraging. It's an old story cynically called the Golden Rule...those who have the gold can make the rules.

The cash has allowed the generals who run Myanmar to buy weapons from China and helicopters from India, order a nuclear test reactor from Russia and construct their new capital north of Myanmar’s main city, Yangon.

“The natural gas drastically changed the military government’s fiscal position,” said Toshihiro Kudo, director of the Southeast Asian Studies Group at the Institute of Developing Economies, a research organization run by the Japanese government.

Myanmar’s gas reserves are small by global standards. BP, the oil company, estimates that Myanmar’s total reserves are 538 billion cubic meters, or 19 trillion cubic feet, far less than the reserves of nearby Malaysia or Indonesia. But the billions of dollars these gas fields will produce is valuable to the ruling generals, whose sources of financing are extremely limited due to American sanctions.

Last year, Myanmar sold $2 billion worth of gas to Thailand, which amounted to more than 40 percent of the country’s total exports for that year. Largely because of the gas deal, Thailand is Myanmar’s biggest trade partner, not China, as is widely reported.

I spoke with a man today who travels as a tourist all over the world. He said that Burma was one of the strictest places he has ever seen. He was there several years ago and was warned to register his camera. It's a good thing he did, because it was stolen. Had he been caught with an unregistered camera he would have been in trouble, and when it was stolen from beside him at the hotel check-in he had witnesses and was able to file a police report. After a long delay, he was released with documents allowing him to exit the country without the camera. Otherwise he would have been suspected of having sold it illegally and had a hard time going home. Creepy. We exchanged stories of how common theft is abroad. I mentioned that when I was in Korea we were told, not altogether in jest, not to make a turn signal in Seoul while wearing a wrist watch. He said he was warned in Argentina not to wear a watch if he was buying a newspaper in public.

Back to the situation in Burma. It seems nothing will be done to aid the oppressed. Reports are getting through that the numbers of dead are much bigger than reported earlier. At this writing I'm not interested in sifting through the news looking for the details. As usual, I am deeply saddened that once again the wretched of the earth are being terrorized by tyranny.

Georgie Anne Geyer writes:

The army has approximately 400,000 soldiers, but only the very top level of officers enjoy the vast profits of this land rich in oil, minerals, diamonds, rubies and emeralds. The three top men are referred to elliptically in the papers only as "No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3." They are each so suspicious, particularly of the others, that they all sleep at the same military compound downtown every night -- no reason to give anyone the idea that HE really is No. 1!

That is, when you are not finding them at the super-luxurious hill resort they have built for the top military officers at Maymyo in the north, or in the elegant new capitol they have built at Naypyidaw.

But the odd thing is that, until the last two weeks --since the last internal explosion of rage on the part of these benighted peoples in 1990, when the beautiful Nobel Prize Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won the last elections, only to have the military take over entirely --the government has been mostly invisible. The fear and terror it evokes, believing itself the caretaker of the nation, have been so complete, it has not needed to demonstrate constant displays of power.

But now, hundreds of thousands of people have been out on the streets for days and days. The Buddhist "Sangha," an alternative power center of 400,000 monks in orange robes, were turning their alms bowls upside down -- which meant they were denying the military the sacred right to gain religious forgiveness from contributing alms to the monks.

Yet what can the world do in this tragic case? The Burmese military is overwhelmingly powerful; neighboring "Big Guy" China is so deeply involved in investments in Burma, with all its riches, that North from Mandalay, many people speak only Chinese; and the Asian organization that should act, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma has been a member for 10 years, has been so timid about judging any of its members in terms of repression that everyone was amazed when, this time around, the spokesmen dared to express "revulsion" at the Burmese military's actions.

Mike Boyer at FP writes that pressure on China could make a difference in Burma. Being host to the Olympics makes China more (I hate using the word) sensitive to public relations.

I argued last week that China is unlikely to be shamed, by use of the Olympic card, into taking meaningful action on Burma. But Hiatt is right. If there's even a remote possibility that such pressure could help, then a U.S. threat to withdraw from the games should be made. The Bush Administration is reportedly looking into other, unnamed, options. Let's hope so. Because if 100,000 people were marching the streets of Baghdad or Riyadh, or if thousands of Catholic priests were lying dead in Vatican City, you can bet there would have been a little bit more action by now.

He's right, of course. But I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for any meaningful gestures from George Bush.

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BBC published an overview. H/T Coming Anarchy.

Where the world stands on Burma
As governments around the world consider how to respond to the protests in Burma, the BBC News website looks at the aims and influence of key Western and Asian players.


Relationship: Washington has called for political change in Burma and expressed support for the recent protests. In 1997 the US banned new investment in Burma, and in 2003 it banned most Burmese imports and dollar transactions. It has announced it will impose further sanctions against 14 senior officials in Burma's government, including the country's acting prime minister and defence minister. But in common with the other Western countries, the US realises its influence is weak when compared to that of China, India and Asean.

Interests: As a result of sanctions few economic interests remain, a major exception being the US share in the Chevron-Total gas project.

Comment: "The world is watching the people of Burma take to the streets to demand their freedom and the American people stand in solidarity with these brave individuals." US President George W Bush.

Don't wanna mess with that Chevron deal, do we?
Stuff like this doesn't help my cynicism one bit.


M. Simon said...

I'm not sure it is Bush/Chevron.

Total is one of the most corrupt oil companies in the world.

Have a look at:

Maurice Strong Total Oil for Food

for starters. Mr. Strong is a Canadian. Total is a French Company. I did a few posts on that when the topic was hot.

BTW what would you suggest Bush do? He has his hands full trying to clean up the mess genocider Saddam created. Remember the mass graves of women and children in Iraq? And suppose Bush did do something. How soon before the "No Blood for Oil" folks started marching and screaming. The left/Democrats have painted themselves into a corner. The worst kleptocracies/dictatorships in the world are countries that depend on resource extraction.

If you really are interested in fixing more places we are going to need a much bigger army. What are the odds that the Democrat congress will give the authorization and vote more funds? Even if they did it takes two years to get new troops into the field.

BTW thanks for your comments. Who would have thought a two line post would have generated so much action?

M. Simon said...

I did a post based on this fie piece and my previous comment:


M. Simon said...

Should be fine piece.

Hoots said...

The president has his hands full, of course. Besides, it's best he leave this challenge to someone else. (His track record in such matters is spotty at best.) It's not going away any time soon, sadly, and whoever is next in office is sure to have another chance. Tyrants are like serial offenders. They will always do more to provoke the masses.

Meantime, I know there must be satellite images or other "cclassified" intelligence that could a make compelling case against what's happening. There has to be a way for China and/or Thailand to be blackmailed or shamed into leaning on their nearest oil and natural gas vendor. Quiet agreements for alternative sources could put teeth into some thinly-veiled suggestions from those quarters.

Just a fantasy on my part.