Archive for the ‘Burma’ Category
The IHT’s Daniel Altman mentions in his “Managing Globalization” blog French’s giant oil company Total’s reluctance to abandon its Burmese operations.
Despite decades of dictatorship and the ongoing crisis, Total “insists that its presence improves the daily lives of tens of thousands of local people“.
Well, it’s hard to imagine Total as a bunch of virginal angels wondering about their potential wrongdoings. Obviously somebody there decided some time ago it would be a good idea to invest in a dictatorship.
It is even harder to imagine any State giving away its resources for free, so it is obvious that Total is in some sort of revenue-sharing agreement with the Burmese government: hence, Total is financing the continuation of the dictatorship.
Not only that: Burma is the most corrupted country in the world alongside Somalia (according to Transparency International’s 2007 index, reported by the Washington Post on September 27 ). Who would then seriously argue that Total or any other company for that matter has found a way to get oil or gas out of Burma without paying bribes?
That would be nothing short of miraculous. So we can reasonably say that in all probability, there are all the signs that Total is, once again, propping up the Burmese dictatorship (and no, it is not alone).
Therefore the continued presence by Total is directly linked to misery for a little short of 50 million people.
Do the rights of those outweigh Total’s improvements of the “the daily lives of tens of thousands of local people“?
Well, if they don’t, then we could justify any violation of human rights as long as a reasonable amount of people appears to be gaining economically. I wouldn’t be sure that is the way forward.
So what is Total to do? It depends on what the relationship with the Junta is at the moment.
If Total has to be supine because it fears losing the contracts, and it can’t afford to, that would mean the company is running a large risk with his investors’ money, as a critical part of his revenues depends on the vagaries of an unelected number of people rather unpopular the world over, and in their country.
It is high time Total should lower that risk then, for example by moving out of Burma at the first opportunity.
If Total can gain the upper hand instead (as the Burmese Generals need a stable revenue stream, i.e. the bribes), then it should push for the necessary reforms or get out of the country: because if it does not use the power it has, then it is an accomplice in all of the deaths, assaults, tortures and incarceration.
Perhaps Total, despite its size and coffers, cannot really bring change to a country. But it is mandatory for the company to give it at least a try, or else shut up about bringing “improvements” to anybody.
Are we going to let India lead us by our noses once again?
In these hours not that dissimilar from that night on 3 June 1989, hours before the Tian-an-men massacre in Beijing, it may be difficult to think of how to realistically support the demonstrations in Burma, apart from sending more and more appeals for calm to a Military Junta probably second to none in matters of bloody-thirsty repressions and the political and economic strangling of a country.
Still, it is possible to perform three not-just-symbolic gestures:
(1) Categorically refuse the use of “Myanmar” in place of “Burma”.
Even if “quasi-etymologically correct”, “Myanmar” is the invention of the Military Junta, forced upon the country in 1989 with no democratic process at all. If the Burmese will want to change the official “foreign” name of their country to “Myanmar”, they will be able to do so after getting their country back from the usurpers.
More: a couple of years ago the Foreign Minister of Burma protested for the use of “Burma” by the US State Department: all more the reason not to use “Myanmar”.
(2) Let’s publish the names of the dictators.
For way too long the Military Junta of Burma has been treated as a shapeless entity, not as a group of ferocious dictators (humanity-free to the point of denying Aung San Suu Kyi the chance to meet her dying husband for one last time).
Here then some of the persons who should be answering charges in a court of law, instead of commanding Burma against the will of its people:
General Than Shwe – President
General Soe Win – Prime Minister
General Major Nyan Win – Foreign Minister
If we force as much publicity as possible on the names (and pictures) of those in charge of Burma, they won’t be able to hide themselves with the anonymity they have so far much cultivated.
(3) And finally, we should not let India lead us by the nose once again.
Not only many European Governments have underplayed the scandal of the Dhruv helicopters, built also using European supplies and then supplied to the Burmese Junta against every EU embargo rule. It’s worse than that: while outside the Burmese monks were demonstrating, Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora was busy signing a US$150-million agreement for natural gas research in Burma: a clear sign of support of the Junta on the part of a “democratic” Government.
This behaviour is part of New Dehli’s strategic myopia, with India so scared by rebellions in the Northeast to the point of propping up the Burmese Military Junta to get their help in preventing an escalation of those conflicts. And it is based on the apparent impunity when a State goes against rules established by other democratic countries.
If that way of thinking would be intolerable when done by communist China, all the more so for India.
Foreign and International Trade Ministers from all the EU countries (and elsewhere) have a clear duty tonight to apply all possible pressures: including a protest against the present Indian acquiescence, and possible future complicity with the Burmese Junta, before things turn to the worse.