Burma, Art, Literature, Political Economy through the eyes of a permanent exile.
"We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the oppressed. Sometimes we must interfere. . . There is so much injustice and suffering crying out for our attention . . . writers and poets, prisoners in so many lands governed by the left and by the right." Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1986, Oslo.
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Tuesday, April 17, 2012
from Dictatorwatch - Burma's semi-freedom score card
Two couples and old cherry tree - photo copyright Kyi May Kaung
From: free burma
Date: Fri, Apr 13, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Subject: Burma's semi-freedom scorecard
Please forward this link to as many people as possible.
BURMA’S SEMI-FREEDOM SCORECARD
By Roland Watson
April 13, 2012
Dictator Watch has dedicated itself to helping Burma one day unambiguously
become free. Our dream is that the dictators of the country, the
BSPP/SLORC/SPDC/NDSC, will fall, and never to be resurrected, as occurred
with the German and Japanese regimes at the end of World War II. We
planned to celebrate this event with the word “VICTORY,” in 96 point type,
across the banner of our website.
Oh well. Burma is not there yet. The question is: Will Daw Aung San Suu
Kyi and the National League for Democracy joining the rulers in Naypyidaw
bring real victory and real freedom closer, or will it make them more
remote? Only time, and the actions of Daw Suu, will tell.
Many critical elements of the Burma situation have now changed. It is
therefore a good idea to appraise where we are. There are clearly winners,
but also losers, from the new status quo. The jury is out on what the new
situation means for the most important group of all - really the only
important group - the people of the country.
The victims of Burma’s military regime
The biggest losers from the “New Burma” are the victims of the Burma Army
(Tatmadaw), the police, and the other organs of the dictatorship’s
oppression apparatus (i.e., military intelligence, swan-arr-shin, fire
brigades, prisons and labor camps, etc.). Most directly this comprises all
of the people who have been raped, assaulted, murdered, robbed, extorted,
forced to labor, imprisoned, and tortured. Their victimhood is now
compounded, because in the New Burma there is no chance that they (or
their families) will ever receive justice. Daw Suu and the NLD made a
political calculation that justice must be sacrificed, that there should
not be an international investigation into the regime’s crimes against
humanity, or a tribunal for them, much less the ability to bring a case to
a local court.
The NLD talks about establishing the rule of law in Burma, but since it
will take years to address the problems with the regime’s 2008
Constitution, which grants the generals and their foot soldiers immunity
from prosecution, any possible investigations are probably at least a
decade if not two decades away. It is noteworthy that the tribunal for the
victims of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge also took decades to organize, and that
due to this and the fact that Dictator Hun Sen, who was with the KR, did
everything possible to impede it, this effort at national justice failed.
Through the process now underway in Burma it is inevitable that the
Naypyidaw regime will preserve its own veto power and that its victims
will also be denied justice. Almost everyone in Burma is a victim of the regime in one of these ways
(directly or through immediate family members) as well as in others,
including through having had to suffer enforced relocation, poverty,
malnutrition, inadequate medical care, and the denial of education. In
this sense then the entire country has lost through being refused justice.
In recent years, though, the bulk of the regime’s victims who have
suffered the worst forms of abuse have been members of the country’s
ethnic minorities (aka the ethnic nationalities).
Three observations about this are as follows:
1. Daw Suu had no right to decide unilaterally that the people of Burma
should never have justice. While she may have received near unanimous
support in 1990, and this year from the country’s Burman majority, her
support among the ethnic nationalities, who have their own leaders and who
in some cases openly disagree with her, is less.
2. While I would hope this is not the case, the question should be asked:
Did Daw Suu make this calculation because the greatest number of
contemporary victims are from the ethnic groups, and that it is safe to
ignore their suffering?
More generally, she has ignored the ethnic nationality plight for years.
(She traditionally focused almost exclusively on the nation’s political
prisoners.) Through doing this she turned a blind eye to what is Burma’s
core social issue: Racism against the ethnic nationalities by the
country’s Burman generals. (A credible case of genocide has been
It is difficult to fathom her actions, but a number of explanations are
possible, including: She didn’t know how bad the Tatmadaw was treating the
ethnic groups; she was afraid to talk about the subject, fearing a
reaction from the regime, so she censored herself; she thinks the problems
that the ethnic nationalities have are their own fault (as many Burmans
believe); she doesn’t want to upset those Burmans among her supporters who
are racist (it is not only the generals who have an ethnic superiority
complex); or, she noticed that since the international community ignored
the atrocities it was safe for her to do so as well. (Of note, the United
States, her close advisor, for two decades only backed her and refused to
acknowledge the regime’s war crimes.)
I don’t know which one of these possibilities is correct. I’m assuming it
is fear of the regime. Nevertheless, since this fear has subsided, she
must - if she intends to represent all of Burma - concentrate on the
country’s ethnic problems front and center.
3. The regime remains free to continue its crimes, as it has been doing,
most notably against the Kachin and the Karen peoples, safe in the
knowledge that it has impunity and will never be charged.
Many commentators say the reform is driven by the regime’s desire to
escape from the United States’ economic sanctions, which is certainly true
in part. However, it begins with this. Than Shwe, Maung Aye, Shwe Mann,
Thein Sein and the other leading generals want a guaranteed amnesty for
all of their past and future crimes.
The victims of Burma’s military junta are not unknown. Indeed, a few are
I want to start with Nan Bway Poung, whose story is described in the top
center article on the Dictator Watch homepage. On June 10, 2002, now
almost ten years ago, she was gang raped by some twenty Burma Army
soldiers in Karen State. After returning home (many ethnic rape victims
are murdered after they have been violated, but some are released), she
announced: “I am not willing to live in this world anymore,” and committed
suicide. Her final words remain an indictment of everything that is taking
place in Burma, including Thein Sein’s “reform.” (They have been a
personal goad for me.) Daw Suu does not have a right to deny Nan Bway
Poung and her family justice. What is worse is that the lead perpetrator,
Captain Ye Htut, of LIB 349, was clearly identified. Who knows, perhaps he
is a Colonel or even a General now. He can and should be brought to trial
for this crime and the no doubt many others that he has committed. It is
intolerable that the thousands of Ye Htuts in the Tatmadaw can be given
immunity. It won’t work in any case, either. If and when Burma does
finally becomes free, the dictatorship’s victims will raise their voices
and demand justice.
From last month:
A newly-wed Arakanese woman was gang-raped by one soldier from LIB 550 and
two members of the swan-arr-shin, after she and her husband reported their
overnight stay at her home village.
A Karen villager, Saw Lay La Thaw, was killed by MOC 9 troops while
crossing a road.
Northeast Regional Command troops in Shan State under Col. Tun Tun Nyi
killed two Palaung villagers, Gawlai Hkam and Aik Chaing, while they were
Burma Army troops attacked the Kachin Independence Army’s 5th Battalion
with chemical weapons, the latest in a series of attacks using the banned
A Karen woman was sexually assaulted by two BA soldiers at Thay Baw Bo
Two Karen women were killed during fighting between the regime’s BGF
troops and the DKBA.
There have been tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of such
victims in Burma since the massacre in 1988 (and of course many more
before that), and for which not one person has received justice. For a
record of the regime’s atrocities during the last year, please visit our
Burma Death Watch blog - http://www.dictatorwatch.org/burmadeathwatch.html
I would strongly encourage everyone who has been victimized by the
military junta to travel to the NLD office, 97/B West Shwegondine Road,
Bahan Township, Rangoon, and file a grievance with their now duly elected
Members of Parliament, providing as many details about the crimes as
possible. (If a lot of people do this, maybe the Party will start to show
The Burma Pro-Democracy Movement
In the years following the 1990 election, a major pro-democracy movement,
one of the most substantial in the world, was created for Burma. It had
many different elements, including:
- Ethnic and student armies, which sought to overcome the junta through
- The NLD, which advocated pacifist tactics and which tried, repeatedly,
to achieve positive change through “Burma’s legal system” (an oxymoron, if
ever there was one).
- Student activists inside the country, who led protests and organized
other forms of dissent.
- And manifold groups on the outside, including both free media and
political dissidents, most notably in neighboring Thailand, the United
States, Europe, and Australia, and organized both by exiles and foreign
activists, which in innumerable ways documented the terrible crimes of the
junta and sought to bring about its defeat.
The objective of this movement was always singular and clear: The end of
the dictatorship and real freedom for the people of Burma, followed by the
construction of a well-functioning system of democracy and then carefully
planned and methodically implemented social and economic development.
This entire movement, and also its goal, are also losers in the New Burma.
The reason for this is again quite simple. The movement existed to exert
pressure against the junta. Daw Suu, with one sweep of her hand, decided
that the correct course of action was actually to join the regime, to
merge with it, and then try to change it from within. Pressure therefore
was no longer necessary, or even desirable.
Through taking this step, she effectively became the Dictator of the
Pro-Democracy Movement. She has even repudiated the idea that Burma should
be a subject of pro-democracy activism and advocacy. Her astonishing
decision has left everyone in disarray, wondering what, if anything, they
should now do. Many different organizations that have worked hard for
years are failing, their contributions are no longer desired. (If you are
not going to prosecute crimes against humanity, why even document them?)
In addition, particularly for groups outside of Burma, they are losing
their funding. Funders are now redirecting their money to other groups
inside the country, and which also have different missions, to set up a
financial system, to lay the grounds for economic development, etc.
Now, all of this would be fine if we could be certain that the regime will
carry through with its reform, that it will meet the basic demands of a
free and open society.
1. To stop attacking the ethnic groups and establish a nationwide
2. To stop expropriations of villager land for economic development.
3. To irreversibly end the Myitsone Dam project, and to evaluate properly
all other developments that will have a significant impact on local
populations and the environment.
4. To put in place strong protections against corruption and bribery.
5. To release all the political prisoners.
6. To end the nuclear and missile programs including their cooperation
with North Korea.
7. To allow political parties and the press complete freedom to operate.
8. To hold a free and fair general election in 2015, if not sooner.
9. And finally, to honor that election result.
This is what a real democratic transition would encompass, but there is
already great evidence that it is not the regime’s intention. Most
Naypyidaw is continuing its policy of divide and conquer with the ethnic
groups, currently through making all sorts of promises to the KNU while at
the same time conducting a massive offensive against the KIO.
There has been no movement on the release of the remaining political
prisoners, believed to number close to one thousand individuals.
The regime very carefully excluded the ethnic groups and also the 88
Generation student activists from Parliament. This has a number of
consequences. First, it means the generals only have to deal with the tame
NLD for at least the next three years. Secondly, it reinforces Daw Suu as
Burma’s focal point, which responsibilities she is ill-equipped to deal
with on a day-to-day basis, if only because there is so much to do. Daw
Suu is being forced to act as an opposition Prime Minister, but without
resources or staff, and also with no guarantees that her actions will be
Furthermore, this has also reinforced the death of the Burma Pro-Democracy
Movement. The movement has now been transformed into the Suu Kyi Democracy
Movement, meaning that where democracy, human rights and environmental
activists formerly targeted the regime and also the International
Community, the activists that do remain must now press their cases
directly with Daw Suu, as she is the only legitimate representative. She
is now an advocacy choke-point, which is both a structural flaw and also
an inappropriate role, given that she has so many demands on her time, and
also that given her age, health, and inclinations she is not really suited
for the role of a master hands-on administrator of all the issues that
need to be addressed in Burma, and also all the area’s of regime activity,
from military to political to economic, that need to be scrutinized.
The ethnic nationalities
The varied ethnic nationalities are also losers in the New Burma, because
they allowed themselves to be out-maneuvered and out-negotiated. They fell
victim to a decades-long series of divide and conquer entreaties, and were
never able to create a unified military front, which with coordinated
campaigns could have defeated the Tatmadaw. They also now have been
excluded from Parliament for the next three years, and will therefore be
forced to lobby Daw Suu as well, to press for their interests through her,
even though she has never been their strong advocate. Furthermore, taken
one-by-one they are at the mercy of international corporations, which in
partnership with supranational institutions such as the United Nations,
International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank, and
the trade representatives of the United States, the members states of the
E.U., China, Thailand, Singapore, India, Japan, Australia, etc., are
certain to create unbearable pressure to go along with poorly-planned,
large-scale economic developments in their respective homelands.
However, the ethnic nationalities, even without representation in
Parliament, are in no way powerless. They still control armies, and they
should fight back against any regime violations of their ceasefire
agreements, inappropriate developments including villager land
expropriation, and also assist those groups such as the KIA against which
the Tatmadaw continues to wage war.
In addition, even though the ethnic nationalities failed to create a
working military front, they can create an effective political front,
through the United Nationalities Federal Council. This organization is now
well-established, and political cooperation is in many ways easier than
military. (Burma’s geography always presented a huge hurdle to armed
coordination.) Indeed, the UNFC is an excellent forum for the different
ethnic nationalities to combine their common interests, to provide a
balance to the NLD, and to ensure that their demands are both heard and
satisfied, until they are in a position to enter Parliament as well (if
and when the regime ever permits it).
Internal pro-democracy groups such as 88 Generation, ABFSU, ABMA,
Generation Wave, etc.
The many different internal pro-democracy organizations, which operated
clandestine, “underground” networks, dedicated to supporting if not
actually organizing a new popular uprising, are also now left out in the
cold in the New Burma. The common goal of these groups was to achieve a
real freedom transition following the pattern of what has in recent years
been accomplished by the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Serbia,
the Ukraine, Georgia, Czechoslovakia, and Poland (among others - uprisings
are also now underway in Syria and Bahrain). Daw Suu and the NLD, by
joining Naypyidaw, ended - for the moment at least - any possibility of a
new uprising for Burma. These groups have been sidelined, and it is
difficult to see what they can do, what room for action they have, other
than to serve a supporting role for the NLD and to patiently wait until
(The question should also be asked: Why did Burma’s massive pro-democracy
movement, and which strove for twenty years, fail, when Tunisia, Egypt,
Libya, etc., which had relatively microscopic movements, at least at the
beginning, succeed, and all in a short period of time? Who is responsible
On the other hand, I do not mean to in any way underestimate the ingenuity
of individuals such as Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, and their many colleagues.
They are fearless, and will unquestionably make their voices heard through
strong and varied pressure for a new, better, and ultimately free and
The workers, natural environment, and future social make-up and character
Countries are graded by the United Nations and other institutions. One
measure is the Human Development Index, and under this system Burma is
ranked Low Human Development. A broader and in some ways less precise
measure is simply “Development,” with countries split between developed,
developing or less-developed, and least developed. This measure has an
implicit bias towards economic indicators, and here Burma ranks Least
The first is an excellent guide. Every country should strive for high
human development, since it encompasses such measures as life expectancy,
literacy, education, standard of living, and quality of life. Development
in the New Burma should focus almost exclusively on social development
projects, beginning with education - schools, health care - clinics, and
sufficient supplies of nutritious food and clean water; and political
development, meaning real democracy and the rule of law, as these are
necessary to ensure one’s quality of life. The quickest way therefore for
Burma to escape from its Low Human Development level is to focus on social
and political objectives.
The standard of living measure in the Human Development Index, and the
overall Development characterization, concentrate instead on economic
development, meaning the manner and outcome of one’s “employment,” as
measured by such variables as personal income and also a nation’s gross
domestic product. There is a bias here, though. More income and a higher
GDP, and with both growing as fast as possible from year to year, is not
only an unequivocal good, it is the goal. Standard development measures
(based on the “neoliberal” development model, the idea that markets and
corporations should be unregulated for the greatest economic growth to be
achieved) assign no value whatsoever to whether a nation has a rich
culture or collection of cultures, which prize their traditions and also
the elderly; a high degree of personal morality and a correspondingly low
crime rate; massive and intact areas of natural environment, in which
other forms of life are free from hunting and other forms of abuse; a
degree of social fairness such that there is limited income and wealth
inequality and therefore personal inequality and class structure; and also
that the overall society pitches in, through different mechanisms, to help
the disadvantaged and disabled.
Paradoxically, many traditional societies, while at the mercy of annual
weather and crop cycles, do an excellent job on all of these measures.
They value their cultures, and establish communities with minimal
inequality and where everyone who needs it is helped. They are, though,
almost exclusively Least Developed, which to the greater world is an
unacceptable stigma and which must be changed, no matter the cost.
Had Burma achieved real freedom, it could have used its Least Developed
status, ironically, to its advantage. It could have worked to preserve
everything that makes the country special, its rich array of cultures and
extraordinary natural environment, while working on social and political
projects to boost its human development index. Economic development, such
as resource exploitation, industrial factories, etc., could have been
pursued slowly and very carefully to ensure that the benefits went to all
the people of the country and that the social and environmental costs were
minimized if not eliminated.
This development course is now precluded, because the military regime
remains in power. Three years from now, even if the election in 2015 is
fair, the die will have been set. So much will take place in the interim
that it will be impossible to redirect Burma back to the correct
development course. Naypyidaw, working with the U.N., World Bank, ADB,
IMF, and the U.S., Europe and Asia (all neoliberal true believers, at
least as far as “primitive” countries like Burma are concerned), will
shove large-scale economic development projects down the throats of the
people (as is happening now with Tavoy and ItalThai). Let the Burma Gold
Rush, the corporate rape of the natural environment and the exploitation
of Burma’s workers, begin!
For decades, young ethnic women have systematically been raped by the
Tatmadaw, and Burma’s workers exploited in Thailand. Now the powers that
be want to - they will - rape the environment in Burma on a scale hitherto
impossible (shiploads of earthmoving machines will soon begin arriving at
Thilawa Port), and exploit the country’s workers in new industrial estates
full of sweatshops. Indeed, the people of Burma will work for less than
the Chinese! It is impossible to understate how quickly this exploitation
will ramp up. Corporate dealmakers are already signing contracts with
regime officials at the Strand, Sedona and other top-end Rangoon hotels,
greased by lucrative bribes, and there are absolutely no controls in
Years from now, when Burma’s towns and cities are monstrosities like those
in Thailand, and there are no longer disparate peoples (as Thailand also
once had), and the political economy is so stagnant and class ridden and
corrupt that real democracy can never take hold and high-level criminals
can never be held to account (again, like Thailand), and where the
environment is destroyed (Thailand), everyone should understand that now,
2012, is when it all began.
Burma will have higher personal income and GDP, to be sure, but its
quality of life, its overall quality as a nation, will be much lower.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi
The biggest winner by far in the New Burma is Daw Suu. She is back on the
pedestal again and subject to wild public exaltation (at least in Burma’s
major cities). She also has such prominence now in the eyes of the
International Community that really, the Nobel Peace Prize does not do her
justice. She is the Savior Of A Nation. In all of human history, very few
individuals have ever been able to claim that accolade.
I do not mean to begrudge Daw Suu her due. She has suffered tremendously,
including by being locked up interminably under house arrest. She also
maintained her courage and commitment throughout years of hardship and
sacrifice, and through this deserves unqualified respect.
The only concern that one might have is if she fully grasps not only the
magnitude of the risk her strategic redirection poses for Burma, but also
the risk that having everything channeled through her presents. She has to
consider, and guard against, the possibility that she is being used not
only by Thein Sein and Than Shwe, but also by the U.S., including Barack
Obama, Hillary Clinton and Derek Mitchell, as well as Europe, the U.N.,
Daw Suu should not want to be the dictator of the pro-democracy movement.
She should work to ensure that other, younger leaders are given public
prominence, particularly from among the ethnic nationalities. She should
ask the diplomats of the world not only to speak to her, but to have
regular communications with the leaders of such groups as the UNFC, KNU,
KIO, RCSS, etc. At the moment, this is not happening at all. The
international community has been very careful not to talk to the ethnic
leaders or to show concern for their specific problems.
Although I hesitate to mention it, Daw Suu also cannot ignore the legacy
of her father. The country’s premier national hero, Bogyoke Aung San’s
career was ended by his mortality, and through this all of Burma plunged
into dictatorship for over a half a century. The two greatest risks of
leadership in the system of representative democracy are (1) poor
leadership, and (2) a leader’s passing and the power vacuum this creates
and which opportunists soon seek to exploit.
The leadership of a nation has to be diversified. For example, the
‘uncles’ of the NLD have been criticized for years for blocking the
development of a new generation of leaders. Had this not been the case,
there would now be a large group of middle-aged NLD members fully
qualified to take charge at both the national and regional levels, and not
only as politicians but as administrators. Indeed, the NLD is a
beneficiary of the New Burma as much as Daw Suu. Coming under increasing
criticism in recent years for its ineffectiveness, it has now been
As for policy recommendations for Daw Suu, this article is not the place
for such an analysis. I can only suggest that as an MP she finally become
specific, that she take clearly defined positions and push for them as
forcefully and repetitively as possible. For instance, it is not enough to
oppose the conflict in Burma, in general. She needs to acknowledge openly
that Burma’s Civil War begins with the Tatmadaw. She also should very
aggressively call for the cancellation of the Myitsone Dam. As a
figurehead (or diplomat), you have the luxury of not being specific. This
is no longer the case when you become a hands-on politician.
Daw Suu should announce, firmly and repeatedly, her opposition to
uncontrolled economic development, including major projects such as
Myitsone, Tavoy, Kaladan, and the Dawei pipeline. If she does not oppose
these projects, she is sending a clear signal of what she thinks is
important for Burma and how development of the country should proceed. She
is saying that she fully supports the neoliberal model.
I can further comment that I have a number of friends who are
pro-democracy activists for China, and they are very disappointed that Daw
Suu on a number of occasions has said that Burma should have good
relations with Beijing, i.e., the Communist Party. They think it would be
much better if she supported publicly the democratic aspirations of the
people of China, rather than implicitly back their oppressors.
The military regime
After Daw Suu, the biggest winner in the New Burma is the military regime,
starting, of course, with Senior General Than Shwe. He can relax and enjoy
his Asian-style elderly dictator retirement, still pulling the strings
from behind the scenes as required. He will not be overthrown, or tried at
the International Criminal Court. His family is protected. All is well.
All levels of the regime are in fact winners, and in multiple ways. The
other top generals, who should also be tried at the ICC, as well as all
the specific on the ground war criminal Tatmadaw commanders and soldiers,
are now off the hook. The generals and officers, whether they retain their
uniforms or not, will also cement their position as the new upper-class
elite of Burma, as they become the part-owners and signatories to the new
development deals. Not only will they not be charged for their crimes,
they are being given preferred positions as the Gold Rush, otherwise known
as the initial stage of astronomical corruption for the country,
To them we can also add all the regime cronies and fixers, such as Tayza,
Myanmar Egress, etc., Burmese and international consultants, and corrupt
ethnic leaders and “pro-democracy” politicians, who are also
well-positioned for the start of the nation’s degradation.
And finally, the rank and file soldiers of the Tatmadaw are winners. They
had been under tremendous stress, with insufficient rations and through
being ordered into one battle bloodbath with the ethnic nationalities
after another. The peace is good for them. Except against the Kachin their
lives are no longer at risk, and they will probably get more food.
Development will also improve their lot. There will be a lot more money
available for the Tatmadaw, even after the top leaders take their cut. The
soldiers should beware, though, their respite may well be temporary. If
and when Than Shwe decides that enough is enough, the nation-wide
offensives and battles will restart.
The Obama Administration
Another big winner is the Obama Administration. The President has been
roundly and properly criticized for having a weak and poorly conceived
foreign policy (and which ignores human rights). Washington has struggled
to respond to, much less anticipate, developments in Iran, North Korea,
China, and the Arab Spring. Indeed, for the last Secretary Clinton backed
the Arab world dictators, pushing for “peaceful,” negotiated transitions
in which the dictators would both participate and be protected. The local
peoples, though, would have none of it, and instead rose up. This forced
Washington to reverse its policy, and it also created mistrust and
suspicion among the Arab peoples that the United States was not really for
democracy, at least as far as Muslims are concerned.
Because of Daw Suu, the U.S. was able to pursue its preferred policy in
Burma. A new popular uprising was circumvented. Now there will be an
attempt at a negotiated transition, which, even if it fails, still
benefits the Administration. The U.S. has positioned itself well in the
geopolitical game against China, and also India. Furthermore, U.S.
corporations can now grab a share of the Burma lucre. Also, even if it
everything falls apart, and Than Shwe’s stormtroopers at some point
reassert overt control and even kill or imprison Thein Sein, regarding
President Obama’s most important objective, his re-election, he will have
a foreign policy victory to trumpet. Presuming he is re-elected, what
happens later in Burma is irrelevant. He is limited to two terms.
We can prevent a complete betrayal by the U.S. by forcing it to pay
attention to the real world, as Daw Suu in fact has done. The U.S. should
not end its sanctions until all its benchmarks have been achieved.
The by-election was only the first of these (and as we anticipated, it was
not free or fair but nevertheless the regime allowed the NLD to win).
There are still three benchmarks to go: The end of the civil war; the
freeing of all political prisoners; and the hidden issue, which is often
ignored, the nuclear and missile program cooperation with North Korea.
If we, and Daw Suu, continue to demand that these benchmarks be met, we
can force the U.S. to preserve the sanctions, and only eliminate them in
response to demonstrable positive change.
There is also another issue about the sanctions which no one has
mentioned. They do not “belong” to the U.S. government. Rather, the
sanctions are “owned” by the many Burma activists who pushed for them, who
pressed Congress and then the President to act. As one of those activists
- in the Spring of 1997 I was doing a photo show about Burma at a series
of U.S. universities, which installation called for sanctions, when
President Clinton signed the first law, actually an executive order
prohibiting new investment - I feel like they are “our” sanctions. We, the
U.S. activist community (most of which was affiliated with the Free Burma
Coalition), and other groups such as the NCGUB, pushed for them and got
them enacted. I personally want them to stay enacted until their job is
complete, until Burma is irreversibly on the road to democracy and a path
of appropriate social, political and economic development.
(Of note: It is the new investment sanction of President Clinton’s
executive order that the Administration announced the U.S.will now relax -
ironically, by Bill Clinton’s wife, now Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton. The Administration is able to do this because this sanction is
not part of a congressionally-approved law, i.e., the Burmese Freedom and
Democracy Act or the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act.)
We also need to guard against the Administration deceitfully dropping the
nuclear/North Korea issue, which is actually, together with the
geopolitical positioning relative to China, its greatest concern. To fully
illuminate the depth of the deception that is now underway, I want to
describe, once again, the State Department’s woeful response to my Freedom
Of Information Act filing for the Report on Military and Intelligence Aid
to Burma required under Section 10 of the Tom Lantos Act, and which report
must include whatever intelligence the U.S. has about the nuclear program
and its North Korean links.
My April 2010 filing was accepted by State’s FOIA office that June, and it
should then have been easy to fulfill. The Act requires that the report be
prepared, for submission to the House and Senate foreign affairs and
foreign relations committees, with an unclassified version to be placed on
State’s website. Therefore, I was not asking for anything extra, something
that would require a State foreign service officer to set aside time from
his or her busy schedule to prepare. Under the FOIA, the agency in
question has to respond within thirty days. I actually expected a
response, but that it would say that my request had been denied. The FOIA
allows a number of exemptions to information requests, the first of which
is for “national defense or foreign policy.” I expected State,
specifically the East Asian and Pacific Bureau, to say that it could not
satisfy my request, and also the provision of Section 10 which requires
the report’s publication, because it would be detrimental to U.S.
security. We believe that the report has been prepared, given to the
Congressional committees, and that it describes relations between U.S.
allies such as Israel and Germany, and the Tatmadaw. Revealing this would
be embarrassing. By claiming the exemption, these links can be kept hidden
(and perhaps also older military cooperation between the U.S. and Ne Win,
not to mention China’s involvement in the nuclear program.)
EAP though refused to follow the law, indeed, both laws - FOIA and Tom
Lantos. They just ignored the filing. I have had a series of discussions
with officials at the State FOIA office, who have been very helpful. They
have done everything in their power to get EAP to comply. Every month or
two they send a “search tasker,” which request EAP then ignores. This
month I escalated the process and a State FOIA officer talked to EAP’s
Burma Desk Officer. This individual responded that the Burma department
was busy and that they would need an additional six to nine months to
release the report. (This after what is already now a two year delay.)
This response, though, was a lie. The last BDO apparently never had time
to satisfy the filing either. It is clear that what is really happening is
that EAP Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell has instructed the department
never to respond.
State’s FOIA office told me that my only hope is “judicial review.” What
this means is that I must hire a lawyer and sue EAP to get it to comply,
which step frankly I can’t afford. EAP therefore itself has immunity, from
its legal obligations, and like the criminals in the Tatmadaw it too can
act with impunity.
Does anyone think that any of this will change when Derek Mitchell, after
Daw Suu, the biggest individual winner in the New Burma, is approved as
Total and Chevron
Probably what activists will regret more than anything is that the western
oil companies Total and Chevron, who are clearly villains, absolutely
culpable for the regime’s war crimes, are also winners in the New Burma.
Starting with the No Petrodollars for SLORC campaign in the early 1990s,
we tried - and failed - to force them to divest. Chevron, then Unocal, was
given an exemption to President Clinton’s order, and the Tom Lantos JADE
Act was postponed and then rewritten to protect it as well. The fact that
these companies, like the regime, have gotten away with murder, is
deplorable, all the more so because they can now expand their operations
in Burma without restraint and exploit the country and the people even
If Burma had gone free, a new democratic government could have carefully
evaluated all of the regime’s contracts with multinational corporations,
and invalidated them where appropriate. This opportunity is now lost.
Instead, these companies, which helped the regime block democracy in Burma
for decades, now get to profit even more from the reform. This is
The modern world, which Nan Bway Poung forsook, where the rich and
powerful do everything they can to exploit the poor and weak, is truly a
savage place. Right now, legions of corporate executives and bankers are
drooling over Burma, like dogs around fresh meat. They have already begun
to penetrate the country, as an invading army. Moreover, not only do they
not care if it goes free, they prefer the status quo. Legitimized
dictatorships are better for business.
If Daw Suu, the NLD, internal activists who are still willing to protest,
and the ethnic armies don’t stop it, Burma is open for business, and
Everything and Everyone Is For Sale.
I’d like to conclude by saying that I hope I am wrong, about all of the
above: about the New Burma, about Daw Suu, and even about deceptive and
self-serving American diplomats. I’m a foreign activist who decided to
dedicate his life to helping the people of the country. (There are lots of
people like me.) I believe it is too early to tell if the reform is good
or not, particularly for the ethnic nationalities. I dearly hope, however,
that it does succeed and that in the coming months Daw Suu and the NLD
make great inroads in Parliament on all of the above issues.
To recall her famous words, we should hope for the best but plan for the
worst. (It is not hope for the best and be blind to the rest!) If Than
Shwe launches a new crackdown, the people of Burma need to be prepared to
rise up, and, Daw Suu should publicly support this. The ethnic armies
should never surrender their weapons. They need to continue to improve
their cooperation with each other, maintain their operational readiness,
and fight against all Tatmadaw aggression. Everyone needs to oppose the
forthcoming corporate rape of Burma, including its diplomatic, media,
academic, trade association, and economic consultant promoters. There is
absolutely no need to rush. The people of the country do not need any new
factories, mines, or pipelines this year or even next. Instead, they need
food, water, schools, and clinics, and which the International Community
should be prepared to help provide, and with no neoliberal economic
development strings attached.