TCS Daily


After Saffron: A Tale of Technology

By Richard J. Tilley - November 5, 2007 12:00 AM

"Ultimately it comes down to the resilience, the determination, and the bravery of the people who have been marching."

Those words come from British Ambassador Mark Canning during the recent protest marches in Burma. As the monks marched past the British Embassy, the crowd jolted in applause, knowing they had the support of the UK. Perhaps the crowd could see Canning peering down on them from the window above.

This was while the mood was still optimistic, hopeful and inspired. The world witnessed bravery with a drawn out tension that only became more sobering as each day passed. The truth of the matter is the chance of the military junta being removed from power is "99.99 percent not going to happen", says David Steinberg, a Burma expert from Georgetown University.

More that 2,000 monks have been imprisoned, most likely some are being tortured. At least 6,000 in all have been detained. Many of those who have been released have reported that dozens have been killed while in detention. Ko Win Shwe died during interrogation. He was a member of the NLD, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hundreds of monks have been isolated in subhuman conditions with no toilets, no water, and were forced to eat rice by hand after it had been thrown to the ground. If any of the young monks referred to himself as a monk, he would be beaten and told, "You are no longer a monk. You are just an ordinary man with a shaven head." 

The United Nations Security Council has handed down a "watered down" condemnation of the Burma junta.

"The Security Council calls on the government of Myanmar to take all necessary measures to address the political, economic, humanitarian and human rights issues that are the concern of its people and emphasizes that the future of Burma lies in the hands of all its people."

Some see potential progress in the move by the UNSC because China has signed on to the pact. But in reality the move is non-binding and leaves no lasting threat to China's economic interest in Burma.

The City of Beijing was blind to the so called (and over-simplified) Saffron Revolution. The state controlled media abstained from broadcasting the peaceful protest marches. 

The regime in Burma reacted with platitudes to the UNSC's statement. "Myanmar's current situation does not affect regional and international stability," said the statement, attributed to Col. Thant Shin. "However, we deeply regret that the U.N. Security Council has issued a statement contrary to the people's desires... The government of Myanmar will continue to implement the seven-step roadmap together with the people,"... referring to the junta's plan that promises a new constitution and an eventual transition to democratic rule."

Veteran activist Aung Zaw believes we will see a second coming of support for Burma thanks to the adroit use of multimedia not available in 8-8-88.

"I have spoken to people [from the Burmese democracy movement] today and though they have said we are down, I think once they get past the initial dejection they will realize how much the world has learned about their suffering through being able to see the dramatic images and digital footage that have been broadcast worldwide."

Some may say - one would hope. I say - we can push for just that.

The author is
Charleston, SC Coordinator for the Books for Burma Project.
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15 Comments

Burma's isolation
The sad thing about the suffering of the people of Burma is that there's not one nation on earth that's on their side. Instead, every nation does business with the junta and supports them as partners in a web of extractive industry-- mostly exports of oil, gas and teak.

The word that immediately comes to every media mouthpiece is that Burma's ruling junta is supposedly "isolated".

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact they are strongly supported in the most tangible way-- they are funded-- by corporate and government interests in China, India, Thailand, the USA, Malaysia and South Korea. Just to mention the primary backers of the regime.

Everyone is making money from the status quo. Will it be maintained? Against a nonviolent crowd of students and monks? That's not even a question.

Burma business
Sure, everybody is doing business with them; what do you propose, embargo sanctions? I hope not because usually left wing people say that sanctions only further hurt the poorest people.

Not sanctions
Applied sanctions won't work. Everyone will ignore them. The world has changed since the days when nations honored sanctions. And they would hurt only the people, as they did in Iraq after the Gulf War. The government would still conduct business around them, and grow stronger than ever.

A beginning would be to sponsor a UN declaration that the generals were conducting an unlawful and illegitimate government, and to make them give up their UN seat in favor of the government that was elected back in 1988-- the one that was never allowed to take office.

This would bring pressure on those governments and corporations (like Chevron) that like to appear as responsible world citizens. And the pressure would possibly help loosen the generals' grip on power.

The problem now is that there is no political will anywhere to do anything but "study the situation" and perhaps go so far as to "condemn" something. But this time around, even the word condemn has been too strong. All the governments have done is to "regret" the situation.

Government by Death
This has to be held up and trumpeted--loudly--as proof that peaceful protests and the like don't work with governments that have no conscience at all.

It also shines a glaring spotlight on the inability of our "international system" to deal with, or even to understand as an institution, regimes that are legitimate by virtue of holding territory and power, but not by virtue of acting for the benefit or by the consent of those they govern.

Where do we go from here? I don't know. But before we can act, we have to acknowledge that there is a problem in the way we are thinking about it. "As we think anew, so we shall act anew."

The enablers
Yes, certainly. But the "governments that have no conscience at all" are the ones I held up as being the enablers of the Myanmar junta: the United States, China, Thailand, India, etc. Without their active and passive support, the regime would have run out of funds and toppled over, a lifeless husk.

Look at the official pronouncements on this latest mini-tragedy. It's a chorus of helpless hand-wringing.

"We regret..." "We deplore..." We wish..." "We hope..." It's all intentionally useless, an evasion of any responsibility.

The names of the public and private consortia who fund, do business with and prop up Burma's rulers are easy to locate. They use the Burmese army as their private security personnel, and occasionally use press-ganged Burmese nationals as unpaid labor-- most notoriously in the Yadana gas pipeline, built by Unocal and Total Fina Elf and now managed jointly by Chevron and the Thai government's gas company (the end user).

http://www.globalpolicy.org/intljustice/atca/2005/0322unocalsettle.htm

Where do we go from here? There would only be one effective direction, and that would be to get fresh leadership. Chevron, in the person of Condi Rice, now runs our State Department. (To be fair, this kind of thing continues uninterrupted during Democratic administrations. It's just more explicit now.)

Suppose every country shuns Burma
I mean, no country supports ANYBODY in Burma. Neither the junta nor the janata (Indian term for the common folk).

Do you think the janata can overcome the junta?

Just wondering aloud.

Just so you don't go off tangentially, I am NOT supporting doing business with Burma.

at least no sanctions
At least you're not recommending sanctions, but why do a few you of point out private oil companies here, and in other incidents; but never point out involvement of national oil companies anywhere? After all most of the world oil business is in the hands of government 'big oil'.

Good question
Thank you. That's a reasonable question to ask.

The generals, like every military, run on funds on hand. No money, no bullets. No bullets, no generals.

A universal boycott would never be obtainable, however. If the US were to unilaterally tell Chevron to pull out, they would only sell their interest to someone else-- someone with even fewer scruples. Probably the French group, Total.

And China would not follow suit. China makes her living from doing deals with pariah states. Look at Sudan, or the Central Asian republics. These plecs are integral to China's energy plan.

Let's look at Thailand, who now gets something like 80% (going from memory) of her natural gas from Burma. She's going to cut that off?

I don't think so. It would be nice if we lived in such a world, but it ain't going to happen. The omly possible point of progress I might see would be for the UN to take a stand on principle, and take the seat away from the generals.

But I did
"...but why do a few you of point out private oil companies here, and in other incidents; but never point out involvement of national oil companies anywhere?"

I did. I specifically included both private and national corporations. In fact, whether the country in question appears to be more socialist, like Malaysia, or capitalist, like the US, the involvement of government and private business in a single enterprise is everywhere apparent.

"The Yetagun gas field project involves PTTEP (Thailand), Petronas (Malaysia), Nippon (Japan ) and MOGE (Myanmar), of which the Petronas possesses the largest share with 56.66 percent, while Myanmar's state-run Oil and Gas Enterprise 15 percent, PTTEP of Thailand and Nippon of Japan 14.17 percent each."

http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200611/11/eng20061111_320560.html

There's plenty of blame to go around. Everyone does business with Burma. Even Danford Equities Corporation of Australia is getting into the act.

Finally, "At least you're not recommending sanctions".

After what they did to Iraq, I think there's no one on earth who would recommend sanctions as a way of putting pressure on a dictatorship. There they weakened the public so badly they actualy strengthened Saddam's hold on the nation... which was perhaps the point.

And as for collateral damage, there were those half million children who died of preventable causes.

And WHAT might that (principle) be and HOW can it (the UN) unseat the Generals Roy?
But we were talking about another issue. What happens if the world doesn't bother with Burma one way or the other.

As this (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bm.html) CIA - The World Factbook shows,

Burma has a population of nearly 47 Million. The (military) junta can survive for a very very long time by enslaving them.

The Egyptian Pharoahs survived many centuries on slave labor.

that's good
So we're both against sanctions. I guess you're like me too in that I'm still angry that they had sanctions against white south africas some years ago, right?

why only Burma?
Why all the fuss about the enslaved in Burma, but not the enslved in say, Cuba, or north korea? Does everyone also feel somebody must put a stop to it in those places too? Did you all also support regime change when Albania was enslaved? I don't remember any of you talking about that then.

Thought you would have got the tenor of my posts by now
I am NOT advocating that.

But, if any (semi) free country so chooses, it has the MORAL right to take out the Burmese junta, just as the US and other semi free countries HAD the MORAL Right to take out Hitler from the day he took over Germany.

The only motive that should guide such an act should be the selfish security concerns of the country and should not involve any "nation" building nonsense.

Why all the fuss?
Oh, I think there is a fuss over slavery, wherever people are enslaved. North Korea, certainly. It's a horrible place. But it's also a place that's remarkably resistant to any sort of pressure, and people have been trying for the past fifty years to deal with them.

Burma is merely current, and also the subject being discussed here.

In Cuba, BTW, I don't think anyone is being enslaved. They're hurting, of course, because the place is very poorly run and financially backward. But there's no slavery.

In Batista's Cuba, in fact, before Castro took over, there was actual slavery, in the cane fields. That's the main reason the revolution was so instantly popular there.

Let's use words as words, and not just as clubs. Slavery has a specific meaning. It doesn't occur in Cuba.

Likewise elsewhere I notice you talk about our government using "deadly force" when all you mean is they collect taxes. Use words this badly and people will stop listening to you.

Proper targeting
Unlike in Iraq, the sanctions against South Africa targeted the regime, not the people. As a result they were effective, and the government folded.

The government that followed was somewhat an improvement, in that it stands for racial equality. But it's still far from being a place I would consider well run. They have, for instance, an ignorant president-for-life who reminds me quite a lot of a potential Mugabe.

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