Thursday, May 01, 2003

Woman Of Dreams

If you haven't been introduced, or even if you have, please go visit Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel laureate and leader of the non-violent human rights and democracy movement in Burma. This woman is incredible. A strong and compassionate human being. Though her party won a landslide victory in democratic elections in 1990, they have never been allowed to rule by the military there. response to increasing international pressure, the regime agreed to hold elections, thinking it had such an iron-fisted grip over the nation that they would win. They were wrong. The National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi (who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991), won fully 82 percent of the legislative seats.

As mentioned above, however, these elections have never been recognized. Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest. National League for Democracy members have been terrorized, killed, forced to resign and to flee their homeland.

Now she is no longer under house arrest, but to be so on and off for over a decade is absurd. Can you imagine being on house arrest for years because you won an election? This, the rightful leader of the (by landslide) victorious party of democratic elections! How does the military get away with this? can a regime so clearly opposed by the majority of the people remain in power? The answer is simple: corporate support. The military in Burma is extremely well-armed and well-financed, in large part due to the continued investment in Burma of a handful of corporations. The democracy movement in Burma has repeatedly called on corporations to withdraw from the country until democracy is achieved. Aung San Suu Kyi has emphasized, "Until we have a system that guarantees rules of law and basic democratic institutions, no amount of aid or investment will benefit our people."

Responding to this call from the democracy movement, and building on lessons from the international movement to help end apartheid in South Africa, the international Free Burma movement has focused grassroots campaigns on pressuring corporations to respect the will of the democratic leadership of Burma and withdraw from the country. The results have been impressive.

Many companies indeed bailed out in the early 1990's, heeding the call of conscience or threat of boycott, including Levi Strauss, who claim...

"It is not possible to do business in (Burma) without directly supporting the military government and its pervasive violations of human rights."

You can bet your bottom dollar that didn't stop Halliburton though. Nope, they kept right on dealing with these fascists. Now, keep in mind the definition of fascism. Burma is it.

The Bush administration might be unsympathetic to a more robust policy towards Burma. Burma has always been a lefty cause; GOP lawmakers, sympathetic to the oil lobby, fought a losing battle against the Clinton administration's policy of imposing sanctions. Meanwhile, Vice President Cheney, himself an opponent of economic sanctions, probably isn't hot to draw attention to Burma. Halliburton, the petroleum and energy services company Cheney once ran, made extensive joint venture investments in Burma during the 1990s. According to court documents, the Burmese military used forced labor on a pipeline project in which Halliburton was involved.

And, even worse, these guys have been talking about starting up a nuclear reactor. Can you believe that? Unelected, fascist leaders are eager to go nuclear, with a reputation for concealing WMD.

Most frightening, Burma's ruling generals have decided to build a nuclear reactor. What for? "Medical purposes," says Burma's foreign minister, yet the country doesn't have the technology to make radioactive isotopes used in medicine. It does, however, have a shady history regarding weapons of mass destruction. In the mid-1990s, the respected arms control group International Peace Research Institute, as well as American intelligence, accused Burma of possessing a chemical-weapons program. Burma's neighbors---and the U.S.---certainly can't be reassured by the fact that two Pakistani nuclear scientists whom the CIA reportedly wanted to question about potential ties to Al Qaeda were sent to Burma shortly after Sept. 11 on an unknown research project, and allegedly haven't returned.

So, why, in the wake of Sept. 11, has the Bush administration been largely silent about Burma, even as it beats the drums for regime change elsewhere? One reason is energy. Burma is awash in natural gas reserves, and foreign oil companies, which have extensive investments in the country, are not eager to see the status quo disrupted. Also, intelligence reports have yet to show that the nuclear facility will be used to make fissile material. In any event, Burma lacks the missile capability that could theoretically allow it to deliver weapons of mass destruction. In short, Burma is a threat to our allies in the region, but not to us. In this way, Burma illustrates the weakest link in the emerging Bush doctrine. We demand that our allies support our actions against terrorists and regimes that threaten U.S. security. But if our allies need help countering threats that only endanger their security, we turn a blind eye.

So I guess actual repressive fascist governments seeking nuclear capabilities shouldn't be part of the Axis of Evil, by logic that they are not a direct threat to us, only to our allies, and not about oil, or natural gas, or energy. Neither was Iraq about oil either. And I'm sure it would have nothing to do with Cheney's energy task force notes, but since he's hiding them who knows?

Transparency and accountability. Repeat after me. Transparency and accountability. We should be helping everyday heroes of freedom like Aung San Suu Kyi, rather than supporting their enemies who terrorize them and deny them their rightful democracy. Only then will we stand with integrity as the true friend and champion of democracy and the American Dream.