The Burmese Regime's Lifeline
By Amy Goodman
10/05/07 "ICH" -- -- The barbarous military regime depends on
revenue from the nation’s gas reserves and partners such as
Chevron, a detail ignored by the Bush administration.
The image was stunning: tens of thousands of saffron-robed
Buddhist monks marching through the streets of Rangoon [also
known as Yangon], protesting the military dictatorship of Burma.
The monks marched in front of the home of Nobel Peace Prize
winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who was seen weeping and praying
quietly as they passed. She hadn't been seen for years. The
democratically elected leader of Burma, Suu Kyi has been under
house arrest since 2003. She is considered the Nelson Mandela of
Burma, the Southeast Asian nation renamed Myanmar by the regime.
After almost two weeks of protest, the monks have disappeared.
The monasteries have been emptied. One report says thousands of
monks are imprisoned in the north of the country.
No one believes that this is the end of the protests, dubbed
"The Saffron Revolution." Nor do they believe the official body
count of 10 dead. The trickle of video, photos and oral accounts
of the violence that leaked out on Burma's cellular phone and
Internet lines has been largely stifled by government
censorship. Still, gruesome images of murdered monks and other
activists and accounts of executions make it out to the global
public. At the time of this writing, several unconfirmed
accounts of prisoners being burned alive have been posted to
Burma-solidarity Web sites.
The Bush administration is making headlines with its strong
language against the Burmese regime. President Bush declared
increased sanctions in his U.N. General Assembly speech. First
lady Laura Bush has come out with perhaps the strongest
statements. Explaining that she has a cousin who is a Burma
activist, Laura Bush said, "The deplorable acts of violence
being perpetrated against Buddhist monks and peaceful Burmese
demonstrators shame the military regime."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, at the meeting of the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said, "The United States
is determined to keep an international focus on the travesty
that is taking place." Keeping an international focus is
essential, but should not distract from one of the most powerful
supporters of the junta, one that is much closer to home. Rice
knows it well: Chevron.
Fueling the military junta that has ruled for decades are
Burma's natural gas reserves, controlled by the Burmese regime
in partnership with the U.S. multinational oil giant Chevron,
the French oil company Total and a Thai oil firm. Offshore
natural gas facilities deliver their extracted gas to Thailand
through Burma's Yadana pipeline. The pipeline was built with
slave labor, forced into servitude by the Burmese military.
The original pipeline partner, Unocal, was sued by EarthRights
International for the use of slave labor. As soon as the suit
was settled out of court, Chevron bought Unocal.
Chevron's role in propping up the brutal regime in Burma is
clear. According to Marco Simons, U.S. legal director at
EarthRights International: "Sanctions haven't worked because gas
is the lifeline of the regime. Before Yadana went online,
Burma's regime was facing severe shortages of currency. It's
really Yadana and gas projects that kept the military regime
afloat to buy arms and ammunition and pay its soldiers."
The U.S. government has had sanctions in place against Burma
since 1997. A loophole exists, though, for companies
grandfathered in. Unocal's exemption from the Burma sanctions
has been passed on to its new owner, Chevron.
Rice served on the Chevron board of directors for a decade. She
even had a Chevron oil tanker named after her. While she served
on the board, Chevron was sued for involvement in the killing of
nonviolent protesters in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Like
the Burmese, Nigerians suffer political repression and pollution
where oil and gas are extracted and they live in dire poverty.
The protests in Burma were actually triggered by a
government-imposed increase in fuel prices.
Human-rights groups around the world have called for a global
day of action on Saturday, Oct. 6, in solidarity with the people
of Burma. Like the brave activists and citizen journalists
sending news and photos out of the country, the organizers of
the Oct. 6 protest are using the Internet to pull together what
will probably be the largest demonstration ever in support of
Burma. Among the demands are calls for companies to stop doing
business with Burma's brutal regime.
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