Wednesday, October 03, 2007

mission of burma 


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.

Those interested in doing something about the situation in Burma might do well to start organizing a boycott, subsidiary boycott, divestment campaign and strikes by Chevron workers in order to put pressure on the Junta.

I say this not to be snarky or superior about MoveOn's petition below (I signed it as well), but to suggest a more concrete and effective form of action. Even the above "calls...to stop doing business" isn't really forceful enough. Businesses that do business with Burma should be boycotted, divested from, and publicly shamed with protests and actions. This type of resistance had an enormous influence in bringing down the South African apartheid regime. Enough with the "calls" already. Use force.

MoveOn, with its three million members, could certainly organize something like this easily. They could publish a list of companies to be boycotted. They could take out full-page ads in the Times. They could sponsor an anti-Chevron ad-campaign. They could hand out rubber "Chevstrong" bracelets to three million people, and corral a few celebrities into the act as well to make it all nice and mainstream and legit.

If you donate to MoveOn, in other words, if that's a political formation that you support and have some genuine influence on, then it might be worth throwing them a letter or two. Chevron is a hell of a lot easier to kick in the balls than the Democratic Party since you don't have to wait for an election to do it. You also get a lot more bang for your buck by fucking with corporations than governments. They're on a quarterly cycle for one thing. They also can't dissipate your efforts into nothingness with a million compromises. Why waste time on the middleman?


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