Protesters in California bring attention to Chevron’s environmental impact in the area. Burmese activists fear similar neglect—not to mention human rights abuses—if Chevron and other US oil and gas companies invest in the country’s energy sector. (PHOTO: Reuters) [Source]
Many activists and politicians in Burma have cautiously welcomed the US president’s easing of sanctions on Burma this week, but many stressed that the US must take into consideration the unsolved issues in the country.
Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently attending the fourth parliamentary session in Naypyidaw, said the US move was “nothing significant,” according to the AFP on Thursday. She repeated her call for the international community to press for “transparency” with the state-run Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE).
NLD spokesman Ohn Kyaing pointed to general concerns about the lack of transparency in business, and said that US investment should “support” Burma’s democratic reforms.
The US statement said, “Easing sanctions is a strong signal of our support for reform and will provide immediate incentives for reformers and significant benefits to the people of Burma.”
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, Pyone Cho, one of the 88 Generation Students’ leaders, said that they welcomed the US government’s statement because it “is always supportive of Burma’s democracy movement and democratic reforms.”
“Some reforms still need to take place and the US should take these matters into consideration,” he said. “Our country still has some problems—the remaining political prisoners, continuous fighting in the ethnic areas, and the refugee issues—which remain unsolved. The current matters to tackle include workers’ and farmers’ issues, the call for the rebuilding of the [Rangoon University] Students Union, and media freedom.”
The 88 Generation group and other activists said they see the foreign investments in the country as crucial for development, but still harbor suspicions as to what extent they will make an impact.
If American companies enter into natural resources extraction projects, the human rights violations could continue to occur there, because there is no specific rule of law in these areas, said Naing Htoo, the acting director of Chiang Mai-based Earth Rights International’s (ERI) Burma Project.
He said the current oil and gas project areas are mostly situated in ethnic conflict zones and that these projects should be postponed until the conflicts are solved. However, he said, the US government’s move to allow US companies to invest in the lucrative energy sector could fuel these problems.
ERI, which is researching and profiling the companies in Burma’s petroleum and gas sector with regard to their impact on the environment, said that any company planning to invest in Burma should be very careful of its environmental impact and must avoid human rights abuses in the project areas.
“They [the US companies] must follow the guidelines according to international standards if they are to invest,” said Naing Htoo. “Because the Burmese government—and especially the contract-holder MOGE—offers no transparency.” [Source]
Obviously, no activist can possibly outright say that they want the US out, considering the power and influence the US hold, no one in Burma wants to make an enemy of the US. But take note that many activists really do not want the US in Burma’s industry:
“By allowing deals with Burma’s state-owned oil company, the US looks like it caved to industry pressure and undercut Aung San Suu Kyi and others in Burma who are promoting government accountability,” said Arvind Ganesan of Human Rights Watch.
Meanwhile Aung Din of the US Campaign for Burma, a Washington-based activist group, said the decision was rewarding institutions that had committed serious human rights violations in a country torn by decades of conflict.
It “will be appreciated by the Burmese generals, cronies and U.S. corporations, but not by the people of Burma,” he said.
The US involvement in Burma is one of the worst things that could possibly happen. The issue is that with the current rising attention on Burma, people with no clue about other situations (like this one) are asking for US (and other) involvement in Burma, not realizing how harmful it would be.