Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Oiling The Junta

anti+unocal
I preface this post with these powerful words from
Aung San Suu Kyi:
To observe businessmen who come to Burma with the intention of enriching themselves is somewhat like watching passers-by in an orchard roughly stripping off blossoms for their fragile beauty, blind to the ugliness of despoiled branches, oblivious of the fact that by their action they are imperilling future fruitfulness and committing an injustice against the rightful owners of the trees.
Recently, I reported on the unsuccessful bid by millions of Vietnamese to sue the manufacturers of Agent Orange for the persistent and horrific effects of those toxic chemicals. That case is set to go to appeal. But there is marginally better news today for Burmese villagers who have been fighting an 8-year court case against the US oil firm, Unocal. In an unspecified out-of-court settlement Unocal has agreed to compensate villagers who suffered severe abuses during the construction of a gas pipeline. Here is the crux of the matter:
It was accused of allowing Burmese troops guarding the project to rape, murder and enslave villagers.
This is not simply an isolated case of "rotten apples". It is absolutely sympomatic of the way that the military junta does business. For many years now there has been verifiable evidence of gross human rights abuses, including the forcible relocation of civilians and the widespread use of forced labour, including children, precisely for these projects with multinational corporations. All this is well known. But companies like Unocal still choose to sup with the devil. They just don't get it. And despite the settlement Unocal strongly denies any part in human rights abuses. The money, by the way, will be spent on development "to improve living conditions, health care and education, and protect the rights of people from the pipeline region". But it's hard to see how people will protect themselves from these military thugs.

But just as the Unocal case reaches its conclusion so the campaign against the French oil giant, TOTAL, gathers pace. The Burma Campaign UK has recently published a comprehensive report on TOTAL's dealings with the Rangoon goons:
the fourth largest oil company in the world and one of the biggest foreign investors in Burma. Its joint venture with Burma's dictatorship earns the military regime hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
And for those of you who think that the French government has some higher moral legitimacy than other governments you may think about, ponder this:
[T]ougher European Union sanctions against Burma have been blocked by the French government in its effort to protect TOTAL's interests in the country.
For years now, big capital has been drip-feeding this obnoxious regime; not just Western companies but those from China and India as well. "Constructive engagement" is a lie; "bringing 'development' to the people" is a lie. As that one-time chronicler of Burmese Days would have put it, it's all "doublespeak". Aung San Suu Kyi says "no" to these injustices. That should be good enough for us.

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