Saturday, October 20, 2007

Burma, Chevron and JADE

Naypyidaw bus station and town center:
Practically deserted, just like the rest of the new Burmese capital.

US Lawmakers plan squeeze on Chevron in Myanmar. Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee introduced the measure, entitled Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democracy Efforts) of 2007, on Thursday. The proposed measure would end tax write-offs currently enjoyed by Chevron on revenues earned in Burma. (Rights activists claim that Chevron's $ are helping prop up the junta.) The measure would also target gem imports, put additional restrictions on assets of political and military leaders, and restrict travel of junta officials to the United States.

About Chevron:
...(it) is one of biggest Western companies in Myanmar, holding a 28 percent minority share in the Yadana natural gas project following its acquisition of another US energy giant, Unocal, in 2005. The United States has already imposed substantial trade, investment and diplomatic sanctions on Myanmar, but Chevron's operations predate an enhanced 2003 US trade embargo.

Under Myanmar law, if Chevron sold its stake, it might have to pay the military junta much of the company's capital gains on the project -- estimated to be around 500 million dollars but the proposed sanctions would bar Chevron from making such a payment.

Oddly enough, the recent demonstrations by the Burmese monks which ended so disastrously? They started because of an increase in gasoline prices.

The current protests began on August 19 after the government sharply raised fuel prices in what is one of Asia's poorest countries. But they are based in deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the repressive military government that has ruled the country in one form or another since 1962.

In the words of Burmese American activist, Nyunt Than.

"People have been asking for democracy with their bare hands for 45 years," Than said. "They need help. Their bare hands against a modern army is not a good story to be told, nor to be watched."

Read more about Than here.

Read about the ruling junta's lavish jungle capital, Naypyidaw, here.

Even before you arrive in Naypyidaw, it is obvious that the world’s newest capital is a place like no other in Burma. It is not just the isolation, in a jungle 200 miles from the sea; it’s not just the active discouragement of foreigners, which is circumvented easily enough. It is the road leading into it.