Myanmar is Open for Business

Wow! The cynicism and hypocrisy of U.S. foreign relations and policy has no limits. Against the wishes and will of Aung San Suu Kyi, and anyone remotely familiar with the social and economic conditions of Burma, it’s appalling that Obama has lifted investment sanctions against Burma. According to Arvind Ganesan, quoted in the Washington Post article by Karen Deyoung on July 12, “The U.S. government should have insisted that good governance and human rights reform be essential operating principles for new investments in Burma.” Excuse me, Mr. Ganesan, may I kindly ask where have you been for the past few years?

The U.S. government does its best business with brutal totalitarian military dictatorships – not with nations seeking real Democracy and social justice for all. If Aung San Suu Kyi never existed, do you believe for a minute that the United States would have waved a banner of principle for Democracy in Burma? After all, Chevron has been doing business here for years – during sanctions. Why is that? Oil.

The U.S. State Department hosted visits and speaking tours for the right-wing neo-con, Larry Diamond, who was recently in Myanmar giving talks to Myanmar activists about Democracy and freedom. The local political activists and intellectuals were enamored with him. It’s not their fault. They don’t know that Larry Diamond is an economic pirate and war-mongering fascist. He was in Myanmar for the oil industry. But Myanmar people have been living in the dark for a long time. They truly believe the propaganda fed to them by the U.S. and British Political-Economic missions who claim they are sincerely interested in helping them shape real democracy. They don’t yet understand that they are pieces on the board games of Monopoly and Risk.

There was also a Corporate Social Responsibility specialist from a Washington lobbying firm (according to their website they are “green” and I promised not to name the firm or identify the speaker) who recently came here to investigate the conditions of American companies and their treatment of the local people and environment. The person talked a nice game, was a genuinely pleasant and very likable person. But, the person’s law firm is not concerned about human rights and responsible actions of American companies. It’s a lobbying and public relations firm who (“who” not “that” because corporations are people) is concerned with clients’ reputations, image and public perception.

In a speech given to local activists the person said that Coca Cola’s support of right-wing death squads that have killed scores of union activists in Columbia is a “theory” and used little fingers to add imaginary quotations marks in the air around the word “theory” while making a smirky face as if to say that it’s a conspiracy theory. The only good thing that came out of the talk is that most of the people in the audience were there to hear the English language, not what a lobbyist had to say, and they couldn’t understand the slangy inferences and colloquialisms. In reality, anyone who cares to investigate Coca Cola’s anti-democratic and union busting brutality in Columbia can easily do so. It’s not a pretty picture.

Recently Coca Cola donated three million dollars to PACT in Myanmar. PACT is an NGO under the umbrella of a multitude of UN agencies. Hopefully the money will be put to effective use. But Coca Cola will eventually reap billions in Myanmar, where a can of its Thailand made product currently costs 500 Myanmar Kyat or about fifty-five US cents.

It’s only a matter of time before Coca Cola has a manufacturing plant in Myanmar outside of Yangon near the soon-to-be-built giant airport and rail hub in the city of Bago, about fifty miles outside of Yangon. This location will make Myanmar the regional hub for its sales and distributions to South East Asia and western China. Labor is cheap in Myanmar. That’s why Coca Cola is in this impoverished country.

Ninety-five percent of the Myanmar people can’t afford the extravagance of drinking Coca Cola’s corn syrup, dye and flavoring additives and polluted water. The average person in Myanmar gets a monthly salary of about thirty US dollars. To get that, workers must work six days a week, with no or little overtime pay, and work ten to twelve hours a day. I’d opine that Coca Cola knows exactly what it’s doing in Myanmar.

By breaking with Aung San Suu Kyi, now living in Nap Yi Daw as a Member of Parliament and out of the international spotlight after her fascinating trip to Europe, Obama has proven himself, yet again, worthy to everyone except the 90 percent of the American people who are not wealthy, and the 99.99 percent of Myanmar people who are neither wealthy or wise to the international deceit of the U.S. empire.

The U.S. has rightfully supported the Lady, and the Myanmar president has been phenomenal at holding on to power as reforms in Myanmar take hold, and now the U.S. corporations are ready to snap up as much extractive resources they can. Nice outcome if you work for, or invest in, extractive industries. So far, it’s shaping up to be a mostly peaceful transition from military dictatorship to a less military controlled free-market dictatorship. Because of ethnic violence, low wages, extreme poverty, human trafficking, non-existent health care and poor education, I’d say Coca Cola would be very happy with itself in Myanmar once it sets up a plant or two. (That’s cynicism talking.)

But much is yet to come for Myanmar in all areas. Wars in border regions still persist, human rights abuses still occur daily, hundred of people languish in prisons for their political beliefs, poverty is a monstrous problem. Democracy is far from being guaranteed to root yet in Myanmar. But, the rich will get richer while the rest fight for scraps. That’s one guarantee we can count on. It’s reflective of the American model in all its glory for years abroad, and now at home.

Ko Tha Dja is an educator and writer who lived in Burma for five years. His collection of stories about his time in Burma is forthcoming. Now residing in Vientiane, Lao PDR, he can be reached via his personal blog at Read other articles by Ko Tha Dja.