Saturday, April 23, 2011

Aung Moe and Amy: Sanctions' Collateral Damage (4)

Massive Insein Prison in Rangoon.
Justice is swift and brutal in a primitive place like Burma where humans have very few rights and criminals have no rights at all. Aung Moe thought he would be hanged soon without realizing that no one has ever been hanged in Burma since late 1988 when the army staged a coup and started more than 20 years long right-wing military dictatorship.

Although the courts in Burma are still regularly sentencing the criminals committing heinous crimes to death by hanging no one has ever been hanged for decades now. The junta had considered themselves a temporary caretaker Government so not an actual hanging has been allowed during their rule from 1988 till recent transfer of power to the present military-backed civilian Government in April 2011.

But young Aung Moe didn’t know that and he was mad enough not to wait till he is horribly hanged till death. Maybe he had read too many of Yan-aung Maung Maung’s articles about judicial hangings in popular crime magazines. So one night he decided to end his own life. And the stupid boy chose to hang himself.

The rear wall of his tiny cell for the condemned had a small high window almost by the concrete ceiling. It has iron bars and he tied one end of his prison issued thin blanket to a bar and made a crude noose at the other end. He then climbed up to the window, hung on the bars with one hand, then put noose around his neck with other hand, and let himself go.

It might have taken him hours to die as the strangling in the darkness might be horribly slow as his feet nearly touched the cold concrete floor. Anyway they found him dead in the morning. After a post-mortem Aung Moe was buried among the unmarked graves of others hanged and not collected by their next of kin somewhere in the enormous compound of notorious Insein Gaol.

Startling Crows

According to my friend the wardens told him that a rather scary thing did happen during the night Aung Moe took his own life. The resident flock of black crows on the huge banyan tree by the condemned cells and the gallows were strangely restless the whole night. The bloody crows kept on startling off and the condemned were kept awake most of the night.

Startled Black Crows.
The crows had confirmed the superstitious belief among the prisoners of notorious Insein Prison. They believed that the crows on the Banyan trees were the reincarnation of the souls of the hanged. In every hanging in the past when the trap drop opened it made a horribly loud noise as the doors hit the concrete walls of the gallows base.

The loud noise always startled the crows on the nearby Banyan tree just outside the 20 foot-high wall squaring the prison as the prisoner dropped and the rope broke his neck clean. And the black crows flew away at once. In that night when Aung Moe was dying the crows somehow seemed to know it without the usual trapdoors noise.

Aung Moe died in July 2003 and nearly eight years later in March 2011 the nine members of the new Union Parliament of Burma did passionately protest against the unjust sanctions imposed against their country by the US led West Bloc.

Burma now has democracy so lift the sanctions please!

Daw Dwe Bu from Kachin State Injanyan Constituency began by saying that every country whether large or small are striving hard to achieve long term development. In doing so the respective government and the people should have the right to choose the way they like for development of their country.

And they should have right to deal with their own affairs without interferences from outside. This concept of non-interference is not a new idea but part of the well accepted Five Precepts of Peaceful Coexistence.

Our people have wholeheartedly chosen the most appropriate way to build our own democratic system based on our own geographical environment, our own cultural heritage, and our own historical background. Deliberately ignoring the progressive changes in our society the West Bloc has been sadly continuing their harsh sanctions by prohibiting the direct investments, continuing embargo on our exports, prohibiting financial transactions and money transfers, prohibiting the technology transfers, and blocking the tourism.

Such one-sided economic sanctions are also not only bad for the sanction-imposing countries but also bad for our country and our people and thus forcing us to take the anti-West Bloc stance in the long run.

The one-sided and morally wrong actions of the West Bloc in imposing economic sanctions and trade embargos are quite disturbing for me and I wholeheartedly support U Htay Oo’s motion protesting against the sanctions, she said.

Each and every patriotic citizen wants to see his or her country progressing and developing. And we all work hard together to establish a new democratic Burma based on current situations. One of the reasons for West Bloc imposing sanctions, she believeed, is the fabrication of false news about our country by the domestic and foreign sources ignoring the steady progress happening in our country. Therefore, she objected to the broadcasting and publishing of fabricated stories as the news by the foreign media organizations (such as BBC and VOA the exile media industry like Irrawaddy and DVB). 

Sanctions are gross violation of human rights!

Dr. Myat Nyarna Soe from Rangoon Division Constituency (4) said that the people who are loudly and wrongly claiming that the economic sanctions affect only the Government not the people are the selfish ones who turn a blind eye to what is really happening in the country. They are the ones who do not care about our people as they only care about preserving their self interests and their self existences.

Sanctions hinder the national development and cause major difficulties in infrastructure development. Sanctions also adversely affect the rights of our workers in the industries. On the other hand by prohibiting their own citizens and businesses from investing in Burma these Western countries violate the rights of their own people to trade freely. And these countries and their people should know that it is a gross violation of human rights.

Prohibition of exports to our nation for agricultural inputs is very disruptive to our agricultural production and the farmers who are the majority of our people suffer as the result. And blocking off the flow of technologies to Burma is violation of technological rights.

It is our national interests to defend against the sanctions and we the Parliamentarians representing the States and Divisions and the tatmadaw (military) must be united. So together with all the parliamentary representatives here I wholeheartedly support U Htay oo’s Motion, he concluded.   

Sanctions stop international assistance and foreign aid!

Daw Nan Nu War from Shan State Kunhing Constituency said that on 15 January 2011 the ethnic parties had jointly issued an announcement protesting against the sanctions.  On 64th Union Day the ethnic parties again issued another joint announcement denouncing the sanctions. The neighboring ASEAN countries are also calling for the immediate removal of the sanctions against our country. 

In ever sector of economy some inputs are to be imported from abroad. In importing the fertilizers, pesticides, and machineries for the agricultural sector their costs are required to be settled in Euro instead of the international trade currency US$ because of American financial sanctions. And the extra processing cost adds up to 2 to 3 percents of total cost and becomes a heavy burden for the people. These are the evil consequences of financial and economic sanctions.

Because of economic sanctions we lose opportunities to get monetary and technological assistance from IMF, ADB and IFI. In comparison with neighboring countries Burma lose out on money and technology worth millions of US$ because of the sanctions. Due to the lack of foreign direct investments the development of ethnic states and border regions also suffer.  

Economic sanctions imposed against our country have only negative impacts for both imposers and impose. Also it doesn’t make sense at all by continuing the sanctions in the name of democracy and human rights while our country has already started the definite steps towards democracy.

Now is the time they should be welcoming our country with assistances and encouragements   instead of continuing the economic blockages. Thus on behalf of all our people, she concluded, I plead for the removal of sanctions and I therefore support  U Htay Oo’s Motion.  

We the people of Burma demand to lift sanctions!

U Naing Hla Maung of Chaungzone Constituency said that our people suffer because of the economic sanctions imposed by US and EU. The people of Burma have no desire for present sanctions. Our party together with other five ethnic parties has already issued a joint statement for the immediate removal of sanctions.

In U Htay Oo’s original motion calling the world to remove the sanctions against us the strong word ‘objection’ was included. He said he would like to advise to the Parliament that the more polite words ‘We plead to lift the sanctions’ should be used instead of the word ‘objection’.

But, he continued, he did not expect the sanctions will be easily lifted just be pleading alone. We also have to show the world by successfully implementing the multi-party democracy system we have started now.

Only when the multi-party democracy is achieved will all democratic nations of the world support our country and therefore US and European countries will have to lift the sanctions. He concluded by saying that he also supports U Htay Oo’s motion against the sanctions.

More than 850,000 have lost their jobs!

Dr. Pwint San of Mayangone Constituency said that before the sanctions there were more than 300 labor intensive garment factories providing many job opportunities our people. But the cruel sanctions have closed down about half of the garment factories and more than 850,000 workers so far have lost their jobs. As a consequence their dependant families become destitute.

In addition the private Businesses, Government departments, foreign embassies, NGOs and all other enterprises that use US$ have faced the serious difficulties due to the financial sanctions on money transfer through US based financial institutions.

The US and its accomplices have also banned foreign investment in Burma and put pressure on international monetary organizations to cut or even totally deny the loans and financial assistances to Burma.

Apart from US economic sanctions the EU and Canada also restricted import of timber and gems from us and banned financial services. Their misleading campaigns with fabricated news about our country also have an adverse impact on the tourism industry.

The sanctions imposing countries have always stated that their actions are designed to specifically target our Government for a political change as desired by them. But in practice the sanctions also have affected our people as less job opportunities and other losses socially and economically.

In accordance with the wishes of the people he supported U Htay Oo’s motion.   

In his opinion the West Bloc’s sanctions were based on false news and misinformation campaign hiding the true situation in the country so that the political changes as per their requirement could be forced upon us.  Anyone carefully analyzing their criticisms and their discussion papers and their news articles can clearly see their wrong doings to harm us, he added.

There are some people from inside actively trying to maintain the present economic and financial sanctions by fabricating false news and sending out negative reports without considering the prosperity of our country and our people. Their selfish acts are clearly the acts of destructive persons who do not want to serve the interest of the state and the people.

Therefore he strongly objected to the fabrication of false news and the releasing of negative information and deliberately ignoring the endeavors of the state and the people in developing a new democratic nation.

The Government has been implementing the seven step roadmap for democratization and improvement of human rights and as the last step this Union Parliament is presently being convened for handing over the governing of the state to a democratically elected Government.

Moreover, Burma has been cooperating with the neighboring countries and the regional countries and other global nations that acknowledge the true improvements in our country and wish to cooperate with us for mutual interests. Therefore he deeply supports U Htay Oo’s Motion, he concluded.

Clarification by the Minister of Finance and Commerce

The Minister for Finance and Revenue U Hla Htun began his clarification on the effects of US sanctions by saying that the United States started imposing the sanctions against Burma under the pretext of human rights and democracy in 1997 by using the authority vested in the President by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1997 – IEEPA.

According to IEEPA the US President can declare a National Emergency (in accordance with the National Emergency Act - NEA) and impose certain types of international trade or financial sanctions against a foreign nation if he believes and decided that nation poses a threat to national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States. 

Beginning May 1997, in accordance with the IEEPA and NEA, the successive US Presidents from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama has issued the national emergency in May every year by stating that our little country unusually threatens the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the US and continued imposing various trade and financial sanctions against us.

In this regard, the Minister remarked, he would like to report to the Parliament who really threatens whose national security, foreign policy, and economy. With common sense everybody knows the true fact that with only 50 million people and still at the bottom of the list of UN’s Least Developed Nations our little country cannot really threaten 300 million strong USA which, as the world’s only superpower, has the strongest economic strength and the biggest military might spending 50% of world total military expenditure.

Although the economic sanctions cannot effectively stop the endeavors of the State and people for development of our nation the sanctions have adverse impacts on the factories and large industrial projects that create job opportunities for our people.

In 2003 many garment factories were shut down in Burma due to textiles import embargo imposed by US in accordance with the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act. There were more than 300 garment factories before the sanctions and by 2009 only about 120 garment factories were still operating and hundreds of thousands of female workers have lost their jobs. And 95% of them  were young female workers aged 18 to 35.

The sanctions imposed by the US have affected not only the textile industry but also the fishery industry. From 1988 to 2003 Burma ranked fourth among the Asian countries exporting the fishery products to US and without the sanctions Burma would have ranked second by now.  

Moreover, all money transfers have been disrupted because of the financial sanctions prohibiting the money transfers in to and out off our country. The prohibitions on financial and monetary services also cause the crises in the private businesses, government departments, foreign embassies, and the NGOs relying on US monetary system for trade and money remittance.

The tourism industry and traveling businesses also face severe difficulties as the US Traveler’s Cheques can not be used here anymore.

Since 1987 the World Bank has basically stopped providing monetary loans to Burma. But IMF and the World Bank had provided substantial financial assistances to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia during the SE Asian financial crisis in 1997. For our country, even in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008 they did not throw a single cent at us. The US and EU have also banned the international financial organizations from providing monetary assistance to Burma in 2003 and 2004.

The ODA (Official Development Assistance from rich countries to the Least Developed Countries) to our country has been basically stopped since late 1988. According to the official 2008 figures, Laos got US 48 dollars per head in ODA, Cambodia US 51.6 dollars, Vietnam US 43.5 dollars, and Sri Lankar US 50 dollars while Burma received only US 10 dollars.

By assuming that every LDC should get US dollars 45 per person a year as ODA, 50 million people of Burma have been losing out on ODA at the figure of at least 2.5 billion US dollars   every year. Such amount of money is equal to one year proceeds of selling natural gas from   our country. If Burma gets ODA regularly since 1988, anyone could see how massive that money could contribute to considerable development of the State and the education and health sectors of our nation.

In general, a big country imposes economic sanctions against a small country to change the general behaviors and/or a specific policy of the victim country for liking of the big country. Or the imposer country intends to replace the recalcitrant government of the victim country with its puppet government as an act of regime change.

Instead of exemplarily following the rules of WTO (World Trade Organization) with respects the WTO members US and EU countries have imposed economic sanctions against our country by violating the Article I and Article III of General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT 1947) which stated that there should be no discriminations among the member countries and equal opportunities should be given to every member country.

According to the Section 35 of new 2008 Constitution, our state economic policy is the market economic system. In the market-oriented economic system the state’s economy will progress only when our entrepreneurs are being able to compete freely and fairly in the domestic and international markets through free trade.

Now the domestic market half is being realized in line with the market economy but the international market half is being blocked and thus hindering the ultimate goal of successfully implementing a market economic system in our country. As the consequences our businessmen and women, farmers, workers, and all the consumers are now facing great difficulties at the free market and free trade stage.

Basing on above facts any reasonable person can easily conclude that the giant bully USA and its followers from the West Bloc are imposing the economic and financial sanctions against our nation as a foreign policy weapon to implement a hidden foreign policy rather than the issues of democracy and human rights as they have always proclaimed.

The sinister policy to force the regime change upon our people and to install their puppet government in our little country.

Despite all these various forms of economic sanction and trade embargo our nation has   struggled on. And by using the hard-earned State revenues (such as selling natural gas) we have been constructing urgently needed infrastructure and roads and bridges, capital-intensive hydropower projects for the electric energy sector, various dam and river-water-pumping projects necessary for the agricultural sector providing food for the nation, a modern army for the nation’s defense, nationwide schools and universities for the education sector, and hospitals and clinics and medical institutions for the health sector.   

As a result our nation has established the sound economic and political foundations over last 20 years to build a disciplined-flourishing democracy and now is the appropriate time to seek the approval of this great Union Parliament for U Htay Oo’s motion.

The Union Parliament then took the decision, by the secret vote of 625 for and 5 abstentions and 4 against, that the First Union Parliament has approved the proposal “This Parliament opposes the economic sanctions imposed against Myanmar”.

Amy’s End

Amy had no chance to know that Aung Moe had killed himself inside the notorious Insein Gaol in July 2003 the same month and the same year President Bush (Junior) signed the Executive Order 13310 to tighten the existing economic and financial sanctions against Burma. Her old Anglo Grandma didn’t have the heart to tell her Aung Moe’s suicide.

Young Amy also didn’t know the prison myth about the flock of black crows on the Banyan tree in the Insein Prison.

Startled Black Crows.
But in the early morning Aung Moe died in Insein, for some strange reason or it was just a rare coincidence, about 10 miles away in Thangangyun the large flock of resident crows living in the lone Banyan tree by Amy’s old dilapidated colonial house also loudly flew away at once as if something or someone had startled them.

Now seriously sick Amy looked up from her bed-side window at the startled black crows and somehow sensed that Aung Moe was gone forever and for the very first time she wept for him, according to her old Anglo grandma.

From that day onward she refused to take her regular pills provided free by a private AIDS charity as if she didn’t want to live no more.

Amy died of severe lung complications due to the AIDS related pulmonary infections six months later. Her body was cheaply cremated at Ye Way Cemetery and her ashes were simply abandoned. Her old Anglo grandma was too poor to pay for sorting out her remains from others before her in the oven.

The successive US Presidents from Clinton to Obama had signed the death warrants of many Aung Moes and Amys of destitute Burma since 1997 by signing various Sanction Acts. Without their devastating sanctions Aung Moe and Amy could have been still alive today.

May the souls of Aung Moe and Amy and other sanctions’ victims rest in peace!

Aung Moe and Amy: Sanctions' Collateral Damage (1)