Multinational Monitor

JUN 1998
VOL 19 No. 6


Dirty Old Grandfathered Plants: The Clean Air Act's Lung-Charring Loopholes
by Fred Richardson and Andrew Wheat

Wasting Away: Big Agribusiness Factory Farms Make a Big Mess
by Tanya Tolchin

Ravaging the Poor: IMF Indicted By Its Own Data
by Gabriel Kolko

An Enemy of Indigenous People: The Case of Loren Miller, COICA, the Inter-American Foundation and the Ayahuasca Plant
by Danielle Knight


Taking Aim at the Gun Makers
an interview with
David Kairys


Behind the Lines

U.S. Drug Imperialism

The Front
Emissions Omissions - Out of the Mouths of Babes

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Money & Politics
Trade Association Directory

Their Masters' Voice
The Burma Lobby

Names In the News


Their Masters' Voice

The Burma Lobby

Despite what many people think, lobbying is hard work. Consider, for example, the heroic struggles of Jefferson-Waterman International, a Washington, D.C.-based firm that lobbies on behalf of the Burmese dictatorship.

It's not an easy job, as one might infer from recent news stories concerning Burma. The State Department calls the government there -- known as the State Law and Order Council, or SLORC, until a recent name change -- "a highly authoritarian military regime" whose security forces are guilty of crimes ranging from extrajudicial killings to torture to rape. The SLORC keeps Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi under a state of virtual house arrest and severely restricts her National League for Democracy (NLD). This is necessary since the opposition swept national elections in 1990 with more than 80 percent of the vote, thereby forcing the SLORC to annul the balloting.

None of this has stopped Jefferson Waterman lobbyists -- including firm president, Ann Wrobleski, who served as assistance secretary of state under Ronald Reagan -- from shilling for the generals. Among the firm's tasks for the junta is putting out the Myanmar Monitor, a newsletter whose stated purpose "is to provide a broad and balanced view" of Burma. In reality, the publication whitewashes the SLORC's crimes, portrays the opposition as terrorists and attacks the U.S. government for sanctioning the generals.

Consider political and social developments in Burma from May 1997, when the Myanmar Monitor -- a different "MM" -- was inaugurated, until early this year and how they contrast with the newsletter's coverage.

May-July 1997

Events in Burma:

In May, soldiers detain 36 opposition members and press eight into service as military porters in areas held by ethnic insurgents. One of the opposition members dies as a result. That same month, the SLORC arrests around 50 NLD supporters and detains hundreds more.

In early June, opposition leader U Tin Shwe dies in Rangoon's notorious Insein prison, where prisoners are routinely subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and otherwise kept in what are called "doggie cells." The International Labor Organization cites Burma for failing to honor internationally recognized worker rights. No surprise here since the SLORC bans free trade unions, tolerates child labor and utilizes forced labor to build and maintain infrastructure projects -- what the junta calls people's "contributions."

Coverage in the Myanmar Monitor:

In May, the MM attacks U.S. sanctions as "short-sighted" and reports that Burma's leaders are "feeling sorry for U.S. companies, which will lose out on future returns from investments." The MM also quotes an unnamed British civil engineer residing in Burma as saying that before people "try to punish [the SLORC], they should listen to all sides of the story, not just one, which by the way, has its own agenda and its own spin."

The following month, the MM claims that a cousin of Aung San Suu Kyi had planned to assassinate government leaders and blow up foreign embassies, all with the help of U.S. groups such as the American Refugee Committee and the Center for International Private Enterprise. The SLORC's Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt is quoted as saying that the U.S. government is providing "assistance to underground, armed groups and terrorists groups."

MM spends much of the period promoting tourism to Burma, which provides the SLORC badly needed foreign reserves. One story asserts that tourists will encounter a country where "Loving, kindness, sympathy, tolerance, benevolence, mutual regard, respect and humanitarianism evolve out of Buddha's teachings."

August-October 1997

Events in Burma:

In September, authorities allow the NLD to hold its first party congress since 1990. Soon thereafter, the SLORC again bans opposition gatherings. The state-controlled media steps up its attacks on Suu Kyi, calling her "confrontational" and "uncompromising."

On the world stage, Burma remains an international pariah. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook announces that the country will be banned from the 1998 Asia-Europe meeting in London because top Burmese officials are "prepared to profit out of the drug trade." Images Asia, a human rights group,  issues a detailed report charging that Burmese children as young as 14 are forced to join the army after attending a military-style school called "Brave Young Leaves." Burma's ambassador to Thailand confirms the school's existence but says that the government established it so that orphans and the rural poor might grow up with "good ambitions."

Coverage in the Myanmar Monitor:

In its September 5 issue, MM prints a commentary marveling at the way the SLORC has "somehow managed to unify the country, restored social order and brought stability back to the nation." "Political Reform Marches On," an MM headline blares in late October. MM also reports that the government's foreign minister believes his country is "enjoying peace and stability, with a dynamic economy and strong social cohesion."

The MM continues to zealously promote tourism to Burma. One issue touts "eco-tourism" in Burma: "Myanmar tourism development will be undertaken with environmental conscientiousness to avoid negative impacts on the natural wilderness."

November 1997-February 1998

Events in Burma:

In November, the SLORC tries to improve the government's reputation by renaming itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Since the top four figures in each junta are identical, this image-buffing operation fools no one.

Meanwhile, the human rights situation in the country continues to deteriorate. A report from Danish Doctors for Human Rights says that two-thirds of the 125,000 Burmese refugees living in refugee camps in Thailand had been tortured or mistreated by SLORC forces.

Coverage in the Myanmar Monitor

The MM portrays the creation of the SPDC as a moment in democratic affairs ranking in importance with the proclamation of the Magna Carta. The story says formation of the new junta "represents the second phase in the Myanmar Government's three-step plan towards development of a full democracy. SLORC represented the first stage of the democratization process."

In early January, the MM quotes an unnamed foreign diplomat as saying, "Political dialogue is possible if the opposition party gets weaker."

Though the MM has repeatedly asserted that U.S. sanctions on Burma have no real impact, it suggests that they be lifted nonetheless. "I would like to tell my American friends that sanctions will hurt you more than us," the newsletter quotes a government official as saying.

-- Ken Silverstein


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