Brown on Burma
I have to start by saying that this post is a little overdue. Well, I did talk about the situation in Burma right when it started, but it was one of three signs of people power in the big wide world that I focused on. At that stage, this was simply an unusual protest, not a full blown Non-Violent Revolutionary Action being met with guns and tear gas. Am I glad the UK government has finally decided to speak out? Yes, in a way, but No in plenty of others.
BBC Newsnight have conveniently saved me a lot of writing by explaining why any talk of sanctions is likely to be shallow talk with little physical outcome. At a British level, the government has put barely any pressure on companies importing various goods from Burma. At the European level, TotalFinaElf is a French company with a huge stake in the success of the regime, having done a crucial pipe-line deal directly with the government.
By the way, get out to your local ‘Total’ Petrol Station and start protesting, even if its just a banner and some leaflets for drivers arriving. Count the last sentence as a heads up on next the Monday Action (assuming I’m not out protesting too!). I shall try and find a PDF with leaflets for you to use in the meantime.
So while Brown talks tough, there’s likely to be almost no actual economic pressure, perhaps all the more disappointing from a man who knows about economics and economies. What makes it all the more disappointing is the political opportunism that the statement represents. Brown and Bush stand to gain a ‘We Presided While Someone Became A Western Democracy” point if they succeed. Where, oh where, was the support for grassroots opposition to Saddam’s regime, and lets please not mention Iran or we’ll be here all day.
From Bush’s point of view this is even more cynical. If the regime fell and the instability affected oil supplies running through the company, then US oil companies will gain from higher prices as the French entry in the oil race suffers terribly. In 2003, the French and American governments clashed at the UN over the Iraq war, and American sentiments towards the French dropped significantly.
This would be a wonderful way for Bush to claim he supported a transition to democracy (even if it wasn’t Iraq) and saw through full revenge on the French for standing in his way of an easier run towards more supplies. I don’t know what other people think about this, as I have seen nothing else on the matter, but I can’t see the White House being oblivious to this situation.
My final problem here is that neither New Labour (Brown having been very much complicit with Blair’s Anti-Terror and Anti-Protest laws) nor the Bush government have really done much to establish real democracy. During Bush’s time as president he has seen no end of protests where police have responded violently to defend him and his fellow members of the global ruling elite, whether G8 protests or even the Republican National Convention before his election, when the Republican Party hired a warehouse with an inch depth of car battery fluid on the floor for use by the New York Police Department as a prison, contravening Federal and International law many times over.*
The overall sentiment of a call to greater democracy might be great, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t major hidden agendas, whether thats Bush’s revenge over the French, or Brown’s words covering inaction. The real story remains on the streets of Rangoon and other Burmese cities, as protesters seek out a Saffron revolution. My hope is simply that they succeed soon without failing in the long run.
* Does anyone else have this weirdly vague memory of Bush losing his first election? Maybe I’m getting confused with all the other outrageous stuff thats happened since.