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Dick Move #12: Oil or Reform?

Here's a simple one, and you've known it all along.  Let's say you rule a repressive, economically backward, authoritarian state that just happens to have lots of petroleum reserves and/or potential.  And let's say the West comes knocking at your door demanding you implement political, human rights, or economic reform.  What do you do?

The minimum.  Ha!  As if I needed to tell you.  Burma - sorry, Myanmar - has played this one perfectly.  With what can be only considered inchoate reform around the edges, release of a high profile political figure, and a couple of other token gestures, the West suddenly tripped over itself to send its money to this formerly isolated Southeast Asian state.

Hell, even the Burmese cautioned the USA to be prudent and wary: advice that clearly fell on deaf ears or was lost in the chorus of American Big Oil interests chanting "spend, spend, spend."   Messieurs les Burmese generals: here's your payout.

From Foreign Policy Magazine:

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday he is lifting the investment ban on Burma, allowing U.S. companies to enter Burma's lucrative energy sector, above the objections of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

"Today, the United States is easing restrictions to allow U.S. companies to responsibly do business in Burma," Obama said in a Wednesday statement. "President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma continue to make significant progress along the path to democracy, and the government has continued to make important economic and political reforms. Easing sanctions is a strong signal of our support for reform, and will provide immediate incentives for reformers and significant benefits to the people of Burma."

Obama said that that entities owned by the Burmese armed forces and the ministry of defense will not be covered by the general licenses to invest in Burma that the administration is issuing to U.S. companies today.

"Burma's political and economic reforms remain unfinished. The United States Government remains deeply concerned about the lack of transparency in Burma's investment environment and the military's role in the economy," he said.

He also noted that U.S. companies will be required to report on their new activities in Burma and adhere to international corporate governance standards. The president signed a new executive order expanding sanctions against human rights violators in Burma at the same time it repealed the investment ban, which has been in place since the Clinton administration.

Wednesday's announcement comes after an intense internal debate over whether to include Burma's energy and natural resource sectors in the new general licenses. Industry groups such as the U.S.-ASEAN business council, working with oil companies like Chevron, lobbied hard and successfully for a full repeal of the investment ban. They were supported by some lawmakers, such as Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Jim Webb (D-VA).

Human rights groups and other lawmakers, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), cautioned the administration to go slow and issue only a partial repeal of the investment ban. They especially wanted the administration to retain bans on U.S. companies working with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) the state controlled entity through which all energy sector business flows, which they say is still heavily influenced by the Burmese military.

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