Saturday, December 15, 2007

More deaths suspected in Myanmar

In keeping with my commitment to do more than I have been doing to work for human rights, I am posting the following link to a Reuters new story about Myanmar. Apparently, the United Nations' underestimated the number of deaths resulting from the government's response to the recent protests by monks and other activists in that country. Activistists who entered the country as tourists and met with in country activists, say the death toll is at least 70, more than double the UN's count of 31.

Myannmar or Burma is one of those undeveloped countries blessed (cursed?) with an abundant supply of our planet's most coveted natural resource, fossil fuel, mostly in the form of natural gas. Thailand, India and China all deal with the repressive military regime in Burma to gain access to those resources. Chevron Oil, the U.S.-based oil company whichemployed Condoleeza Rice before she joined the first Bush Administration as National Security chief, also has holdings in Burma and continues to work with the cruel regime and has been exempted from current restrictions on U.S. companies' dealings with the regime because its presence in Burma pre-dates the time parameters in the current restriction.

The regime could not exist without oil and gas revenues. The money is used to fund the extravagant lifestyles of the generals and their friends and to employ police and military personnel to enforce their grip on power in Burma.

The Chevron holdings in Burma were originally owned by Unocal. This is the company which recently settled with 15 Burmese peasants who brought a lawsuit against it for human rights violations and its complicity with the regime in forcing them to work on oil infrastructure projects for no or low pay and under conditions of extreme cruelty.

Milena Kaneva, a Bulgarian national working in Italy as a journalist, produced and directed a film about the lives of Burmese citizens and the court case against Unocal called Total Denial.
The film was released in 2006 and received a special prize for Human Rights from former Czech President Vaclav Havel during the One World Festival in Prague(March 2006).

I mention the lawsuit and Kaneva's film about it because they point up the linkages between world oil and gas consumption, oil and gas company (and stockholder) profits and our individual choices as consumers and citizens to human rights abuses in Burma.

The 17th Century English churchman and poet John Donne said in a sermon "no man is an island entire of itself" and this is true today. It has always been true; we are connected to all other beings. Acts that may seem invisible to us because they are behaviors encoded in our "lifestyle" are choices we make and our choices affect the lives of unseen others in distant places such as Burma. In his Meditation XVII Donne isn't writing about blame; he is writing about connection. It is said of England's Metaphysical poets, of which John Donne was one, that they were the last to write in a poetic language that reflected the union of feeling and reason. This severance of the mind and heart in English poetry was a sort of prophecy. We live in a world which pits our hearts and minds against each other, a world which has erased our connection to unseen others.