Contact: Roland Watson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Please see www.dictatorwatch.org for links to the reports and photography described
FOLLOW THE MONEY
22 August 2003
(Note: We have posted two new photo essays, with accompanying articles, about
child soldiers in Burma. The first documents a
program by the Karen National Union to remove children from their army and
to have them enrolled in school. The second describes a program of assistance
for four escaped child soldiers
from the Burma Army, including interviews therewith. Also, we have updated
the Saving Lives link in the DW
The police have a saying: Follow the money. What it means is that
is you want to find the person or persons responsible for a crime, any crime,
in most cases there will be a financial motivation. Find the money, and you will
find the culprit.
There are great sums of money being made in and out of Burma because the country
is ruled by a military dictatorship. Leading the charge are the international
investors in the country, although a more apt description would be
pillagers. This includes Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand,
Special UN Envoy Razali Ismael, oil companies such as Total, Unocal, Halliburton
and Caltex, and the many other companies from North America (e.g., Ivanhoe), Europe
and Asia that have no ethical problems working with murderers. Instead, their
governing ethic is that money rules and that there are no acts that are unacceptable
(rape, genocide, etc.) if their commission helps contribute to the earning of
Burma is a self-contained system. Everything in the country is interconnected.
The crimes of genocide, rape and murder are fundamentally linked to, actually,
enabled by, such investments, however much the investors may argue otherwise.
The most direct way the crimes are enabled is by the Burmese generals, the SPDC,
using its share of the take to buy weapons, which it then turns on its own people.
The money trail heats up when one considers Burmas immediate neighbors,
in particular Thailand. Following the trail helps explain why the current Thai
government, under PM Thaksin, is so supportive of the Burmese criminals.
Thais, a great number of individual Thai businessmen, and also what are said to
be Thailands national interests, benefit from the political situation inside
Burma in the following ways:
- It guarantees a supply of slaves for Thai slave owners, including brothels,
wealthy households (for maids and other servants), fishing boats,
and warehouses and factories. Thai businesses (and upper class families) used
to exploit, to force indentured servitude if not outright slavery on, at risk
members of the Thai lower classes. Indeed, this still continues to some degree.
But changes in Thai society have for the most part eliminated this option, hence
new supplies have been required. As some commentators have pointed out (notably
Sanitsuda Ekachai of the Bangkok Post), these new sources include migrant
laborers from Burma, Laos and Cambodia.
- It is used as the justification to deny certain lifelong residents of Thailand,
the members of ethnic groups who live in villages along the Thai/Burma border,
Thai citizenship and hence education, healthcare and normal employment opportunities.
This also excludes them from the Thai political process, so they are denied their
right of representation, and it makes them subject to the same types of abuse
This is what is considered to be in Thailands national interests, that denying
whole groups of people their legitimate rights could somehow serve the country.
- In addition to labor resources, support of the Burmese dictatorship enables
Thai businessmen to exploit Burmas natural resources, including its rainforest
timber (and saleable wildlife, such as tigers), fisheries, natural gas and minerals,
and as with the proposed dams on the Salween River, which must be stopped, its
prospective sources of hydroelectric energy. (Thai border villages see a regular
stream of Thai businessmen coming to check on their sweatshop factories, timber
- Similar to this is the general trade into Burma of consumer and industrial products.
Since the Burmese economy under the rule of the generals is essentially nonfunctioning,
this creates an opportunity for foreign traders who can supply needed goods.
In summary, Thailands relationship with Burma can most succinctly be described
as one of economic colonialism, which the Burmese generals willingly accept because
it helps them retain their power.
- Lastly, Thai businessmen (and others throughout the region) also profit, to
a huge degree, from the supply of narcotics from Burma. Opium, heroin and methamphetamines
likely generate billions of dollars in revenue, from production (e.g., the sale
of precursor chemicals) through to retail distribution. The narcotics industry
emanating from Burma is one of the largest and most profitable industries in all
of Southeast Asia.
With so much money at stake (from all of the above activities), Thai support for
the SPDC is not surprising. Prime Minister Thaksins most important constituency
is the Thai business community, and he will never block one of their major cash
As for the narcotics, we do not mean to infer that the Prime Minister himself,
who spent fourteen years in the Thai police, rising to the rank of Lieutenant
Colonel, and who is also from Chiang Mai, is involved. (A man is innocent until
proven guilty.) But it is accepted that many leading Thais, including political,
military and business leaders, are involved in the drug trade. (In light of the
current police corruption scandal, we call upon the PM to declare that he never
took a bribe while an officer of the law, nor that he has paid one since.)
Also, there is one other thesis that needs to be considered. Some people speculate
that the Burmese generals are in fact blackmailing the Thai government; that they
have made behind the scenes threats to reveal the names of influential Thais who
are involved in narcotics. It is noteworthy that no leading Thais were arrested
in Thaksins highly publicized war on drugs. (Similarly, no Thai police generals
have been indicted for corruption.) It is also noteworthy that the drug lord Khun
Sa (and others) have been given sanctuary in Rangoon. The usual view of this arrangement
is that it was in exchange for money. A more enlightened view, though, holds that
Khun Sa agreed to provide the names, backed by hard evidence, of the Thais who
run the drug trade inside Thailand. The Burmese generals, if they have this information,
can use it as the basis for extortion to keep the Thai government, for decades,
on their side.
On the other hand, this can also be viewed as a win/win situation. Thai businessmen
remain free to exploit Burma and to make money from narcotics, and the Burmese
generals ensure that they have a long-standing ally in their effort to fend off
Recently, Thaksin implemented by executive fiat anti-terrorist legislation. (This
was just one more example of his totalitarian tendencies). Many commentators have
suggested that in doing so he kowtowed to US demands. The above scenario provides
an explanation for why he so strongly opposes the US position on Burma. Also,
in response to the PMs statement about shutting down the Wa, we must highlight
the fact that he is only talking about their drug caravans. We will believe it
when we see it when he destroys the actual drug labs.
One final comment: the Burma democracy movement would be better served if its
participants thought more like rebels and less like activists. Burma requires
a rebellion to achieve democracy. Returning to the issue of money, Burmese who
are resident outside the country should consider setting aside up to ten percent
of their income to give to groups that provide humanitarian assistance and that
are actively involved in the democracy resistance, including by making contributions
to groups organized by individuals of different ethnic identities (just as the
Karen helped the Burman child soldiers in the second photo essay described above).
Please contact Dictator Watch for advice on how you can assist front-line Burma