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The Progressive - great article on
- Subject: The Progressive - great article on
- From: strider@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 21 Oct 1996 19:54:00
Subject: The Progressive - great article on Burma
THE PROGRESSIVE: FROM GREEN BAY TO U.S. FLACKS SPREAD
GOODWILL FOR BURMA'S JUNTA
November, 1996, By Jason Vest
"(W)atch for expats or returning nationals (as they might be democracy
sympathesizer)...Any you know or suspect harass a lot." Miriam Segal,
American Businesswoman, to a SLORC General
One of the best moments in Inherit the Wind comes when defense
attorney Henry Drummond, having established that his nemesis Matthew
Harrison Brady has never taken an interest in learning anything beyond what
is written in the Bible, looks at Brady and remarks: "It frightens me to
think of the state of learning in the world if everyone had your driving
curiosity." One can only imagine what Drummond would say to Paul Jadin,
mayor of Green Bay, Wisconsin, regarding Jadin's unique view of human
This spring Paul Jadin received a key to the city of Rangoon, the capital
of Burma, also known as Myanmar, a military dictatorship with an abysmal
humanrights record. While the mayors of a halfdozen U.S. cities and one
state governor have signed laws aimed at curtailing corporate involvement
there, Jadin seems to have no idea what Burma's government is like. Nor
does this ignorance particularly trouble him.
When readers of the Green Bay Press Gazette opened their papers one May
morning, some were surprised to find an article commemorating Jadin's
acceptance of the key, delivered to him by one Larry Reyerman. A
sixtytwoyearold constructioncompany owner and former Army paratrooper,
Heyerman had gone to Burma as part of a tour sponsored by Friendship
Airborne, a group that sells travel packages to retired military paratroopers.
The travel packages include jumps with foreign airborne units.
Before departing the United States for two days of jumps with members of
the Burmese military - which has a documented history of enslaving,
imprisoning, and executing civilians, particularly those with democratic
tendencies - Reyerman asked Jadin for a letter of introduction to
Rangoon's mayor. Not only did Jadin instruct his deputy, David Mennig, to
draft the letter, he went Heyerman one better. Jadin gave him a Green Bay
key to pass on to U Ko Lay, Rangoon's juntainstalled administrator.
Lay returned the favor and, according to the article, Jadin couldn't have
been happier with Reyerman's trip, which, in addition to the key, netted
the mayor a cheroot cigar.
"Trips like this always create opportunities," the Press Gazette quoted Jadin
as saying. "We want to open the door to international business markets."
I asked deputy mayor Mennig if the city of Green Bay really wanted to do
business with such an unsavory government.
"I was not aware" of the humanrights violations, said Mennig. "But look,
an exchange like this has nothing to do with politics. We don't know
anything about other individual governments. It really doesn't affect the
kind of exchange that occurred."
Burma activists were astounded by Green Bay's stance. "Do your homework,
for God's sake. Right now, investment in Burma is a major political issue!"
says Simon Billenness, Asian specialist with the Boston-based Franklin
Research and Development (a socially responsible investment firm), on
hearing Mennig's comments.
"This is a guy who has obviously done no homework and blunders into a
country, thinking he's doing a nice thing when in reality he's lending aid to
a brutal junta."
Not that it's that big a deal. A junta can only get so much public relations
mileage out of Green Bay, Wisconsin. But in recent years, the military
leadership of Burmain conjunction with U.S. corporations and elements of
the U.S. governmenthas gone to great lengths to influence both American
public opinion and American legislators.
Using shadowy lobbyists, questionable publicrelations consultants, and
self-interested American and Burmese private citizens, the State Law and
Order Restoration Council (SLORC) has been busy influencing policy.
"Debate in Washington over Burma is, I think, one of the weirdest and
least-covered stories in recent times," says a Republican Congressional
staffer. "There are times I wonder if this whole thing has been scripted by
the guys who wrote House of Cards."
Since 1962, when its military dictatorship first took power, Burma has
never stood out as a beacon of human rights and political freedoms. Sick of
the oppressive state of things, citizens inspired by Aung San Suu Kyi,
National Democratic Party leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, angrily
demonstrated in favor of civil rights in 1988. During the twelve days that
followed, General Ne Win's government responded by slaughtering at least
3,000 people. International condemnation was swift. Many countries,
including the United States, cut off aid to the country. In a shrewd
political move, Ne Win resigned, bestowing power upon the SLORC, over
which many international observers believe he has considerable influence.
When the SLORC allowed a free election in 1990, 82 percent of the
legislature's seats went to the National Democracy Party. Less than pleased
with its own showing at the polls, the SLORC promptly invalidated the
election. The military government also rounded up a number of National
Democracy Party leaders, killing, torturing, and jailing several. It then
placed Suu Kyi under house arrest. Internationally, the SLORC's stock
plummeted further in 1991, when Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize.
An imprisoned democratic Nobel laureate, the SLORC quickly realized, is
not a good advertisement for international aid or investment. On the other
hand, setting Suu Kyi free would present myriad internal problems.
The solution? Hire an image doctor. Enter Edward Van Kloberg III. Van
Kloberg, who operates out of a posh suite of downtown Washington, D.C.,
offices, specializes in consulting for Third World despots. His clients
have included Samuel Doe of Liberia, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, onetime
U.S. ally Sadaam Hussein, and Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana. If
anyone would help the SLORC's image, it would be Van Kloberg.
On August 10, 1991, Van Kloberg & Associates signed a $30,000 threemonth
contract with the SLORC. Among other things, the contract called upon Van
Kloberg to "arrange meetings between His Excellency [the ambassador] and
influential decisionmakers." The contract also required Van Kloberg to
"attract American business investment in Myanmar and facilitate business
transactions," and to handle all of Burma's public relations in the United States
(or, as the contract read, to "counter the unrestrained negative representation
of Myanmar and its administration").
The contract stated that "controlling authority for this agreement rests with
[Van Kloberg] and with Myanmar's Ambassador to the United States." The
ambassador, U Thaung, signed the contract as a witness.
"I had him all over the place," says Van Kloberg. "I mean, I got him in to
see everybody. Before, the ambassador and his aides wouldn't even leave
the embassy because of constant demonstrations. They didn't engage with
anybody. We would write scripts for him. We did everything for him, and a
damn fine job, I might add."
Van Kloberg still has four binders full of reports to U Thaung,
including letters to editors by Van Kloberg & Associates, letters to
legislators, details of meetings between U Thaung and various members of
Congress, strategic musings, proposals for intelligence gathering and
subterfuge - the standard behindthescenes lobbying package. These are not
details Van Kloberg or any other lobbyist is usually inclined to discuss
(even though law requires lobbyists to file their contracts with the
Justice Department). But Van Kloberg had a falling out with the SLORC. Not
only did the ambassador publicly lie about his association with Van
Kloberg, the lobbyist says, U Thaung stiffed him.
"U Thaung is a little shit," Van Kloberg says of his former client, whom he
once referred to as "His Excellency." According to records in the Justice
Department's Foreign Agents Registration Unit, on October 13, 1991- when
Van Kloberg's work was becoming increasingly public - U Thaung asked the
Justice Department to nullify his lobbyist's registration as a foreign
agent for Myanmar. "At no time has this Embassy or its Government ever
engaged Van Kloberg & Associates for any purpose whatsoever," the
"It was just ridiculous," says Van Kloberg. "I worked directly with him, I
saw him constantly. Sent my staff with him to meetings on the Hill. Wrote
him daily, weekly, monthly reports. And then they stiffed me for about $5,000."
The SLORC had managed to find a stealthier lobbyist to bear its standard in
Washington. Lester Wolff, former Democratic Representative from upstate
New York, was once the chairman of both the House Asia/Pacific
Affairs subcommittee and the International Narcotics subcommittee.
Wolff is now president of a consulting firm known as the International
Trade and Development Agency, which has worked for rightist governments
in South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia. Though the agency has an
Arlington, Virginia, address, the phone records list no such company.
Wolff also heads two other groups, both based in New York - the Pacific
Community Institute and something called the Honest Ballot
Association - neither of which has phone listings. I attempted to contact
Wolff several times, with no luck.
So what, exactly, did Wolff do for the SLORC? According to his filing with
the Foreign Agents Registration Unit, his mission was to "help improve
relations between our two peoples . . . to the better understanding of the
views and policies of the Union of Myanmar and the United States." Not only
did Wolff become U Thaung's new handler, he also used his Pacific Community
Institute to sponsor at least five Congressional junkets to Myanmar.
"It was quite clever - the casual observer would think these trips were
legitimate, perhaps part of some academic endeavor under the aegis of
this Institute, when it is really nothing more than an elaborate lobbying
front," says an anonymous State Department source.
A good lobbyist flies below radar, quietly brokering deals, leaving as few
traces as possible. In this respect, Wolff is adept. In early 1994, while
visiting Burma to investigate narcotics matters, U.S. Representative Bill
Richardson, Democrat of New Mexico, made a forceful request for an
audience with Suu Kyi. The SLORC permitted a visit, and the press reported
it as a sign that the junta might be mellowing. Richardson was the first
foreigner allowed such a meeting, and the significance of the meeting could
not be underestimated, said reporters. Richardson called it the start of a
"positive process of democratization."
The press did not report that the SLORC's paid agent was traveling
with Richardson, and that Wolff had been brokering the Richardson-Suu Kyi
meeting for months. In fact, Wolff all but claimed credit for the entire
Richardson mission. When he spoke with Don Kirk, Washington correspondent
for the now-defunct Eastern Express, Wolff said that "Richardson's visit
was an offshoot" of Wolff's own work for the SLORC. Wolff also explained
that he had prevailed upon the SLORC to grant Richardson's request.
Although no one in the American press commented on their reaction, Burma
activists were appalled by this P.R. ploy. What had been trumpeted as a
possible indication of SLORC-National Democracy Party reconciliation was,
as it turned out, nothing more than a cheap move designed to get the SLORC
back into Washington's good graces. This was quickly confirmed by junta
honcho General Khin Nyunt, who told a reporter, "We don't see any reason
why we should talk to [Suu Kyi] about the country's political future or
What infuriated activists still further was Wolff's claim that he was not a
SLORC agent, but rather a "consultant" on the SLORC's retainer, hired to
combat drug trafficking. "That," says a State Department source, "is probably
one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard."
Since Burma is the world's largest supplier of heroin, interdiction
efforts against the country have long been high on the international
community's agenda. However, owing to the nature of Burmese politics, such
attempts have been futile. For decades the Burmese government has done
battle with a variety of insurgent ethnic guerrilla groups, all of which
desire autonomy. Rather than fight the rebels directly, Rangoon brokered
deals with heroin-trafficking warlords in the country's more remote
regions. The deals work like this: You help us with the rebel problem;
we'll let you move your heroin.
This practice has not dissuaded members of the U.S. government who
adhere to the drugwar dogma from agitating continuously for Burma-
earmarked counternarcotics money. But the General Accounting Office
has argued against aid to Burma, since the SLORC is obviously in cahoots
with heroin traffickers.
Reputed heroin warlord Lo Hsing Han is functioning as the unofficial SLORC
infrastructure czar. The SLORC, by the way, provides him with government
bodyguards and access to the SLORC golf course. Lo's son, who goes by the
Anglicized moniker Stephen Law, operates a multinational corporation, Asia
World, which not only dominates the Burmese hotel business, but has recently
won a contract to renovate the Port of Rangoon.
The contract "essentially puts the port under the control of one of the
world's leading heroin traffickers," says Doug Steele, a former writer for
the Bangkok Post and co-editor of BurmaNet, an online news service.
"Because the government has no money, they're basically looking to the
people who do have money to build roads, bridges, and other public works
projects," says Steele. "They don't seem bothered by the fact that it's
I spoke with the representatives of three Washington-based international law
and lobbying firms who said they had been approached by Burmese intermediaries
offering them money to work for the SLORC. All three said they had declined
because they could not be given assurances that the money they received would
be untainted by drugs.
"There are obviously legitimate businesses in Burma, but when we made it
clear that we could not and would not take money unless it was completely
divorced from narcotics interests, we never heard from them again," says a
lawyer with one of the firms.
For twenty years, Miriam Marshall Segal has been doing business in
Burma. Her most recent endeavor is a joint venture project with the
SLORC, the Myanmar American Fisheries Company (MAFCo), processors
of prawns. In 1994, Peregrine Investments Holdings Limited, a Hong Kong
firm, bought majority interest in MAFCo.
After Peregrine gained control of MAFCo, Segal and her SLORC associate,
Brigadier General Maung Maung, allegedly approached a Japanese firm,
Mitsui Corporation, and made the following proposal: They would make sure
that MAFCo lost money so Peregrine would offer it up for cheap, thus
allowing Mitsui to acquire the company. When Segal's secretary accidentally
faxed a communique' meant for Mitsui to Peregrine, Peregrine filed suit against
Segal. As a result of the lawsuit, a number of Segal's private documents have
In a memo to Brigadier General Maung Maung dated June 12, 1995, Segal filed
a report on a trip she had made to Washington, D.C. Around this time,
legislation regarding financial aid to Burma was pending in the United
States. Apparently, Segal made the rounds of Capitol Hill, trying to drum
up support for aid.
She details a conversation with Representative Richardson (Suu Kyi's first
foreign visitor): "I advised him ... that you can achieve nothing by force and
broken promises, and everything if you keep your word, compromise, and try
to be constructive." The stance of Senator John MeCain, Republican of Arizona,
she noted, was uncertain, but an "appointment is being set up for me with Vice
President Al Gore, so I am now in constructive engagement at the source."
This memo is addressed to the attention of a Burmese general, suggesting that
Segal was acting as a foreign agent. In one memo, she advises her SLORC
partner to "watch for expats or returning nationals" as they might be democracy
sympathizers. "Any you know or suspect," she writes, "harass a lot."
She also makes a suggestion about how to handle the thenimprisoned Suu
Kyi: "Perhaps they should advise her to compromise," she writes after
posing this sinister question: "If lady is let out, who will take
responsibility for her life and lives of others?"
Corporations from all over the world are clamoring to do business in Burma.
Since the interests of these corporations like UNOCAL and ARCO are
the same as the SLORC's, lobbyists for these companies are carrying the
SLORC's water in Washington, with the help of shadowy P.R. firms.
If the willfully ignorant mayor of Green Bay is any indication, the
SLORC may yet prevail in its efforts to burnish its image.