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From the Country Wife -- Talking bo

Subject: From the Country Wife -- Talking boycott around the kitchen  table

>From The Chronicle Telegram
Elyria, Ohio
December 22, 1996

The Country Wife
by Pat Leimbach

Sitting around the kitchen the other night I broke out a bag of Fritos to
assuage the pre-dinner hunger of my house guests, Ken and Visakha Kawasaki,
home from Japan for the holidays.

"Nope," said Ken, "We can't eat those.  Frito-Lay is owned by PepsiCo and
we're boycotting Pepsi for doing business in Burma."

My subliminal response was probably annoyance.  Distant human rights issues
are more easily ignored than honored by us smug Americans.  Spend a few
hours with the Kawasakis, however, with their personal experience of the
repressive dictatorship in Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar), and you may be more
inclined to pay attention to the companies held in your stock portfolio and
the gas you pump into your tank.

Ken and Visakha (of whom I have written before -- Ken grew up in Brownhelm)
teach English in Japan for a living but devote all the rest of their lives
to the welfare of Burmese living in camps on the borders of neighboring
Thailand.  In summer travels long ago they fell in love with Burma and its
gentle people who have been fighting for a free society for over 30 years.
They happened to be in Burma on the 8th of August, 1988 ("8/8/88") when the
Burmese people rose up by the thousands in a pro- democracy movement against
dictator Ne Win and his hated regime.  Just as the Chinese communists would
later do in Tiannamen Square, the Burmese military fired on the crowd and
thousands of students, monks, and civilians were killed, their bodies (even
some still alive) hauled off and burned or buried in mass graves.

In the months and years following the massacre the Kawasakis formed and
chartered their Burmese Relief Center raising funds and collecting supplies
for the villagers driven from their country by the regime's determination to
enslave and annihilate them.

"Everybody in Burma is expendable," said Visakha, "everybody and everything.
If the military want your chickens, your ox, your daughter, your son, your
whole village-- they take it.  Every soldier is supported by 2 or 3 civilian
bearers, usually young boys who are virtually 'used up', until starved and
ill, then killed or beaten and left to die.  Rape is a deliberate weapon of
control.  Young girls are enslaved into brothels widely advertised in Europe
-- a depraved part of the tourist trade.  Do you wonder that the people have
fled to the borders."

The refugee camps to which the Kawasakis minister are mainly composed of an
ethnic minority called the Karen people.  The camps are self-organized with
schools, but lack virtually all amenities and supplies.  Food is very
scarce-- mainly rice and fish paste.  Medical facilities are woeful.  Ken
and Visakha themselves provide near-total support for a lone surgeon, a
dedicated survivor of the 8/8/88 massacre.

Their photos of his crude hospital, a former noodle factory, and the
appalling atocities he must repair, beaten bodies, gaping gunshot wounds,
legs shattered by land mines-- make one want to cringe.  In one of the
surgeries photographed I noted a dinner fork being used as a retractor.  Ken
and Visakha had pictures of happy people for whom they have supplied
good-looking artificial legs.  They pull strings to get them at 1/3 the
normal charge.

The Burmese people do have a leader whom they chose in a free election in
1990, pretty, Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced "Sue Chee"
for short), but she has been under house arrest by the dictatorship for most
of these 6 years.  United Nations negotiators did secure her partial release
in 1994, but she's back under house arrest, the Kawasakis tell me.  The
schools have also been closed recently to keep the students from gathering.

The feeling among the Burmese people yearning to be free is that as long as
international corporations do business with SLORC (who supply slave labor,
much of it child labor, at 6 cents an hour, 60 hours a week) and pour the
profits into private pockets or the military to be used against the people,
human rights don't stand a chance.

Some companies have been persuaded -- Eddie Bauer and Disney (at year's end)
among them;--but PepsiCo, Unocal, and Mitsubishi are still targets of the
democratic movement.  Serious food for thought when you reach for a cola or
a cheap garment...