(MintPress) – Myanmar is open for business and U.S. corporations are lining up for a share of the new market in the once-isolated Southeast Asian state of 60 million. Opportunities are rare, especially after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, when formerly isolated states began transitioning to capitalism.
On Monday, the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) met in Yangon, welcoming the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jose Fernandez. Fernandez is seen shaking the hand of Win Aung, the president of Myanmar’s main business association despite former U.S. officials lambasting Aung for maintaining connections with the old, military dictatorship that ruled the country.
Ultimately, profits speak louder than awkward photographs and old grudges.
More than 50 representatives of U.S. companies including Chevron, General Motors, Target Corp., ConocoPhillips, Caterpillar, General Electric International, Honeywell and eBay are scheduled to spend the week meeting with leading businesspeople and government officials in Myanmar.
U.S. refusal to trade with Myanmar, also known as Burma, stems from opposition to the military dictatorship that has ruled the country since 1962. Rampant human rights violations, including the use of child soldiers, human sex trafficking and severe restrictions on the press, left Myanmar isolated until the military began relinquishing control — gradually in 2011.
Myanmar continues to violate human rights despite a gradual change in progress towards democracy. The Rohingya people, a Muslim minority group in Myanmar has been severely oppressed for decades by the military junta. Amnesty International reports that since 1978, the Rohingya have been subject to “extortion, arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction.”
The Rohingya continue to be used as forced laborers on roads and at military camps. Despite ongoing suppression of this indigenous group, the Obama administration has remained silent on these atrocities during the rapid warming of U.S.-Burmese relations.
The election of Aung San Suu Kyi, a prominent human rights activist to the Burmese Parliament last year signalled a symbolic but important transition for Myanmar toward a more accountable, democratic government. Following her election, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to visit Myanmar in November 2012.
Corporations enter Myanmar
Because a bevy of U.S. corporations stand to make considerable gains with the opening of Burmese markets, Washington has looked the other way even as vestiges of the old military regime once castigated by the U.S. remain connected to the financial sector.
The U.S. Treasury Department issued a statement last week saying, it would issue a general license for four of Myanmar’s biggest banks: Myanma Economic Bank, Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank, Asia Green Development Bank and Ayeyarwady Bank.
The general license allows U.S. companies and citizens to deal legally with these banks despite members of the old regime still being connected with these financial institutions. U.S. officials have assured that they “still have their eye on the worst offenders of the past regime.”
A similar transition could happen in Cuba, where U.S. corporations are eagerly awaiting the day when President Raul Castro steps down from power in 2018, possibly opening the island to market liberalization.
One of the main reasons that the U.S. has not normalized relations with Cuba is because the Castro government has refused to submit to the gangster capitalism prevalent on the island before the 1959 revolution.
The U.S. mafia ran Havana with the help of Cuba’s President Flugencio Bautista. This helped pave the way for U.S. corporations to run roughshod over the island. In 1959, U.S. companies owned about 40 percent of the Cuban sugar lands, almost all the cattle ranches, 90 percent of the mines and mineral concessions, 80 percent of the utilities and practically all the oil industry.
Despite being rich in resources, most of the Cuban population remained illiterate, impoverished and subservient to the exploitative relationship the undemocratic leadership had formed with both the mafia and U.S. corporations.
After ending U.S. corporate hegemony, Cuba virtually abolished illiteracy nationwide and established universal healthcare for all citizens, becoming a world leader in health care reform.