Oil, natural gas, jade, ruby, sapphire, but also tourism, tobacco and beer. The Myanmar army is making billions of dollars and activists are calling on international society and multinationals to tackle these flows of money.
Even today, tens of thousands of citizens have taken to the streets against the coup d‘état of 1 February. Three protesters in the big city of Mawlamyine were injured when the army opened fire with rubber bullets, reports the Red Cross.
According to the UN, over 350 people have been arrested in the country in less than two weeks. This week, there was also sharp shooting at protesters. They demand that the top of the army return power to the democratically elected government. But the Tatmadaw, as the armed forces are known, insist that the election results have been riddled.
According to Justice For Myanmar, the best way to tackle the almighty army is to turn off the money tap. The Action Group has published a list of names of persons sitting on the Administrative State Council on behalf of the military and their relatives. This council effectively controls the country with 55 million inhabitants and was set up shortly after the coup d’état.
“ The family members of senior generals benefit from the systematic corruption of the army,” says spokesman for the action group Yadanar Maung. “The coup was possible thanks to the corporate revenues of the army‘s top.” This is why the group calls for a boycott of products and services that the army would earn from:
The opaque business empire yields the Tadmadaw billions of dollars, noted by the UN in a report from 2019. From banks to transport and from real estate to textile production. But the most lucrative is the trade in minerals and fossil fuels.
From 1998 to 2011, the two military conglomerates did not pay income tax. After that, too, the money construction remained shady and the state treasury has lost an estimated billions of dollars in revenue. “Thanks to its own management, the Tadmadaw can avoid supervision and accountability”, says the report.
Separate schools and hospitals
Military people live together with their families in a parallel society, LegTCCEIT correspondent Annemarie Kas explained. “In the big cities you have military complexes, where soldiers, as it were, live in a separate settlement. They have their own markets, schools for the children, their own hospitals.”
This separate society is a legacy of over half a century of military dictatorship. The protesters fear that this time, after several years of democratic reform, has now returned.
In this slider you can see how the Tadmadaw has been holding the country in its power for decades:
Justice For Myanmar calls on oil and gas companies such as Total and Chevron to stop their cooperation with the military regime. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, until recently, the Dutch group Unilever does not conduct direct business with investment companies of the junta.
A few days after the coup, the Japanese multinational Kirin Holdings has terminated its cooperation with Myanmar. It collaborated with a brewer owned by an army conglomerate. Car manufacturer Suzuki from Japan has suspended production in two factories in the country.
The US has imposed sanctions against Supreme Commander General Min Aung Hlaing and five other members of the State Administrative Council. This will freeze over a billion dollars of assets in the US. But since there are already sanctions against these senior officers because of their role in persecuting the Rohingya minority, the question is how much this will help.
“ America is not in the list of main trading partners,” says correspondent Kas. “The army conglomerates mainly cooperate with companies from countries that have less basic problems with undemocratically elected regimes. In addition, the unwritten rule applies in this region: do not interfere with domestic affairs.”
It is precisely that argument that China’s main trading partner today used. At the specially convened meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, the ambassador said that what is happening in the South-East Asian country is “essentially an internal issue”.
Together against the Tadmadaw
Foreign pressure or not: the protesters do not give themselves won. “It will not be as easy as in the past for the army to maintain power,” says Myanmar expert Maaike Matelski. In her view, this is evidenced by ongoing mass demonstrations and the various groups of participants.
Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, students, teachers, Ihbti‘ers, caregivers, civil servants and factory workers; in the two largest cities they are protesting against the coup d’état. “You see that manyunderrepresented groups make their voices heard,” says Matelski. “There has always been divisions, but a new generation really thinks it can bring change.”