Huizenga plays politics as Myanmar burns
Take a moment to think back to your Christmas Eve last month here in West Michigan. Chances are you’re spending time with your family, attending a Christmas service, or indulging in other holiday traditions.
Yet halfway around the world, in Myanmar (Burma), many Christians have spent the holiday season fleeing for their lives. On Christmas Eve, the Burmese Army set fire to more than 35 civilians in their vehicles, including women and children, leaving their bodies burned beyond recognition. Two of the victims of the attack in Kayah State were aid workers providing vital nutritional support on behalf of the aid organization save the children. Both victims were new fathers.
February 1 marks one year since Myanmar’s military overthrew the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. During this period, nearly 1,500 innocent people were killed and more than 11,000 democracy activists were arrested.
Myanmar’s economy has come to a halt because of the nationwide civil disobedience movement. To overcome economic and financial challenges, the military now relies on oil and natural gas revenues to fund its crackdown. Around 50% of Myanmar’s foreign currency comes from natural gas revenues, the military government expected to raise $1.5 billion from offshore projects and pipelines in 2021-22. These payments fuel the army’s barbaric atrocities and the continued operation of oil companies in Myanmar makes them complicit in human rights abuses.
Pressure from civil society organizations is an effective tool for identifying and exposing illicit money flows that support tyrannical regimes like Myanmar’s. Public disclosure of payment information allows activist groups to investigate and shame governments that violate human rights and the companies that support them.
Tragically, for the vulnerable in Myanmar, Representative Bill Huizenga led a decades-long effort on behalf of oil interests to get rid of a valuable anti-corruption tool, Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. Section 1504 requires oil, gas and mining companies to disclose payments they make to foreign governments. The Transparency Act was a key tool to expose clandestine dealings in a notoriously corrupt industry and enabled communities to sustainably manage their resources.
Section 1504 is key to combating the “resource curse,” the phenomenon whereby people living in countries rich in natural resources are often among the poorest in the world. Through evisceration Section 1504, Huizenga has undermined anti-corruption efforts and peace processes around the world.
Ever an opportunistic politician, Bill Huizenga has conveniently ignored his past actions to hamper transparency in the extractive industry sector by voting for laws like the Burma Act 2021. The bill authorizes humanitarian aid, support for the protection of human rights and calls for transparency in Myanmar’s extractive industries.
I salute Huizenga’s support for the Burma Act 2021, but does anyone else see the irony in a US politician who spends a decade protecting corporate America from transparency, while voting for legislation that tell an illegitimate military dictatorship that it must be transparent and fight corruption?
In the political sphere, we often speak of “American exceptionalism”, the idea that the United States is particularly virtuous. This may comfort some Americans, but because of politicians like Bill Huizenga, this high standard of ethics is a myth.
It is exceptionally hypocritical that a decade of work by a US politician on the House Financial Services Committee has allowed Chevron to withhold details of how much it pays to Myanmar’s military government. He blatantly took Chevron almost a year to stop paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bank accounts controlled by the military junta. While Huizenga protects Chevron and other oil interests, Myanmar is burning.
Huizenga’s actions illustrate why so many people in Central America have a collective contempt for Washington’s policy. In December, I received an email from Huizenga’s communications team outlining their support for the Burma Law. The fact that Huizenga spent a decade undermining resource transparency and then emailing his constituents to score political points on an issue he worked hard to undermine is politics at its worst. .
Many of my friends and former students in Myanmar are Chin, a predominantly Christian ethnic minority who live in western Myanmar. They have long faced repression, with their churches often destroyed and travel restrictions imposed on preachers. If my friends in Myanmar are ever to have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas in peace, it will take politicians like Bill Huizenga to stop undoing anti-corruption and transparency legislation.
– Brendon Thomas is a resident of West Olive.