* Tom Plate's "Capitalism vs. Moralism in Burma" (Commentary, Sept 24) ignores the hard reality that Unocal does not have a legitimate contract with the elected government of Burma. Unocal may have an invalid lease, since it signed a contract with the Burmese military government subsequent to the May 1990 elections.
Referring to "Shell Oil's controversial project in Nigeria," Plate states that "Unocal appears to have learned many lessons from that ugly venture." The big difference between Burma and Nigeria is that the Burmese resistance has established a significant and growing grass-roots organization in the U.S. Unocal is foolish and deserves to be "shellshocked" if it doesn't recognize this hard reality.
The myth of "constructive engagement" is that foreign investors would act as "emissaries of democracy" and assist in the evolution of freedom and democracy. But the hard reality is that foreign investors end up acting as "emissaries of dictators" in order to protect their dirty deals and obscene profits. The best example of such behavior is Unocal. Unocal's chairman has never met with the Burmese military government to promote freedom and democracy in Burma. Yet he shows up at U.S. congressional hearings on Burma to act as an apologist for the Burmese military government.
To protect its investment in Burma, Unocal must make it clear to the Burmese military government that it is financially too risky and a public relations suicide to build the $1.2-billion natural gas pipeline until there is a political settlement in Burma.
Senior Advisor to the
* What needs to be done is to consider what the Burmese want. I can understand the point of view of the human rights organizations, for do we not hold responsible those who aid criminals? True, Unocal is giving money to a country under authoritarian rule, which just helps them continue their hold over the people.
We need to look at Unocal's intentions, though, for being in Burma. The project Unocal and other European countries are working on will greatly better Burma's source of energy, helping the Burmese with their dangerous pollution. Unocal is making moves toward giving people jobs in which they can receive benefits. How many companies in Burma pay their workers as well and give health benefits?
Yes, we need to look out for the rights of others, but in doing so, we can't hinder them from making a living. By pressuring Unocal to leave, that is exactly what we will be doing. Instead of helping the Burmese, we may be pushing them toward poverty-stricken lives. We should not let our guilt deprive Burma of its future.
LAURA GARCIA, student
University of Redlands