[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

Seattle Times article on Burma Law

          Wednesday, Dec. 3, 1997 
          Drago backs off proposed curb on Burma-linked firms 
          by Susan Byrnes
          Seattle Times staff reporter 
          Seattle City Council President Jan Drago has backed away from
          legislation she proposed to restrict city contracts with
          companies doing business in Burma, saying the implications are
          broader than she realized.
          Drago said she introduced the ordinance in August to send a
          message to the military regime in Burma. The legislation would
          have directed the city not to do business with companies that
          have direct investments there.
          But in the weeks that followed, members of business and trade
          organizations peppered Drago's office with letters and calls,
          warning her that the measure was not as simple as it appeared.
          Yesterday, at a meeting of the Business, Economic and Community
          Development Committee she chairs, Drago told supporters of the
          ordinance to look for another way to send a message.
          "I was not aware of what I was getting into on a bigger level,"
          Drago said after the meeting. "I deal with local politics, not
          national and international politics."
          Larry Dohrs, chairman of the Seattle Burma Roundtable, said he
          was confused by Drago's apparent flip-flop and vowed to keep
          lobbying for the ordinance with other members of the council.
          "Anybody who says it's complicated, the onus is on them to
          explain what the complications are," Dohrs said. "Saying it's
          complicated is not speaking from a position of knowledge, it's
          speaking from a position of fear."
          President Clinton already has banned new investment in Burma,
          and dozens of U.S. and foreign companies have pulled out of the
          country. More than a dozen U.S. cities, including New York and
          San Francisco, have enacted their own sanctions to emphasize
          disapproval of the Burmese military regime that ignored
          democratic elections in 1990 and has been implicated in
          human-rights violations and drug trafficking.
          Supporters say Seattle can make a difference to those suffering
          in Burma with little cost. No companies would be directly
          affected by a Seattle ordinance, they say, and the legislation
          would cost the city almost nothing. The ordinance would show
          support for the democratically elected leader of the country,
          Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 for her
          resistance to the military regime.
          But the issue has sparked fierce debate about the role of city
          government in foreign-policy matters.
          Supporters point to the patchwork of city, state, national and
          international sanctions that helped force the repressive South
          African government to end apartheid in the 1980s.
          But opponents say South Africa was an exception. They argue
          city involvement in foreign-trade issues fragments and confuses
          U.S. policy and puts the city in the awkward role of having to
          take a position on other foreign countries with undesirable
          "When it's put to you in black and white, it sounds like an
          easy thing to do," said Barbara Hazzard, program director for
          the Washington Council on International Trade, a nonprofit
          organization that represents such companies as Boeing,
          Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser. "A local city sanction like this
          can set a precedent. There are a lot of regimes in the world.
          Once you start, you can paint yourself into a corner."
          The trade council, as well as representatives from Boeing and a
          coalition of U.S. and Asian businesses, contacted Drago with
          similar issues.
          Dohrs said the city already has been involved in international
          issues, such as divesting itself of companies that did business
          in South Africa, and by maintaining sister-city relationships
          around the world.
          In 1995, the city passed a resolution supporting the
          establishment of democracy in Burma and supporting appropriate
          U.S. action to achieve it. Dohr argues the ordinance is a local
          issue because Seattle residents don't want their tax money
          spent on companies that do business with Burma.
          Two immigrants from Burma also spoke to council members Drago,
          Margaret Pageler and Peter Steinbrueck at the meeting, urging
          them to support the ordinance.
          Opponents of the ordinance will speak to the same committee on
          Dec. 12. After that, Drago says, she hopes both sides will be
          willing to sit down and discuss another solution.
          "I got involved in this because I care, not because I'm an
          expert," she said.
          Susan Byrnes' phone message number is 206-464-2189. Her e-mail
          address is: suby-new@xxxxxxxxxxxx 
   Permission to repost or reprint any material on this site must be
   obtained by contacting Barbara Davis at The Seattle Times, (206)
   464-2310, bdav-new@xxxxxxxxxxxx
   You have reached the end of the file.
   Perform a Search
   Top of Page
   Top Stories Index
   Top Stories Home Page
   Copyright © 1997 The Seattle Times Company