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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
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
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