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Halt the Anti-Revolutionary Rubies

October 19, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The U.S. already has the broadest sanctions in the world against the Myanmar government, but Congress may soon move to close loopholes in the sanctions to make them even tougher. This week, Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) both introduced bills into Congress to block laundered, Mayanmar-mined gems, a leading export earner for the country’s military leaders, from entering the U.S.

Here’s Lantos discussing his bill, The Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, on The Hill’s Congress Blog:

>Burmese rubies sold in the United States are laundered through third countries to avoid our sanctions, but nothing can wash away the moral stain of supporting this illicit market. There is a direct link between these blood-red gemstones and the bloodied robes of monks who were brutally suppressed when they took to the streets to demand democracy and human rights. It is high time for the world to reject Burmese gemstones, because their sale funds the ruling junta’s ongoing campaign of brutality against its own citizens.
>This year, Burma’s rulers will pocket more than $300 million from the sale of gems, with rubies and imperial jade being the biggest money-makers. In the last year, Burma’s income from gem exports increased 45 percent. Despite sanctions, only three percent of the Burmese rubies entering the United States market indicate their true country of origin, while the rest are imported via Burma’s neighbors, China, Thailand and India.

Lantos’s bill would would also encourage the Chevron Corporation to divest from Myanmar by ending the tax write-offs that have fueled its natural gas project there and by banning them from making payments to the Mayanmar government through any of its joint ventures. Agence France-Presse explains how these sanctions would work:

>Under US law, “no deduction or credit against tax shall be allowed … with respect to amounts paid or incurred with respect to” the junta or joint production agreement of the Yadana gas project, a copy of the proposed legislation reads.
>Neither US citizens or US institutions can make any “direct or indirect payments of any tax, cancellation penalty, or any other amount” to the junta, according to the measure, known as the Block Burmese JADE (Junta?s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2007.
>"It is not mandating Chevron to pull out of Burma, but the provisions are tough enough to make them rethink their operations in that country," a congressional aide told AFP, referring to Myanmar by its former name.
>Chevron is one of biggest Western companies in Myanmar, holding a 28 percent minority share in the Yadana natural gas project following its acquisition of another US energy giant, Unocal, in 2005.
>Under Myanmar law, if Chevron sold its stake, it might have to pay the military junta much of the company’s capital gains on the project — estimated to be around 500 million dollars. The proposed sanctions would bar Chevron from making such a payment.

McCain’s bill, the Saffron Revolution Support Act of 2007, largely mirrors the Lantos’s House version.

For these bills to be effective, it’s important for them to be passed and enacted quickly. If you support them, call your senators and representative today and encourage them to sign on as co-sponsors. And since the bills have only been in Congress for a couple of days, you can help get the buzz going on the internet by blogging them. And if you write a blog post about them and include the bill numbers (for example, H.R.3890) in it, a link to your blog post will soon appear in the blog coverage section on OpenCongress’s page for the bill.

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