Free Burma hunger strike tries to raise awareness

By Melanie Klein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 9, 1996

Nicholas Valenzuela
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Chris Ford, theatre arts senior, and Eric Proctor, ecology and evolutionary biology sophomore, talk about the problems facing the people of Burma to a student who refused to give his name yesterday. The Free Burma Coalition was fasting on the UA Mall.


Student members of the Free Burma Coalition staged a hunger strike on the UA Mall yesterday in protest of the military-ruled government of Burma.

"Making a personal sacrifice like this heightens the awareness that other people are having to make forcible sacrifices that violate their rights," said Ron Phares, international business graduate.

The Free Burma Coalition is an international organization working toward freedom and democracy in Myanmar, formally known as Burma, located between Bangladesh and Thailand.

Its mission statement objectives are to "weaken the grip of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (the military regime currently in power) by cutting its substantial flow of foreign currency provided by multi-national corporations and to restore the National League for democracy."

Eric Proctor, ecology and evolutionary biology sophomore, said many students showed interest in the cause and joined the organization yesterday and Monday when Free Burma Coalition members staged their protest on the University of Arizona Mall. The event was organized over the Internet.

"A lot of students don't know where Burma is, that makes me feel bad that they don't know what is going on," Proctor said. "But at least they are showing an interest in what we have to say."

This is the first international 48-hour hunger strike to expose corporations that support the Burmese government who use slave labor, Proctor said.

"This military regime that uses forced labor can not take place anymore in the world," said Chris Ford, theatre arts senior. "U.S. corporations are involved with these abuses, so it does bring the issue home."

Proctor said corporations must give the government money to do business in Burma, and the money is used to crush pro-democratic rebellions.

Martin Taylor, associate professor of entomology and the organization's faculty adviser, said, "These types of protests by human rights groups do stop governments from doing business with Burma."

An official statement issued by Levi Strauss in 1992 reflected that. The statement said, "it is not possible to do business in (Burma) without directly supporting the military government and its pervasive violations of human rights."

In addition to the hunger strike, Free Burma Coalition members write letters to Congressmen and promote the boycott of businesses such as UNOCAL, Heineken and PepsiCo that they say support the military government.

Currently, the nine University of Arizona chapter members are working on banning all Pepsi products on campus.

"Banning of PepsiCo products has been successfully done at Harvard, Stanford and the University of Wisconsin," Proctor said.

A PepsiCo representative said the number of calls regarding the Burma issue were so overwhelming that PepsiCo representatives were unable to address them individually.

PepsiCo released a statement stating, "We do listen and care about worldwide public opinion ... so we've decided to sell our stake in that business. PepsiCo has no assets or employees in Burma and we no longer pay local taxes."

PepsiCo will have distributorships or third-party supply arrangements, but no direct investment or company presence in Burma, the statement said.

Taylor said, "(The Free Burma Coalition) has had a visible effect on business and organizations dealings within Burma."