Barack Obama on 15 May announced the continuation of sanctions against Burma in a statement to the congress of the United States.
While praising progress – in particular the release of more than 1,300 political prisoners, ongoing peace negotiations, the official discharge of child soldiers, the improvement of labour standards and the expansion of the role of civil society – the statement cited the ongoing violence in ethnic minority areas, notably Rakhine State, and the role of the military as reasons for the continuation of sanctions.
The military, the statement said, “operates with little oversight from the civilian government and often acts with impunity”.
Obama in the release reaffirmed the US commitment to support and strengthen reforms in the country.
The sanctions were initiated on 20 May 1997 under Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act.
The US under Obama has eased its sanctions on Burma, in 2012 opening the door to allow American companies to invest in the country’s plentiful oil and gas reserves.
Upon the renewal of sanctions at the same time last year, Maung Maung Lay, vice-president of the Myanmar Chamber of Commerce, said, “I don’t see how this can have a significant impact as the sanctions were already in place and are just being renewed. We’re already at rock-bottom so the only direction for us is up.”
Despite the sanctions extension, the US-Burma rapprochement does appear to be ramping up.
Earlier this month, speaker of Burma’s bicameral parliament and presidential contender Shwe Mann visited Washington DC on the invitation of the US House of Representatives John Boehner on what Burmese state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar described as a “goodwill” visit.
Shwe Mann’s trip followed the disclosure of a new deal signed between Naypyidaw and the influential Washington lobbying firm the Podesta Group, who have strong ties to the Democratic Party and US presidential candidate Hilary Clinton.
In April, a famous crony had a US business ban against him dropped. Win Aung, known as ‘Dagon’ Win Aung for his role as the chief of the Dagon Group conglomerate, faced accusations of corruption as head of the Burma’s primary business body UMFCCI when his Dagon International construction firm was awarded large contracts, including the building of Burma’s new capital, Naypyidaw, and reconstruction along the Irrawaddy Delta following the disastrous 2008 Cyclone Nargis. The reasons for the move to drop sanctions against him remain unclear.