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Birmania: reformas, elecciones y la esperanza de un boom economico

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Mensaje por ivan_077 Junio 24th 2014, 19:26

Energy Rush: Myanmar's Reforms Fuel Hopes of Burmese Boom
The race to attract foreign oil and gas companies could consolidate the transformation of a former pariah state.

BY Keith Johnson
JUNE 24, 2014

Birmania: reformas, elecciones y la esperanza de un boom economico Burmaboom

Energy executives around the globe rubbed their hands anticipating a new gold rush in Myanmar when that formerly isolated country began opening up in 2011. They're still eagerly waiting, but the fledgling democracy finally seems ready for them.

Before Myanmar, also known as Burma, could fling open its energy reserves, it had to remake its government, overhaul the way it does business -- no more opacity, bribes, and corruption -- and update its crumbling infrastructure.

"People assumed that once sanctions were lifted it would be easy to go in," said Erin Murphy, a former State Department official who started Inle Advisory Group, a consultancy focused on Myanmar. Potential investors thought of it as an emerging market, when really it was much less developed, she said.

International firms were so anxious to get back into Myanmar ahead of a new investment boom that office rental prices in Yangon, or Rangoon, were higher than in New York for a spell last year; exorbitant rates still spark scandal there today.

Foreign investments are inching upward after most international sanctions imposed on the military junta in 1997 were lifted and the country prepares for its first, fully democratic elections in more than two decades. (The military junta ignored the results of the 1990 elections. The 2012 elections only offered opposition parties a handful of seats in parliament.) Incoming investments rose from about $2 billion before the political transition to $2.7 billion last year, showing that Myanmar's efforts to make the country more appealing to international companies by reforming its laws is slowly paying dividends.

For the energy sector, years of anticipation came to fruition this spring when Myanmar finally awarded 20 blocks for offshore oil and gas exploration to foreign firms, a landmark step.

Attracting more outside capital is crucial; and not just to boost energy production and exports, which are a key source of government revenue. In the energy sector especially, greater involvement by foreign companies could actually help solidify Myanmar's nascent political makeover as those enterprises demand more transparency, accountability, and better governance.

When Myanmar's military rulers began liberalizing restrictive rules on labor unions and the media, freeing political prisoners, and entering talks to end decades of armed conflict with ethnic minorities in 2011, expectations soared that international firms would scramble to invest in a country that many considered akin to the next Vietnam.

For energy companies in particular, Myanmar is ideally situated geographically to supply its fast-growing neighbors in Southeast Asia. And Burma was one of the first countries to export oil, back in the 1850s. For decades, Western firms such as Total and Unocal, later Chevron, extracted natural gas from large offshore deposits in the sprawling Yadana field off the southern coast. The energy sector -- including oil, gas, and power generation -- accounted for the bulk of foreign investment flowing into the country. What's more, many oil firms believe Myanmar holds even greater energy riches that simply haven't been explored because of decades of sanctions and isolation.

Norway's Statoil, for example, joined forces with ConocoPhillips and was awarded one offshore block earlier this year. Despite all the challenges of doing business in Myanmar, and lingering uncertainty over the political transition there, Statoil's motivation was clear. "This is a large and virtually unexplored basin with a proven petroleum system and significant potential upside," said Statoil spokesman Knut Rostad.

That unquantified potential drew almost 70 big international firms to the latest bidding round; 30 actually bid and 20 won rights to begin exploration, including international majors such as Statoil, Shell, Total, Chevron, BG, and Eni.

"In terms of oil and gas exploration, this is really frontier exploration. There haven't been any wells drilled in deep water, so this is really one of the last frontiers that we have seen around the world, and that has recently been made available," said an executive with one Western oil firm recently awarded blocks.

Actually tapping Myanmar's energy potential has been a long, slow slog, which could be a good thing.

Four years after the elections that ushered in an end to total military rule and the beginnings of Myanmar's opening, no production contracts have been signed for those promising offshore blocks; and no new gas fields have started producing. What's more, the foreign rush to explore for oil and gas both onshore and offshore threatens to overwhelm the small number of government officials overseeing the development of dozens of big, complicated projects, potentially causing further delay.

There are other concerns dogging the pace of resource development, especially the lack of data on just what oil and gas resources are really out there and a narrow window of time to carry out geological surveys on the blocks that were awarded. Furthermore, Myanmar's growing appetite for domestic energy, such as natural gas for power generation, raises fears that the government will increasingly make companies dedicate more of what they produce to the less-profitable domestic market.

"Above ground factors have had a significant impact on the pace of Myanmar's upstream development," said Olivia Boyd, who covers Myanmar for energy consultancy IHS. The government delayed awarding the offshore blocks, a process that began in 2012, until earlier this year, largely to bring the whole process up to snuff for international firms that face strict environmental and compliance rules.

For example, Myanmar introduced an industry-wide standard contract to replace the old, individually negotiated, opaque ones. It also undertook tougher environmental reviews. It also overhauled which government ministries are in charge of energy contracts, making shady deals less likely, and approved new legislation to tackle bribery and corruption. Perhaps most importantly, it applied to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a global standard pushing more openness in resource development around the world.

"Oil companies have demonstrated that they are treading very carefully when it comes to investing in Myanmar and the government, in turn, has been very active in seeking to address transparency concerns," Boyd said.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker opened a new commercial office in Yangon this month, touting how American involvement can accelerate Myanmar's reforms. "When our businesses make investments, they bring with them the highest standards, including a commitment to corporate and social responsibility," she said.

All this could go a long way toward helping Myanmar avoid the so-called resource curse, when countries' abundant natural resources fuel corruption and inequality and undermine democracy. Instead, Myanmar could "piggy-back on the more rigorous standards of foreign partners," concluded Cullen Hendrix and Marcus Noland in a recent Peterson Institute of International Economics study.

"It's kind of a gold rush, but with time the boys leave, and the men stay," the Western oil executive said, referring to how the right environment attracts the right kind of investors.

Jamila Trindle contributed to this article.

Paula Bronstein - AFP - Getty

Última edición por ivan_077 el Julio 3rd 2014, 12:27, editado 2 veces

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Mensaje por ivan_077 Junio 24th 2014, 19:28

The Lady Rallies the Masses Once Again
Aung San Suu Kyi wants to change the Burmese constitution. But will the military really go along?

BY Min Zin
JUNE 5, 2014
Birmania: reformas, elecciones y la esperanza de un boom economico Asskposter1

The big question in Burmese politics these days is whether the military will allow Aung San Suu Kyi to run for the presidency. The current constitution, which was drafted and passed by the old military regime, bars her from the job. Article 59F of the constitution states that any Burmese who has a foreign spouse or children who are foreign nationals can't become president or vice president. Aung San Suu Kyi's two sons (from her marriage with the deceased Oxford professor Michael Aris) have British citizenship, so she needs to change that rule before she can qualify for Burma's highest office. Burma's military rulers included that rather peculiar condition precisely in order to prevent her from taking power.

During the third week of May, Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters gathered for two mass rallies in Rangoon and Mandalay, Burma's two biggest cities. (The demonstration in Mandalay, the most important commercial city in upper Burma, drew an estimated 25,000 supporters.) Both rallies called for amending Article 436 of the 2008 constitution, which essentially gives the military a veto over any amendments. The article stipulates that any amendments require the support of more than 75 percent of members of the parliament, where unelected military representatives control a quarter of the seats. Aung San Suu Kyi's camp have to get rid of this provision before they can amend the article that prevents her from holding the presidency.

There's no doubt that Burma's constitution is deeply flawed. The excessive power that it grants the military and the obstacles it places in the way of amendment are only two of the most obvious problems. Ideally, of course, these provisions can be changed or abolished. In reality, matters are a bit more complicated. The 2008 constitution was the result of an effort to reduce the military's direct control of the state as part of the country's transition away from the previous military dictatorship. For all its flaws, the constitution has enabled the political opening that continues in Burma today.

At the rallies, Aung San Suu Kyi and her supporters called for replacing the 75 percent requirement with a simple majority parliamentary vote. After spending the past two years lobbying for a constitutional amendment, the Lady (as the Burmese often refer to their revered opposition leader) has finally lost her patience with the military, which failed to respond to her request for a formal meeting with key political players, including President Thein Sein, House Speaker Shwe Mann, and Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing. Speaking to thousands of supporters at the rallies, she ultimately resorted to some highly charged, shame-and-name rhetoric: "I challenge the military..." "Soldiers must be brave enough to face reality... "The military was founded as the Burma Liberation Army, not as the Army for Repressing Burma."

The crowds were suitably fired up. They also applauded her decision to team up with the 88 Generation Group, the most influential activist group in Burma after Aung San Suu Kyi's own party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), to organize these mass rallies and launch a nationwide campaign to petition for constitutional reform.

The question is whether this show of political influence will achieve its professed goal. The short answer is "no." In all likelihood, the campaign will end up serving merely as part of the broader political effort to garner support for Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD, ahead of the 2015 elections. There are at least three reasons to assume this outcome.

First, what is the Lady's broader game plan? What will she do if the military rejects her call for constitutional reform? Will she launch a campaign of street protests? Judging by her statements to date, she has no plans to go that far. She insists that she's planning to reform the constitution in compliance with parliamentary procedure. Will she boycott the 2015 elections? Also unlikely. Such a move would leave her and her supporters in the political wilderness once again.

So what's left? The 2008 constitution does not provide any path for translating public opinion into policy apart from regular parliamentary elections and the right of voters to recall elected officials. (A controversial bill that would translate the latter principle into law remains on hold.) So long as Aung San Suu Kyi is committed to pursuing constitutional change according to the military's rules, it's hard to see how her strength on the streets can translate into actual reform in the parliament.

Meanwhile, the military and its associated political party are becoming savvier in dealing with the challenges posed by the opposition. Consistent with their strategy of co-optation, the ruling elites do not reject anything outright. They typically respond to opposition demands by making partial concessions and preventing full-blown confrontation. On May 21st, the parliamentary Joint Committee for Reviewing the Constitution (JCRC) announced that its members had agreed to amend Article 436, saying that they will submit a proposal to parliament for a final decision. Though the incumbent-dominated JCRC did not reveal details of the proposal, it almost certainly won't do anything to help the opposition get what it wants. Moreover, the military chief recently made it clear that any constitutional changes have to be passed according to the existing amendment procedures. In short, even if the military agrees to make concessions, the opposition will find it virtually impossible to pass a corresponding amendment.

Since Aung San Suu Kyi is unlikely to resort to full-on street protests or election boycotts, the main effect of her current campaign for constitutional reform will be to motivate her base to vote for her party in the 2015 elections. Even so, the effort does come with a substantial risk. The campaign could spark conflict with pro-government activists such as the Buddhist nationalists who have already declared their support for the incumbent president and Article 59F. More importantly, military leaders might view Aung San Suu Kyi's call for soldiers to sign the charter reform petition as a ploy to divide the military. It's precisely such fears that fuel continuing suspicion of the democratic forces among the officer corps. The Election Commission, for its part, issued a warning to Aung San Suu Kyi, chiding her for using language "challenging the army."

Whether or not the Lady has the stomach to pick another intractable fight with a new generation of military generals is a question that has to do with a second concern: the credibility of the constitutional reform campaign.

Given the country's complex ethnic makeup and its continuing civil war, minority groups are among the most important actors in Burmese political conflicts. So far, however, their representatives have been conspicuously absent from the stage at Aung San Suu Kyi's public rallies (even though the Lady has paid lip service to the federalist cause in her speeches). This seems odd, considering there's no way to build enough support to reform the constitution that bypasses the ethnic groups (whether inside or outside parliament). So the exclusion of the ethnic groups from the current campaign merely reinforces the conclusion that the NLD constitutional reform campaign is really just a way of preparing for the 2015 elections. Instead of the ethnic groups, the Lady has brought in her informal sidekick, the 88 Generation group. Observers agree that most of the group's leaders do not entertain electoral ambitions, so they have no plans to field candidates against Aung San Suu Kyi -- at least in the 2015 elections.

Finally, even if Aung San Suu Kyi throws all of her energy and resources into the campaign, the current political context does not seem to favor her. The current government's liberalization process might appear inclusive, but the reality is quite different. While the new regime has accepted Aung San Suu Kyi as a valid spokesperson in certain areas, it still refuses to give her any real power over policy. And there is little she can do to change that now, having given the government her blanket endorsement early on. The lady's public announcement of trust in President Thein Sein and his "genuine wishes for democratic reform" in 2012 granted the new regime much-needed domestic and international legitimacy; she may well regret that decision now, but what's done is done. Meanwhile, the anti-Muslim nationalist movement is preparing to push back if the Lady dares to launch a full-scale confrontation over the issue of constitutional reform.

The promise of the Arab Spring has ebbed. Turkey's once-promising democracy is torn between chaos and rising authoritarianism. And now Thailand has once again succumbed to military rule. Under such conditions, it's hard to imagine that the international community will wholeheartedly throw its weight behind the unpredictable Lady. The countries of the West, who have generally taken Aung San Suu Kyi's side, insist on categorizing Burma as a success story not only because of the presumed success of its "democratization," but also due to geostrategic interests. Here, for example, is what President Obama, said about Burma in his recent speech to graduates of the U.S. military academy:

...[W]e have seen political reforms opening a once closed society; a movement by Burmese leadership away from partnership with North Korea in favor of engagement with America and our allies.... If Burma succeeds we will have gained a new partner without having fired a shot.

Given its ambiguous endgame, its weak credibility, and the changing domestic and international context, the opposition's amendment campaign is likely to fall short of its declared goal before the 2015 elections. The leader of the campaign, however, may have a very different perception of what counts as success.

Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty Images

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Mensaje por ivan_077 Junio 24th 2014, 19:31

Why Burma's Top General Is Playing Peacemaker
The leader of Burma's military is leveraging peace talks to position himself for next year's epochal presidential election.

BY Su Mon Thazin Aung
MAY 15, 2014

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It's election season in Burma. The 2015 general election, which promises to be the first more or less free vote of its type in more than half a century, is already looming large. The leader of the military, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, is already giving glimpses of his strategy for victory: a breakthrough in peace talks with the ethnic rebels who are still at odds with the central government.

Burma's liberalization process has generated high expectations within the international community. What outsiders often tend to miss is that the 60-year-old civil war between the central government and ethnic minorities continues today -- despite all the positive talk about peace from the country's leaders. This is the most daunting hurdle that Burma has to cross before it can establish a stable, open democracy. Min Aung Hlaing has decided to take on this challenge, and has spent the last few months making the rounds among ethnic armies. He has met with some success: In early April, he managed to bring the leaders of all major groups to the table for peace talks in Rangoon -- the largest meeting of its kind since Burma achieved independence in 1948. The talks have so far been a success: After the four-day-long peace negotiations, the attendees approved a draft of a national ceasefire agreement. Under Min Aung Hlaing's leadership, the military has put ethnic reconciliation squarely at the center of its agenda.

The reason for this is clear. Success at the peace talks could be a game-changer for Min Aung Hlaing, who is rumored to have his eye on the presidency. With presidential elections just around the corner, substantive progress in talks with the ethnic armies can bolster the commander-in-chief's chances in two key ways: First, it will help him develop a political platform and a clear image, both crucial to making the shift into electoral politics. Second, it will help him win votes in parliament. As member of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT) commented, the army chief's priority, as he has told senior military officials, is to obtain not just an end to the fighting, but a durable peace that will last for a long time to come.

Needless to say, such a result won't come easy. Just a few days after the first meeting, in mid-April, there were signs that not everything was going well. When General Gun Maw, the leader of an ethnic army in the conflict-ridden Kachin state, visited the United States recently, he revealed that continuing fighting between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been getting in the way of substantive dialogue, and implored the United States to take part in the talks. Gun Maw's message shows that the government has yet to earn the trust of the country's ethnic armies. And earning that trust -- a vital prerequisite for the success of the talks -- depends on Min Aung Hlaing.

For more than six decades since the last British forces pulled out, Burma has been ravaged by civil war between the central government and the ethnic armed groups. In 1947, independence hero General Aung San reached a deal, called the Panglong Agreement, that guaranteed ethnic minority groups broad rights and full administrative autonomy for frontier regions. Unfortunately, Aung San -- who is also the father of dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi -- was assassinated a few months later. Later governments, which were dominated by ethnic Burmans, failed to live up to the spirit of the Panglong Agreeement. That prompted many ethnic groups, including the KIA, to take up arms to push for greater autonomy and ethnic rights. (In the photo above, a KIA rebel overlooks the Mung Lai river near the militia's headquarters in Kachin state.)

The ethnic armies, then, have good reason to mistrust the government. Yet today the ethnic groups have shown that they're willing to give the peace process a try. Last year the Thein Sein government stepped up its efforts to conduct political dialogue with all ethnic rebels based on a ceasefire that was accepted by many of them.

It's important to note that the military has often used ceasefire agreements as part of a broader strategy for containing the rebellions on the country's periphery. The military concluded temporary ceasefires with certain groups while using the respites thus granted to intensify pressure on others. There were 14 ceasefire agreements between the military junta and the ethnic armed groups from 1989 to 2004 (including one with the KIA that only broke down in June 2011). This containment strategy did reduce clashes to some extent, but was unable to produce any lasting solutions because there was no genuine political dialogue between the ethnic groups and the junta. The recent draft ceasefire agreement suggests that the sides are making progress, and could indeed sign a long-term peace agreement by the declared deadline of August 1.

If Min Aung Hlaing can bring the negotiations to a successful end by the end of 2014, it would be an enormous boost to his prestige. A deal would mark a major breakthrough for the country, which has suffered from an intractable civil war for more than six decades. It's a high return wager for his potential presidential bid.

It would also offer some very practical advantages. Burma's parliament, as it presently exists, is divided up according to a quota system that gives a certain number of seats to various interest groups. Support from the ethnic groups represented in parliament could help give his candidacy a crucial boost. As it stands, the military bloc within Burma's parliament would be enough to make him one of the country's three vice presidents -- but the military holds just 25 percent of seats, not enough to make him president. A peace deal, and the ensuing support from Burma's ethnic minorities, would give him an edge on his competitors both inside parliament and in the country's ethnic regions.

So far, however, Min Aung Hlaing's peace deal efforts are far from perfect. One of the major issues is that the deal hinges on the military's list of six conditions, including the controversial demand that the groups respect the military-drafted 2008 constitution. Ethnic armed groups find half of these conditions unacceptable, stalling the talks. But as the army chief's retirement looms, the military has shown a willingness to tackle any remaining obstacles within the next few months. General Gun Maw, the Kachin leader, predicts that the military will compromise on the six points, stating that President Thein Sein and Gen Min Aung Hlaing will change policy if that was what they had to do to reach a peace agreement. If this is the case, it could mean a true conclusion of the world's longest civil war.

With a ceasefire in hand, there would be enough room for Min Aung Hlaing to maneuver for the presidency to outstrip his potential rivalries: Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still barred from running under an obscure article in the 2008 constitution, and the leaders of the ruling party, who have little or no public support. Meanwhile, escalating social unrest caused by the heated sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims, continuing conflicts over land ownership, and a general lack of rule of law continue to destabilize domestic politics. Ultimately, the military chief's success will depend on how shrewdly he manages the peace agreement and whether he can present himself as a strong, effective leader in the country's fragile transition.

A genuinely peaceful and federal Burma remains an ambitious and elusive goal. If Min Aung Hlaing can show decisive progress toward that end, he'll have a realistic chance of winning the presidency. But as things stand now the senior general still has a lot of work ahead of him.

Patrick BODENHAM/AFP/GettyImages

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