Despite the cold temperatures, members of the Minnesota Free Burma Coalition heated up Northrop Mall with a protest against the University’s investment in Total Oil Company stock.
The coalition is concerned that the money the University invests in Total Oil Company goes to support an oppressive military regime in Burma, a country in Southeast Asia about the size of Texas.
About 15 people carried signs, banners and a coffin prop with a skeleton face in opposition to the University’s investment.
Total Oil is building a massive 218-mile-long pipeline through the country. This is destroying tropical forest and disrupting the homeland of endangered species, according to documents provided by the international Free Burma Coalition.
Much opposition reigns in Burma against the regime (called the State Law and Order Restoration Council).
The strongest of which comes from the National League of Democracy headed by 1991 Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. She said she believes the money invested in Burma goes to support the regime and not to the citizens. In July 1996 Kyi called for “the immediate and complete withdrawal of all foreign investments from Burma.”
Not all people agree. Taung Tun, the deputy chief of mission to Mynamar (the new name the regime gave Burma) thinks the money going into Burma is a good thing for the country. He said he believes the citizens benefit from the jobs created.
Despite Tun’s views, many students at the protest agree with the coalition’s efforts.
“I personally don’t want my tuition to support a suppressive regime,” said Jake Kapsner, an English major at the University. “I think it’s a good idea to divest.”
Action sheets describing the Burma conflict were passed out, and petitions were signed by many passersby. The petitions were handed to the office of the Board of Regents shortly after the protest. The issue and the petitions will be brought up at the next Board of Regents meeting on Feb. 12 and 13, said Kay Fueker, a secretary in the regent’s office.
“We’re asking the regents to refer to the Investor’s Responsibility Research Center report,” said Drew Hempl, founder of the Minnesota coalition. The center is the standard data source the portfolio managers use to screen risky investments. Hempl said the report outlines the negative aspects concerning Burma’s current situation.
Some students were not surprised that the University had such investments. “It’s pretty typical of modern universities,” said Andy Favilla, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts. “It’d be nice to have a comprehensive look at all the universities’ policies,” he said.
“It’s an important thing on a campus where a lot of students commute and are not very politically informed,” said Jane Franklin, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts who was helping with the protest. “It’s good to let the regents know that these ethical decisions are being made public. They can’t keep it a secret any longer.”