Burma’s and America’s Ongoing Storms 


President Barack Obama’s whirlwind tour of southeast Asia and meetings with dignitaries will have to walk a tightrope between either appearing to endorse military juntas or truly being committed to ongoing pro-democracy movements. Specifically at issue is Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, a democratic advocate who has criticized her government’s heavy-handed approach and anti-democratic military regime.

In 1948, the United states greeted the Union of Myanmar‘s (known in the West as Burma) independence from British colonial rule. Unending insurgencies conducted by separatist ethnic groups and a military-dominated ruling party since 1962, along with severe austerity measures implemented by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, have continually plagued Burma.

Until 1988, when a brutal military crackdown against pro-democracy students strained relationships with the United states, the CIA and Pentagon provided tens of millions of dollars in military equipment to track down drug traffickers in the ethnic enclaves near the Thai border. Since then the U.S. and human rights groups have expressed dismay at the prolonged house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi was the leader of the National League for Democracy, which decisively won a multiparty election permitted in 1990 and was then denied the authority to govern. An oppressive military ruling council disallowing democratic reforms is not the only storm facing Burma. Restrictive managers of the “Burmese Way to Socialism,” that have produced a stagnant economy, have excluded badly needed investments.

The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), which seized power in 1988, has not only been responsible for numerous human rights abuses but for its role in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in 2008. More than 200,000 people were killed or reported as missing. While one million Burmese were left homeless, malaria epidemics ravaged entire villages. Damages were estimated at $10 billion.

During Burma’s worst natural disaster, some believed the Burmese government complicated relief efforts by denying visas to international relief agencies. Others claimed that only a small amount of aid actually reached those in need, and that the SPDC military generals and government bureaucrats were opportunistic. They either used the aid to enrich their own coffers or withheld it as a means of political and social genocide.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest for 16 years, was the 1991 Nobel Prize winner and has been called a “global symbol of human rights.” She was recently seated in Burma’s Parliament, where she is fighting to improve her country’s educational system and public health. While in Washington DC, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor from the U.S. Congress.

When asked if her well-known personality would bring about the necessary changes in Burma, she humbly replied, “I don’t think we should think about this in terms of personalities.” She continued, “I think we should think about it as a common goal. If we all want to achieve genuine democracy for Burma, we have to learn to work together and not think about our impact as personalities, either in our country or in the World at large.”

The U.S. has just experienced a bitter election. Hurricane Sandy has caused untold suffering for many, as have regions of severe drought. A looming fiscal crisis has the potential of creating deeper class divisions, even a class war, or greater economic disparity. With the Benghazi debacle and a government becoming more anti-democratic, and its military arm (Pentagon) seizing more power, America too is facing several storms.

Aung San Suu Kyi and others have dedicated their lives in confronting a military junta and fascist-like bureaucracies. They have rejected their leaders ignorance towards realities and their incompetence for providing workable solutions. They know impersonality cults disregard, even discount, the hardships of others while disempowering activism. They have challenged entrenched ideologies, polarized ethnicities and extreme isolationism.

For years, they have also sought participatory and genuine democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi has reiterated that Burma will not reverse itself, that it will someday help others achieve genuine democracy too. As she and President Barack Obama meet and confer, perhaps that day is much sooner than she realizes. Approaching storms, whether gradual military coups or Hurricane Katrinas, can be just as devastating and deadly as ongoing storms.

Source : World News

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