Yes, Another Blog...Burma, Should I Go?

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Asia » Burma
May 16th 2006
Published: May 16th 2006
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OK, I know I have been bombarding you with blogs lately...but I wrote this one for myself, to get my thoughts straight about Burma, and figured I might as well post it.

The reason I came back to Bangkok was because of a possible job opportunity, but it's going to take some time to get things worked out there, and it was too hard to change my flight to come home right I am heading into Burma for about 2 weeks before I fly back to Hawaii.

As far as I know, Burma, renamed Myanmar by the military regime, is the only country that Lonely Planet dedicates a whole chapter to “Should You Go?” There is a big debate about foreigners visiting Burma. On one side of the debate stands Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winning Burmese citizen, who is now under house arrest for the 3rd time. Her viewpoint is that Burma is not ready for tourism and that anybody coming to Burma is validating the corrupt military government. She argues that most of the tourist sites were built up and restored using forced labor and that tourist dollars go right into the pockets of corrupt generals. She started a boycott of Burma tourism in 1996 and has the backing of world leaders such as Tony Blair and George Bush (not that that is saying much). More about Suu Kyi later.
The other side of the argument is the same used for places such as Tibet and Cuba…that tourism opens these oppressed countries up to the world. In a country such as Burma, where freedom of press is non-existent, and travel outside the country is very limited, the only way the people can voice their opinions to and interact with the outside world is through tourists. And if tourists are educated on where to spend their money, it’s estimated that 85%!o(MISSING)f the tourist dollars could go directly to the people of Burma. And last…the people of Burma want tourists to come!
I agree with both arguments, but the feel the 2nd one is the stronger of the two, and I have decided to go to Burma.

OK, here’s my book report on ‘Lonely Planet Myanmar’, ‘Outrage: Burma’s Struggle for Democracy’ by Berthil Lintner, and various political/human rights watchdog websites:

After 26 years of totalitarian rule by the BSPP, the students and people of Burma staged a mass protest against the BSPP. This protest started on 8-8-88. It was a peaceful protest. The army opened fire on the people. Shooting and bayoneting women, children, monks, students…even opening fire on nurses who came out of the hospital to beg the soldiers to stop killing people. This massacre went on for days (actually for years off and on). This was not the first time something like this had happened; there was a similar situation in the 70s.

General Ne Win, who had ruled the country with an iron fist for all these years, and his right hand man, who had just taken over the country (even though everyone knew Ne Win still called the shots), Sein Lwin (The Butcher), sat around in a posh villa playing Scrabble while the chaos ensued on the streets. Not even bothering to listen to the demands of the people.

The people were demanding democracy. For 26 years the only news they got was the laughable government run media; imagine if the only news we had was Fox News with Bill O’Reilly ;-) (ok, bad joke). All communication and entertainment was censored. Owning a fax machine without permission could land you in prison. Foreign journalists were banned from the country. And it wasn’t uncommon for people to just disappear from their homes if Ne Win thought they were a threat. They would usually experience extreme torture in one of the country’s many prisons.

Nobody knows how many people were killed in the protests, but the numbers are anywhere from 1000-3000. Thousands of unarmed citizens of the Burma gunned down by their own army. They used rape as a weapon, and bodies were dumped in the river or in other unmarked graves.

This is the same Buddhist country that Westerner’s knew as “The Golden Land” and would visit to find a guru or ‘find themselves’; blind to what was going on behind the scenes. It wasn’t until 8-8-88 that the world’s eyes were opened to what was going on inside Burma. And even then, the world wasn’t really watching.

After the protests, Sien Lwin resigned, and Ne Win put a more moderate Dr. Maung Maung in charge. The people knew he was just another puppet and the protesting continued. Only it grew even larger. Millions of people on the streets all over Burma. They pretty much took over the country, or so they thought. The military regime seemed to collapse. Ne Win was supposedly leaving the country…the people started setting up other political parties and newspapers and getting ready for a new chapter in Burma’s history. The problem was nothing had really changed. Ne Win just had his men pull back to give the illusion that the people had won, but then sent his men out undercover to create chaos in the country. Poisoning water, turning groups against each other, anything to get the country to explode. People began getting paranoid, as they should’ve been, and started executing the military people they discovered in their midst. Beheadings became commonplace. Once things were bad enough, Ne Win stepped back in and deployed his troops around the country. The people started to lose hope. Nothing had really changed.

Closed government sessions were held to figure out what to do next. The result was the same bullshit but with a different name, NUD. SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) was also formed at this time and has been the ruling military junta since. They promised to have elections in 1989. As opposition parties started to form, the government just arrested or killed the main players. Suu Kyi (from before) was one of those main players for NLD (National League for Democracy), and that, along with her outspoken criticism of the government, is what keeps her under house arrest. Her father was a national hero during Burma's fight for independence, and she is now a hero for her fight against the military junta.

Even with these tactics, the NLD did win over the NUD. SLORC never handed power over. The people continued to protest, and SLORC continued to execute them in the streets. Many students fled to the borders of Thailand and India hoping to be armed and trained by other sympathetic countries. Many different groups were formed, but there was little help from the outside and the groups had a hard time working together…there was no leadership or direction.

The military is still in charge today, only now they call themselves SPDC (State Peace & Development Council), a name suggested by a Washington, D.C. public relations firm they hired to clean up their image. Ne Win still pulled many strings from the background until around 1998. Around this time some of his relatives were arrested by the SPDC for treason. They were sentenced to death and Ne Win was put under house arrest in 2002. He died shortly after.

Amnesty International reports that human rights abuses in Burma are some of the worst in the world. This is why the government only allows travel in about 40%!o(MISSING)f the country…they don’t want foreigners to see what’s really going on. From what I hear I will not be able to bring my laptop into the country, because they will think I am a journalist. They do not like journalists for obvious reasons.

“Don’t come in with your camera and take only pictures. We don’t need that kind of tourist. Talk to those who want to talk. Let them know the conditions of your life”
- Burma resident 2004 (from Lonely Planet Myanmar 9th Ed.)


17th May 2006

Just becareful and i am glad to hear that you decided to go for it. I had some friends who just came back from it.
19th May 2006

You won't regret it!

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