Good Burma analysis from Chelsea’s publication of choice

29 Sep

From The Economist:

Seeing the Glass Half -Full

THERE is mounting excitement about developments in Myanmar, after a summer of carefully choreographed meetings between the country’s normally shy, quasi-military rulers and…well, just about everyone else. Western diplomats and special envoys, American politicians (Republicans at that), UN folk: all have been allowed in and out to have face-to-face talks with Myanmar’s new ministers in order to assess whether the much vaunted political transformation there is real this time, or just another chimera. Just as significantly, government ministers and the new president, Thein Sein, have held unprecedented meetings with Aung San Suu Kyi, that icon of democracy and leader of the unofficial opposition—the generals even let her publish an article in a Burmese newspaper, the first time that’s happened for 23 years. For her part, she has said that the president wants to “achieve real positive change”.

If not quite a summer of love, all this certainly amounts to a step forward in Myanmar’s international rehabilitation. And last week there was another big boost for the optimists, with the publication of a report entitled “Myanmar: Major Reform Under Way” by the International Crisis Group (ICG), an influential Brussels-based think-tank. There’s nothing cynical or cautious about the tone of this report; the authors argue that “the political will appears to exist to bring fundamental change” to the country, and that “after 50 years of autocratic rule, [the country’s rulers] show strong signs of heralding a new kind of political leadership in Myanmar—setting a completely different tone for governance in the country and allowing discussions and initiatives that were unthinkable only a few months ago.”

Heady stuff—if true. However, having spoken to a couple of those who met with the generals this summer, I have the impression that the ICG is getting ahead of itself here.

Check out the full article here and the ICG report (which everyone in my office has been steaming about) here.

The fundamental question, which is similarly relevant when analyzing the choices of any authoritarian government in light of what the international community wants their choices to be, is what has actually been achieved?

In the case of Burma, the military junta has changed into civilian clothing while keeping their power structures mostly in-tact. The following are the products of the new “democratic” administration, which is a result of the farcical Nov. 2010 elections:

  • It has continued multiple civil wars against armed ethnic groups (who have called for a national ceasefire). One of these wars is the longest ongoing war in the world.
  • It maintains a system of unbelievably lucrative corruption. It doesn’t take all that clever accounting to build up a slush fund when your official exchange rate is 200X weaker than the market rate.
  • It is keeping 2,000 + democratic-leaning political prisoners behind bars…
  • It uses rape, forced labor, child soldiers and landmines as weapons in war.
  • It continues to displace tens of thousands of citizens in economic development projects which threaten the shit out of the environment and send all the resources to China/Thailand/India.

But, the most vocal opponent of the regime, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has been given visibility in the press and (limited) freedom of movement and the regime has accepted democracy in a nominal form, which at the very least shows a realization on their part that such acceptance is necessary for growth.

Still, the glass remains mostly empty despite the ICG’s and other inernational bodies’ wishful projections of future possibilities on the present.

More on this topic later.

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