Thursday, May 08, 2008

The latest from Burma -- disaster, chaos, oppression

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I've neglected to blog about the horrible devastation in Burma -- one gets caught up in other matters, and far less tragic ones, like the Democratic presidential race -- but, then, I'm not sure what can be said about it that isn't, well, obvious to any human being with compassion.

Except that there is now even greater reason to work to bring down the totalitarian military junta that rules the country -- and brutalizes the Burmese people.

Here's the latest from The Globe and Mail:

Fighting erupted among starving survivors of the [Burma] cyclone Wednesday as the military junta continued to prevent relief workers from entering the country after a disaster that killed as many as 100,000 people.

Aid agencies said they are facing an almost unprecedented situation: a massive catastrophe in a country whose government is blocking any visits by the relief experts who could assess how to tackle the disaster.

Desperate survivors, facing serious shortages of food and water, fought with each other and broke into shops in an attempt to find food. "Our assessment teams witnessed general mayhem," said Paul Risley, spokesman for the World Food Programme, the food agency of the United Nations.

"They said there was civil unrest. People were smashing what was left of the shops to look for food in storerooms."

The official casualty toll remained at more than 22,000 dead and 42,000 missing, but several sources said yesterday that the number could rise to 100,000 dead – a grim prospect that was also raised by Shari Villarosa, the U.S. chargé d'affaires in [Burma], in a conference call with reporters in Washington.

Another 1.5 million people were left homeless by the disaster, and about 24 million are without electricity and running water, according to UN officials and Western diplomats.

United Nations workers said they were stunned by the junta's refusal yesterday to allow UN experts to enter the country. "This was a real shock," Mr. Risley said.

About 40 experts and technicians from UN relief agencies, along with dozens of private aid workers, were forced to sit and wait for another day in neighbouring Thailand, five days after the cyclone smashed into Myanmar's major rice-producing region.

Really? U.N. workers were stunned and shocked? They shouldn't have been. And no one should be.

Have we already forgotten that the totalitarian junta responded to opposition protests by slaughtering Buddhist monks? And that, since the crackdown, it has worked to solidify its brutally oppressive rule? Yes, the U.S., the U.N, Europe, and others (but not China and India, which enable the junta) said the right things, and imposed tougher sanctions, but nothing really changed -- the totalitarians got away with mass murder, are still in power, and have "constitutionalized" their rule.

And now the totalitarians are blocking international efforts to bring aid and relief to its devastated people?

Of course. It's one of the world's most deplorable regimes. And this is what it does to its people.

Which is why, again, it needs to be brought down. Somehow.

**********

I want to repost something I wrote last September during the crackdown:

Can we all please stop calling it Myanmar? That's the name the military junta -- then the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), since 1997 the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) -- gave the country when it declared martial law in 1989.

As Yale law professor Amy Chua puts it in her book World on Fire (p. 23): "Members of the majority ethnic group in Burma are called Bamahs (in the spoken language) or Myanmahs (in the written language). The newly independent state that emerged from the end of British colonial rule in 1948 was called the Union of Burma. In 1989, SLORC changed the country's name to Myanmar. (It also changed the names of various cities: Rangoon, for example, is now called Yangon.) In deference to the democratic opposition party, which has refused to acquiesce in the name change, the United States government currently refers to the country as Burma, and I do the same."

We all should do the same. Burma it is.

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