Burma Sanctions Revisited
Many years ago I did a stint for Food not Bombs in San Francisco, while there I met a student activist from the Free Burma group. She was a cool gal. We were riding the bus back from taking the food down to market street and she was making silver chains as we talked. She was young and her boyfriend had had a vasectomy because they didn't want to bring more children into an overpopulated world.
Years later I was in Myanmar working at the Renaissance Inya Lake Hotel which was managed by Marriott International. I was barely getting paid, but had full room and board in a pretty much empty five star hotel and was able to save most of it. My friend, the Free Burma lady was travelling around S.E. Asia at the time and I begged her to stop in Myanmar for a visit and to see the country she was so passionately fighting for freedom for. She refused. I have to be honest. I was so angry with her for not coming to Myanmar and really getting to know the situation and the people, that I never spoke to her again. Not very mature, I know, but this is how strongly I feel about this situation.
The next year I moved on, that was around the time that the Free Burma student demonstrations succeeded in getting Marriott and Chevron and a few other multinational corporations that were still in Myanmar to follow the sanctions. Credit cards could no longer be used in the country.
I came back to Myanmar five years later and the change was drastic. Ngapali, the little coastal resort town in Rakhine State had been converted into practically a private resort for Italian and German tour groups. Amazing five star hotels with drop off pools lined the beach, which was devoid of any local people, quite different from Thailand where you can be pestered by any number of happy people offering cheap massages and hair-braiding sessions. We wouldn't have been able to afford to stay the night anywhere on the beach except that we were being put up by a friend with a small boutique hotel on the end of the beach.
I was called in to do a consultant job for the same hotel that had been run by Marriott International, which had been a beautiful old Russian hotel on the edge of Inya Lake. They had been food poisoning people of late and needed me to clean up the kitchen and bring in some new blood. Being back working at the hotel and getting to see up close and personal the differences between the Thai managing company and Marriott International, was not fun.
The staff looked practically grey, overworked with long shifts and long commutes they looked exhausted. The hotel practically slumped. No guests and their rating was down to about 2 stars. The tour agents joked about it.
Now I read of this guy John William Yettaw 53 year old Vietnam vet who is also a Mormon, who has stirred up trouble,
Following is from The Irrawady--
And this is exactly what belies the passion of his [John Yettaw] action—that he did not think it through; that he did not consider the consequences.
If the regime leaders were looking for an excuse to extend Suu Kyi’s house arrest, he has given them one on a plate.
Indeed, Suu Kyi can be deemed to have broken the “law”—in Burma, you must inform the authorities if you want to invite a guest to stay overnight at your home.
John William Yettaw probably didn’t know this; he apparently didn’t conduct much research into the knock-on effects of his stupidity.
Burma’s pro-democracy movement has long been an attraction for fantasists, fanatics and adventure tourists.
Apart from the usual Walter Mittys that roam the Western world, Burma’s self-appointed saviors have included activists, experts, apologists, lobbyists, scholars, opportunists, do-or-die religious zealots and mercenaries.
While the Karen stronghold of Manerplaw remained undefeated in the early 1990s, foreign mercenaries—or “freedom fighters”—flocked to the border to leap Rambo-like to the Karen front lines.
In August 1999, James Mawdsley, a young Englishman, was arrested in Rangoon after distributing pro-democracy leaflets in the street. It was his third visit to Burma to protest against the military regime. His ambition was to spend time in a Burmese gulag.
He was given a 17-year sentence, but spent only 300 days in Kengtung prison, Shan State, before being released in October 2000 due to mounting international pressure.
Mawdsley was indeed lucky. If he were a Burmese, he would be serving a full sentence and there would be little outcry from abroad.
Unabashed, he later authored a book titled “The Heart Must Break” and threatened to stand in a British election.
“Mawdsley is one of the most outstanding young people Britain has produced since World War Two,” wrote David Alton, an independent cross-bench peer and founder of the Jubilee Campaign, in Mawdsley’s book.
But not everyone was so enthused about Mawdsley’s protest.
The Guardian reported: “In Britain, the response to him was ambivalent. There was a degree of cynicism about his professed Christian zeal, and suggestions that he was reckless to have stuck two fingers up at a dictatorship that has slaughtered thousands of its own people. But there was also grudging respect for his conviction, altruism and bravery.”
I remember a Burmese woman in her 30s who was involved in NGO work at the Thai-Burmese border. Bluntly, she told me: “I could not stand that he was talking about Burma and restoring democracy in my country. He has no clue what’s going on in Burma. I’m not going to listen to what he says and I’ve also told my colleagues not to listen to him.”
She added, “By using Burma and our problems, he has tried to seek fame and personal gain. He was a nobody [in London], but by getting involved in Burma, he became somebody.”
Aside from Mawdsley, there are several other do-gooders who could appear on her hit list. Read more
So what am I really trying to say here? A freind of mine who has watched the changes in Vietnam with the easing of Communism told me of how the young people of the country were so energised by having real opportunities they were an inspiration. He tells me of an old Chinese man who once showed him with a pen and paper, his theory...as he kept dotting the paper it came to cover the whole paper, in this way they changed the conditions, not by ostracizing the people of Myanmar further in this manner.
When I went to Myanmar so many years ago I was extremely depressed from the soul-less existence I had gotten acustomed to living in the USA. The people of Myanmar showed me heart, hope, resilience and happiness. They know how to live sustainably and with their own immediate resources. They are an extremely happy bunch, you will frequently hear young guys singing loudly walking down the street. They are constantly joking about everything under the sun. We have a lot to learn from them. As a matter of fact the book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Shumacher was inspired by the Burmese.
The sanctions are a terrible solution to this problem and I am sure we can do better if we just put our head and heart into it. For a start really understanding the situation before jumping onto bandwagons is a very good beginning. Second best one is to take a trip to Myanmar and you will see what I am talking about for yourself.
In the meantime, please take a second and sign this petition to drop the sanctions on Burma/Myanmar and to instead find a solution that demonstrates solidarity.