Every day I wait for news of Myanmar (Burma), the country whose people I fell in love with last January. I keep hoping that the UN envoy, Ibrahim Gambari will have news of a lessening of government repression, or of a return dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi. Or that somebody will have gotten through the internet and news blackout with pictures of the current situation. But there seems little hope. Maybe the West will put pressure on China, India, and Russia, the three countries who are supporting the military junta and have the most to gain from the oil and gas reserves so plentiful in this little country. Even Thailand, its close neighbor where so many exiled Burmese live, seems to have turned its back on the plight of these people, afraid it will lose its natural gas and electricity. It has now become Myanmar’s biggest trade partner, surpassing China. Trade seems to trump human rights. What has happened to the human race?
I find it appalling that India, a country that gained its freedom from the powerful British Empire by non-violent means should have forgotten what it went through and not come to the aid of its neighbor. Do they think that there won’t be any more oil, gas, or precious gems if Burma is allowed to have its democracy, which it won by an overwhelming majority in 1988?
Look at YouTube reports over the past two weeks of peaceful protest. There are some excellent videos and speeches, and a message from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the winner of a 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and the leader of the democracy movement. As you know, she has been under house arrest most of the last 18 years. I look every day, hoping for some kind of positive news.
The world mouths platitudes about the horror of Myanmar’s repressive regime, but the countries that have leverage are doing nothing. And China blocked any concerted action by the security council. I recommend that you read (available on line) some of the reports in the NYTimes, especially those of this past week. October 2, p. 8, will give you some idea of the rape of Myanmar by the money-hungry junta and those governments that benefit from special status. Here is a country with a proud heritage, rich in resources, whose people are sinking deeper and deeper into poverty. Just seeing newspaper pictures of the empty square of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon made me want to cry. I have hundreds of pictures showing the beautiful faces of these people and the squalor of many of the makeshift homes, as well as the decaying infrastructure of the cities. I kept my counsel while I was there, for everyone knew of the internet censorship and every visitor feared for the safety of those he or she spoke with…but now that I am home my photos will speak for themselves.
I’m in the process of mounting some of these photos. As soon as they’re on Facebook I shall let you know. There will be a link and it will be accessible to all. I traveled extensively and was able to communicate with a range of people, from members of the Hill Tribes in the mountains to intellectuals, monks, and teachers in the urban areas. They are a gentle, religious people, but the pent up anger caused by the injustices of the past twenty years can only be contained so long. It takes a lot of determination, faith, and courage to stand up against bullets and bludgeons.
At this writing nobody knows for certain what atrocities are being perpetrated by the military government. Speculation is rampant and chilling. I urge all of you not to let the campaign for a free Burma die, but find out where you can help and how you can help.