Thoughts on Burma, Retrospective

My visa would expire in a little over a week, so it was time to think about getting back to Thailand. The country is hermetically sealed from its neighbors, the only way in or out is via airplane from Yangon to Bangkok.
March 27th was National Armed Forces Day, so the government shut down the internet across the entire country for a full week under the pretext of needing to repair the infrastructure. How convenient.   I couldn’t book my plane ticket until March 30th, and by then all the flights were either booked or ridiculously expensive. The only way to get out of Burma on the cheap was to high-tail it back to Yangon and catch at flight on April 1st, in just two days.
I had to sacrifice many sights, but it was the only way. Seeing all of Burma in one trip is impossible, it is simply too large and too difficult to navigate. I arrived in Yangon late at night, with only 8 hours until my early morning flight. The next morning I departed from Yangon and waved goodbye to Burma, that curious little country trapped in the past.
So after three weeks in Burma, what were my conclusions? I came to Burma to gain a better understanding of the political situation, so what had I learned?
Burma is struggling, and there is no reason why it should be. The government is stifling the economy with their incompetence. There is so much potential for Burma to be a prosperous country, but the government’s sole aim is self-preservation. In order to hold onto power they subjugate their citizens and spend the country’s money on warfare. They shoot monks, they arrest dissenters and they try to keep their people ignorant of the truth.
The Moustache Brothers told me how the government systematically rapes the Karen people, but I think they are raping the entire country. This is their mentality, simply a selfish, insatiable desire to extract everything of value from the country, no matter the price. They are cutting down the trees, sucking the oil out of the ground, digging up rubies, selling opium, and even enslaving their own people to build roads and railways across the country. Then they ship it all to China at rock-bottom prices in exchange for the diplomatic aegis of China’s UN Security Council seat.
And despite all this, the country is completely destitute. The roads are in shambles. The buses are falling apart. The sky is clouded with pollution. They can’t even supply electricity. Where the hell is all the money going? The people live in wooden shacks! The only way to make a decent living is to abandon your scruples and work for the government, or to get lucky and work in tourism.
But tourism is a fickle business. This year they claim tourism has shrunk to 25% its normal level. Taxi drivers have no business. Hotels are empty. Tour guides stand idle. Furthermore, you run the risk of arrest if you talk politics. I went to see a historical sight in Hsipaw only to learn that it was closed to tourists – the groundskeeper had been arrested by the government for “giving misinformation to foreigners”, and his wife closed down the business to avoid any problems. It’s crazy.
But what happens if they get independence? Hopefully The Lady will be able to unite these diverse ethnic groups behind the banner of a Free Burma. But what if she is assassinated? Without a unifying figure I think this place would descend into brutal civil war. When I look at the geography of Myanmar, I see the seeds of civil war: the Burmese majority bring few resources to the table, and the minorities in the hills have a lion’s share of the natural wealth. Why should they sacrifice this to the Burmese? Why not keep it for themselves, after all the Burmese military has done to them? The minorities have the resources to fuel a revolution. I pray this scenario never plays out, but I know peace and unity will not come easily.
These are my thoughts on Burma. They deserve to be free and they would profit from trade and interaction with the world community. The government in power has no right to maintain control. They are incompetent and cruel, the worst combination. Burma is tucked away in a remote corner of the Earth where her government tries to hide her from the rest of the world. They want you not to know about Burma, they want you to remain ignorant of the political situation. Two years ago I knew nothing about Burma. Someone made an announcement in my political science class and I listened inattentively to their information, wondering if I could even find Burma on a map. Two years later, I was here seeing for myself and realizing how much I still have to learn. So spread the world, tell your friends about the issues, and go see it for yourself. Take it from me, it’s a sobering experience.

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