The senseless junta
Manjit Bhatia’s opinion in Malaysiakini | May 20, 08 12:59pm
Even after a week, when Cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawady delta regime and close to 100,000 people had perished or were missing, and tens of hundreds more utterly displaced, Burma’s military junta continued to sit on its hands. Why?
After initially asking for help from the international community, who had rallied so speedily, the regime’s generals changed their minds and disallowed international aid into the country. Why?
This is the height of stupidity.
But the stupidity of the regime does not end there. In its breathless, most mind-numbing display of outright idiocy, after stating that it would postpone by two weeks the planned Constitutional reform plebiscite, Yangon (Rangoon) changed its minds and brought it forward by a week. Why?
Never mind that the world’s media has been denied visas to cover the devastation. After all, like China and Zimbabwe, it is a hideous regime with lots of hideous deeds to hide – deeds like corruption and murder.
Worse is that all foreign aid workers – people who are experts at aid and development logistics – too have been denied entry.
Burmese red tape is debilitating to foreign donours and non-government organizations. It is also debilitating to Burma’s people.
They’re desperately holding out for help not from their regime but foreign donors.
Early estimates put at least 20 percent of children in the most devastated areas are suffering from diarrhoea. The situation could worsen if water-borne diseases, such as cholera, break out. But the military men have the gall to offer this most ridiculous rationalisation: “Myanmar has prioritised receiving emergency relief provisions and making strenuous effort delivering it with its own labour to the affected areas,” a junta’s statement said. “(But) Myanmar is not ready to receive rescue and media teams from foreign countries.” How can this be? It’s bollocks. It makes utterly no sense at all.
With the carnage likely to claim over 100,000 lives, and the cyclone’s path of destruction is writ large, restoring normalcy will take a Herculean effort. And the reconcontruction of the region will take years and several billion dollars. Burma has key natural resources whose financial windfalls haven’t accrued to the Burmese people but the Burma’s top brass, its local and foreign business cronies, and its sympathisisers. The logistical nightmare of the scale of the aid distribution perhaps leaves the regime out of its depth for effective and just distribution. Foreign aid that arrived in cargo 747s and other planes has been seized in Rangoon. There’s every reason to belief that this kleptomaniac regime has siphoned off the seized cargo and distributed it to its troops instead.
For one thing, this illegitimate and vile regime cannot exist in power without the full backing of the military’s rank-and-file, especially the military Young Turks. The regime’s top brass has virtually bought the loyalty of the Young Turks, not unlike former Philippines president Corazon Aquino and incumbent Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. How else do incompetent and corrupt regimes retain power if not by dictatorial means? Look at Zimbabwe’s abominable dictator Robert Mugabe.
For another, the junta has been peddling an absurdly populist ideology to legitimise its rule by barring specialist foreign aid workers, especially from the United States. It argues that these ‘foreigners’ have hidden agendas for entering Burma: to invade and take over the country. Trouble is, there are enough Burmese who believe the regime’s claptrap. After all, Washington had pushed the United Nations Security Council to impose international sanctions against the junta that routinely abuses human rights. And it won’t be long before the regime points to the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Effectively, what the junta is saying is that it’ll be the main driving force of relief operations in Burma. If that’s the case, why, after just a week, it had not mobilised its disaster relief effort? Easy. It is fundamentally incapable of doing so. Burma may be resource rich but look at the way the junta has singularly failed to redistribute wealth to its people. Conversely, George W Bush too dithered after Hurricane Katrina banged up New Orleans? Three years later, New Orleans was still a total disaster zone. Bush was too busy eating birthday cake with Republican presidential nominee John McCain and playing his new guitar at his Texas ranch.
Problem is, the junta has neither sufficient trucks nor helicopters to organise aid delivery on a large scale. And it is a massive operation. Many of these places are inaccessible by road. The US Essex Strike Group is in the neighborhood for a military exercise with Thailand. It says it can fly at least 10 military choppers, loaded up with supplies, to Burma within hours. With airplanes already stranded in Rangoon, and the junta already allowing one US C-130 with supplies to land in Rangoon, it will not give the Essex Strike Group idea the time of day.
Selling in the black market
There was no vacillating when the junta rushed through voting for a Constitutional referendum on May 10. Politics was put head of Burmese lives and misery. In the absence of popular legitimacy, cementing its militarist-dictatorial grip on power was vital to quash pro-democracy dissent in the aftermath of last October’s Saffron protests. The regime murdered in cold blood dissenters in a manner not dissimilar to Chinese communist regime’s murder of pro-democracy protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989. There’s more: natural resources developments are about to come on stream, bringing vital foreign exchange revenue that will only fill up the junta’s coffers.
Another thing: don’t hold your breath that the so-called international community will come racing to the rescue of the Burmese with aid money in the way it did in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami. Rescuing Burma could be doomed even before it starts. And it looks that way already, thanks to the junta’s criminal madness and irresponsibility. That’s not the end of it, though. With the global financial crisis delivering massive shocks and untold billions of dollars people’s wealth wiped away, world aid could rapidly slow to a trickle. As the world economy hurtles south, ordinary Burmese will have to turn to the heavens for a miracle to bury their dead, look after the injured and rebuild their lives. Because the corrupt junta doesn’t give a damn.
There’s growing evidence that the Burma’s generals are keeping the aid that they’ve confiscated and keeping it for themselves and the military, and there is growing evidence that sections of the military have been selling the aid on the black market. Such is the hide of this kleptomanic state whose generals are not only brutalisers of human rights of Burmese men, women and children but also cold-blooded murderers of Burmese men, women an children. And now they’re thugs too – thieves of the worst kind.
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