Military Rule of Myanmar

Military Rule of Myanmar

Before we left the US, before we even thought about visiting Myanmar we got an earful from our local bartender at Washington Square about why we shouldn’t go there.  His passionate argument was similar to several we have heard since, based on these events:

  • Military leaders that unconstitutionally took power by overthrowing democratically elected leaders.
  • Creating a new constitution that includes: (Source for all: Wikipedia)
    • Amnesty for the leaders of the coup.  This was because “It won’t be fair to them if, after the charter is adopted, they all ended up going to jail.”
    • Rejection of a request by the National Human Rights Commission to enshrine basic human rights in the constitution.
    • Advertising from 6AM-10PM on “all television, cable and radio stations, websites, print media outlets, government agencies, education institutions, billboards and places where crowds gather,” for people to vote in favor of the new constitution.
    • Making a law that it was illegal to criticize or oppose the constitutional referendum.
    • Threatening that if the new constitution didn’t pass, the Military would unilaterally enact changes to the previous constitution.
  • Utilizing over 4 million child laborers throughout the country, including in at least 5,000 “sweatshops” producing good for export.  (US Dept of Labor)
  • Being a “source, transit and destination for human trafficking,” including the forced sexual exploitation of women and girls within the country and trafficking them across the world. (
  • Controlling speech, internet, broadcast media. (Wikipedia)
  • Opening fire on the opposition movement, leaving at least 90 dead and 1,378 injured (Wikipedia)

There is no doubting that this is a dubious and horrific record on many counts, especially when put in PowerPoint friendly bullet points.  A socially conscious tourist may want to reconsider visiting, especially when one considers that money spent on entrance fees, taxes and state-owned enterprises will flow directly into the hands of this oppressive government.  Why would any educated, democracy supporting, human rights believing, traveler visit Thailand?  Wait, we’re talking about Myanmar right?  No, above are the actions of the military junta that overthrew the Thai government and state of the women and children of Thailand.  Yet Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world with over 14 million visitors in 2009.

With a similar track record of repression and questionable decisions, the world scorns Myanmar.  As Thailand has been rewarded with massive exporting industries and billions of tourist dollars annually, Myanmar has suffered from harsh sanctions.  The country has been completely cut off from the world’s financial system, meaning there is not a single ATM and very limited credit card transactions.  Trade is very limited with the US importing essentially nothing from Myanmar since 2004 (Census).  These were not choices by Myanmar, rather foreign governments, the same foreign governments that help arm the Thai Military and welcome expanded trade.  While the Thai Military essentially got a pass for the 2006 Coup, a crackdown on protestors in Myanmar a year later led to further sanctions.

By no means should we rush out to drop all sanctions on Myanmar because of atrocities committed in other countries, but we need to ask ourselves, why do we villainize some countries, but not others?  On what basis are we picking and choosing who we support and who we sanction?  Quality of beaches?  Percentage of Americans that can spell the country’s name?  Number of Westerners that prefer its prostitutes?

There appears to be no rhyme or reason in our actions.  While we condemn countries that challenge us such as Iran, North Korea, and Myanmar, but we pay homage to our “allies” in Saudi Arabia everytime we put gas in our car.  Let us not forget that Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, held in power by military might, that created 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9-11 and has poured up to $100 billion (source) building schools throughout the Islamic world that spread hatred for the West (overview).  While we all expend energy fighting the perceived ills of regimes such as in Myanmar, maybe we should be more carefully and consistently applying sanctions.  If we believe that supporting human rights and democracy is important, which I do, then we cannot honestly pick and choose military dictatorships to punish or praise.

I am not arguing that you should call your congressman to push for sanctions on Saudi Arabia or lifting those on Myanmar (but I dare you to try), rather I wish to highlight that the world is full of government forms, various levels of censorship, and repression.  While we may hear negative things about one country and positives about another, we need to judiciously decide which ones we want to visit, which ones we want to buy products from, and those that we need to punish.  Once that has been decided these actions must be applied consistently, not by convenience (good crude oil) or preference (nice beaches).

I stand by our decision to visit Myanmar and know that some of my money went directly to the government which does not govern in a style I would prefer.  We made this choice as we wanted to see the sights, meet the people and judge for ourselves instead of letting the media cacophony make the decision for us.  I am not able to judge the government or if it should retain power, only the citizens living in Myanmar have that right.  Hopefully we all realize the peril in “liberating” a country from such rule after the debacle in Iraq.  It is up to the people themselves to stand up and fight for what they want.  The United States of America didn’t become what we recognize today until our forefathers waged a multi-year war that saw over 50,000 of them perish.  If the people of Myanmar want freedom it must be earned by them, not created by international pressure and sanctions.

If we are against a government that can arrest its citizens in the middle of the night without a warrant, torture them and lock them up indefinitely in violation of their constitutional rights then you should probably avoid Myanmar and the United States, just ask Jose Padilla.

PS: The country is named Myanmar, not “Burma.”  Myanmar is the historical name, Burma is the colonial name that refers to one ethnic group, the Bamar, ignoring the other ethnicities.  Being named Burma would be like naming the United States “Caucasian.”  Though the change to the traditional name was made by the military regime it seems to be a reasonable switch.

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» bka :
Jun 21, 2011

i can just see chuckling as you led us all down the Thai pass/trail…….one might get the impression from your blog that people experienced similar freedoms and abilities to travel in Thailand, as in Myanmar, which i believe you would not conure with though, right?……anyway, much as always to ponder…….thank goodness for the our brave foreign correspondants and “casual world travelers” who risk life and limb to share an often unbiased /factual report as to what is going down around the world……be safe as always… you…..bka

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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