What is really happening in Burma today?
With the help of what I would call “agents of capitalism” (scholars, diplomats, development aid experts, representatives of international agencies, investors, entrepreneurs etc), the land and people of Burma are being robbed and sold off under the lie of development and democratic change.
The state ‘civilian’ government is now being supported by many whose interests lie in having their way with the riches of Burma. David Cameron, for example, took ten businessmen with him to Rangoon, only as tourists, mind you, because Britain still had some economic sanctions in place.
There are claims that Burma, a very poor country, could benefit from more development aid – as does Cambodia. Since the first Cambodian General Election in 1993, over $6 billion has been provided to official donors and hundreds of civil society organisations. Yet, citizens of Cambodia have not been the major recipients of this aid, but government officials, international experts, and advisers have thrived. There is a nasty ongoing land confiscation by developers. People are displaced from their land – just as in Burma – with no recourse to justice. Although Cambodia is now a supposed democracy, Hun Sen still rules.
Nor is aid the answer. Real citizen involvement in creating a country is what is needed, not just token involvement by a few. But this is not possible in Burma.
Capitalists, businessmen, and large trading companies of the 17th and 18th centuries opened up the world for the British colonial ruler to step in. The Hudson Bay Company became ruler of large parts of Canada before the Dominion of Canada, Cecil Rhodes was put in power by the British South Africa Company to develop Rhodesia (still grants Rhodes scholarship), and the East India Company opened up India and Burma to the British Government. When the last Burmese king refused the demands of the East India Company, it asked for British Government assistance and Britain declared war.
Now Western governments are prising open new markets for their corporations. They talk only business the market and debt, not health, education, ecology or the common good.
The governments of the EU, Norway, Canada, the USA, and Australia have suspended most sanctions on Burma, rewarding the ‘civilian government’ for its democratic changes. The Australian government has never sanctioned investment in Burma.
Yet Australian, French, American, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Russian, Malaysian oil and gas companies currently operate there. Oil and gas exports are the Burmese leaders’ largest source of income, amounting to nearly US $3 Billion in the 2011-12 fiscal year. Despite this resource wealth, the oil and gas revenues over the last decades have been pocketed by a few corrupt military generals.
Instead of rushing in to Burma we need to study the truth of how Western actions will affect current tensions, relationships and life for the Burmese people.
Dr Nancy Hudson-Rodd is Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Edith Cowan University, Western AustraliaTagged in: burma, Cambodia, development aid, Hun Sen
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