May 15, 2008

Down the Rabbit Hole

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It is rare that a government would try to block humanitarian supplies from reaching its own people. Even such pariah governments as North Korea eagerly accept aid for its people when faced with famine. Benefits of such aid may not be equitably distributed, but rarely do governments refuse foreign help when their own ability to cope with a crisis has been overloaded. That is, unless we’re discussing the military government of Myanmar, which has placed the paranoid concerns of its leaders over the welfare of the millions affected by the recent cyclone. Myanmar’s leaders have wasted precious time delaying badly-needed foreign aid and placing restrictions on distribution aimed at monopolizing the government’s control of the situation.

Such a surreal decision is barely fathomable. Given that over a hundred thousand people’s lives are in danger, it is no leap to say that any delays are irresponsible and costly. And in the face of government negligence, Myanmar’s state media has portrayed the government as actively involved and effective in the relief effort. In fact, it appears that the government has shifted resources away from the relief effort and towards administering a planned referendum on a military-sponsored constitution. In the wake of the repression following last year’s pro-democracy protests led the country’s Buddhist clergy, it is clear that the Generals who lead Myanmar’s government are only concerned with their own power, at the expense of the people of the country.

The question then remains is what we are to do. We are half a world away, and with the failures of military regime change fresh in or minds, it is easy to turn away entirely. With no other options turning away may seem to be a realistic reaction, but it is massively irresponsible in the face of such great suffering. We have yet to find an effective and positive outcome, which is especially unclear given the nature of the situation. However, that makes it all the more important to contemplate