Alex Massie

Burmese Groundhog Day

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For any number of obvious reasons Burma doesn't receive as much attention as Cuba. One of those reasons, mind you, is that there aren't too many simpletons forever making excuses for the Burmese junta. Nor, mind you, is there a Cuban counterpart to Aung San Suu Kyi whose struggle for democratic reform in Burma is justly honoured and praised. But it's nearly 20 years since the Generals took control, so isn't it time to consider a change of approach? In other words, sanctions and isolation haven't worked and all the while the plight of the Burmese people worsens. Kerry Howley, an old Burma han herself and now banned from the country argues:

For most activists in the United States and Europe, the regime's persistence justifies precisely the policy changes Suu Kyi has sought for decades. No progress is possible without democratic reform, and any attempt at long-term economic betterment will only serve to buttress the forces of evil. But if you're willing to think beyond isolationist policies, the junta's survival just demonstrates the abysmal failure of sanctions, disinvestment, and aid restrictions. Humanitarian aid to Burma is one twentieth of what one would expect for a country of its poverty level. Nongovernmental organizations working in the area say the people of Myanmar could benefit from long-term development aid, if only isolationists would stop resisting on political grounds...

Myanmar's government is an opaque bureaucratic anachronism completely out of touch with the modern world. But the West's vision of Myanmar also seems stuck, trapped in that brief moment, now many years past, when regime change seemed just around the corner and a democratic leader stood ready to take charge. While life in Burma continues, outsiders seem to relive the day of Suu Kyi's imprisonment in endless loops. We hold candlelight vigils; we wash up on Suu Kyi's doorstep. And in replaying her heroics, we forget that there is more to Myanmar than a single, extraordinary woman. As Kerry says, this isn't an argument for parking democratic reform, but just as it's time for new thinking on Cuba, might it not also be time to take a broader view of Burma too?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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