Thursday, May 08, 2008

Burma: Stricken With a Cyclone and Paranoid Kleptomaniacs

Six days after Cyclone Nargis made landfall in Burma’s Irrawaddy delta, wiping out towns and villages and destroying houses as far north as Rangoon, only a very limited amount of foreign aid has made it to any of the 1.5 million people who are now homeless in this dirt poor country.

Burma, now called Myanmar by its rulers, a junta of generals who have kept an iron grip on the country since 1962, should be by all rights a rich country. Its Irrawaddy delta is exceedingly rich farmland. Its highlands are rich in minerals. Oil has been produced from British-run oil fields since the 1920’s. Burma should be a country basking in its riches, but its people are among the poorest in the world. Its rulers, the generals and their coterie are, by sharp contrast, wealthy beyond all imagination.

I have called our present Bush Regime a “kleptocracy”, a government of people who reserve vast quantities America’s wealth for their cronies, but these people are pikers compared to the generals of Burma. And when you spend your life stealing from the very people governments are supposed to serve, you darned well have to know that they will get extremely paranoid when outsiders want to come in to help these very people.

That’s what you read, right now, about outside groups that want to bring in aid. The generals will only deal with people already in-country, not anyone else. And certainly not America. The news indicates that the generals are suspicious of outsiders, and there may be something to that, because these kleptomaniacs are ever-guarding their source of booty.

But there’s more to it than that.

The generals want to deal only with those already in-country because they already have an understanding with them. These groups originating from Bangladesh, China, India, Singapore, Italy and Thailand, already have the wheels greased. The generals are already getting their cut, you see.

That’s right. The generals need to be bribed in order for them to let these humanitarian groups bail out these stricken people.

Some humanitarian groups are disinclined to help out specifically because they want to distribute the aid directly to the people, and not just hand it over to the Burmese government for them to distribute. That’s not the way it works in Burma, however. If you want to donate aid packages to Burma, you give them to the junta, they take their cut and then, their friends take theirs, and what’s left goes to whoever can reach the farthest or jump the highest.

That’s why, when I learned this afternoon that the United States was sending a small convoy of warships to Burma to help out, I burst out laughing.

“The Navy has three ships participating in an exercise in the Gulf of Thailand that could help in any relief effort - the USS Essex, the USS Juneau and the USS Harper's Ferry. The Essex is an amphibious assault ship with 23 helicopters aboard, including 19 capable of lifting cargo from ship to shore, as well as more than 1,500 Marines.”

The last thing the generals want to see steaming up the Irrawaddy are American warships.

No, my guess, if things play out as they have in the past, it will go very much as outlined in the article I quoted. The generals will say that they appreciate all the help but really if these countries, and America, want to help, they should just give them the money and then they will use it to go and buy the supplies for these poor, poor prople who will sicken, starve and die otherwise.

I guess this should be a lesson to us all. What the Bush Regime did, or actually didn’t do, on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, to help the hundreds of thousands of evacuees and thousands of people still trapped in the disaster areas, pales in comparison to what the Burmese generals are capable of doing.

Or not doing.

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