MYANMAR: Caution Signs on the Road to Burma

The country of Burma (but these days Myanmar, in the official UN nomenclature) is suddenly receiving a lot of positive press, and rightly so. The military junta has released a record number of political prisoners in recent months, opened dialogue between the government and ethnic minorities, and even held some elections. None of this would have happened without immense foreign (and commercial) pressure – and of course, the effect of the charismatic Aung San Suu Ki.

Lately, Burma’s seclusion seems more and more inappropriate, as its 2012 by-election hints of further democratization. One by one embargoes and sanctions are being slowly lifted as the U.S., alongside international banks and businesses, jump to seize this new opportunity.

Could the elections be taken as a sign that Burma is ready to become truly globalized – to have bilateral relations with other countries and international institutions?

Once seen as a pariah, the country is becoming the fond target of the affections of the Obama Administration, which is now in the process of establishing a U.S. consulate in Rangoon, the country’s capital. Having one of the most poorly developed economies in the world, Burma is in line to receive a boon from USAID as well as U.S. private investments, which were formerly absent due to sanctions by the U.S. and other governments.

With all the media hype over Burma’s recent elections, a triumph for anti-government candidates, hardly anyone has stopped to take a moment to give this country time to grapple with such rapid change — except perhaps U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recognizes the infancy of Burma’s government reforms.

Voice of America, one of the world’s best known sources for news and information from the United States and around the world, has highlighted such efforts. In an authoritative article, Scott Stearns, Voice of America’s State Department correspondent, alludes to Clinton’s carefully calibrated skepticism, as she adheres to the principle of ‘meeting action with action’.  But even she cannot help but also be moved by recent developments.

Before we break out the wine and enter intellectual inebriation over the tide of democracy occurring in Myanmar/Burma, one must maintain certain reservations about the news of events occurring in this country. For one thing, although Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won a total of 43 seats in the government, this number represents but 6.4% of the Burmese Parliament. This is clearly a small step to democratization. Exercising caution for all parties involved, including Burma, would be wise.

It’s one thing to root for the good guys in this fight — but never to root blindly.








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