Pitch Dark

by Juan L. Mercado

“Please,”   the slim lady with  doe eyes, asked in English that hinted at her Oxford  schooling. “Use  your liberty to promote ours.”

Filipinos take for granted freedoms that People Power restored. But we’ve failed  to fully  respond to  Nobel  Laureate   Aung  San  Suu  Kyi’s  plea  for the suppressed  people of  Burma. “ Ms.  Suu  Kyi  and   her people need us now  more than  ever,” her friends plead.

The military junta kept her under house arrest for over 13 years now. Her crime was to win Burma’s last free elections by a landslide.  Monday, she was brought to trial at the notorious  Insein  prison.

Any hope for decency in the generals who rule Burma is baseless. Former postal clerk General Than Shwe, became head of state in 1992. He suppressed dissent.  Gen. Maung Aye is a xenophobe linked to Golden Triangle drug lords. General Soe Win smashed Burma’s democracy party.

The tatmadaw (military ) barred the Insein courtroom. Ambassadors from Britain, France, Germany, and Australia were denied entry. The Philippines broke ranks with the lip-zippered silence of Asean. It asked for her release.

Burmese respectfully call Ms Suu Kyi “the Lady”.  She faces a five year jail term. What for? A nutty Mormon swam across a lake and, slipping past security, and entered uninvited Ms Suu Kyi’s house. Violation of house arrest terms, prosecutors say.

“Most analysts view the charges as a pretext for extending her latest six-year term of house arrest” which ends this month,  New York Times noted.  Elections are scheduled early next  year. The junta would formalize dominance of the tatmadaw in a farcical Constitution.

Junta handpicked  delegates languidly took 14 years to write a draft constitution. Few Burmese have read it.  But the few copies leaked  shows a quarter of parliament’s seats for are locked in  for  the military.  They’re  given immunity from prosecution for past crimes.

The tatmadaw is cemented by fear and privilege, journalist Seth Mydans writes.  Budget for the military is  seven times that for health. They have special schools. “And they also have opportunities to tap into the gray economy of graft.”

Paranoia infects various  provisions of the constitution. . Buddhist monks are stripped of the vote. That’s reaction to the  2007   peaceful “Saffron Revolt”. Thousands of  monks led  citizens in non- violent demonstrations. They filed  past Ms  Suu  Kyi’s  home..

There is  much to protest. Misrule impoverished one of the region’s richest countries in natural resources. A Burmese’s life  expectancy is 60 years. Compare that to a Singaporean’s 78. Infant mortality is 76,  far greater than Vietnam’s 17. Maternal deaths are nine times higher than Malaysia’s . And Burma has 36 doctors for every 100,000 citizens compared to 134 for the Philippines.

Hopes for a repeat of  Edsa, Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Uprising”  or  Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution”, were smashed by bloody suppression. “The total death toll is not known. “Here in Burma, we are born afraid,” a senior monk told BBC.

Paranoia  over  this  63-year old   daughter of  Burmese independence hero Aung San, is apparent. Presidential  candidates with foreign spouses or children are barred. Burmese know who the target is.  Ms  Suu Kyi’s  late  husband  was  Oxford  professor  Michael  Aris, Their  two  sons are  UK citizens.

“Is the world willing to accept such an absurdity?”, asked Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Vaclav Havel of  the Czech Republic and  former German president Richard von Weisacker.  Of  course not.  Even  China  is reduced to making noises about “stability and reform.”

Ordinary  Burmese  pay dearly for leadership paranoia that interlocks with xenophobia.. The junta blocked foreign aid after the deadliest cyclone, in 38 years, hit Burma. Over 134,000 died. And up to 2.4 million were beggared.

“Killing citizens is what the generals know,” the Telegraph said then. Providing emergency relief seems beyond them.”

But even the crassest of dictators pine for a fig leaf of legitimacy. Ferdinand Marcos did. So, he  corralled  voters into his farcical “citizens assemblies.”  Thus,  even at the height of cyclone Nagris, the tatmadaw herded storm-traumatized  voters into a referendum for a constitution”  they  lacked since 1988.

This  trial is  the most aggressive action  the ruling junta had taken in recent years. One reason is Ms Suu Kyi, 63  has remained a rallying figure — much as  Corazon  Aquino did  during  the   Marcos  dictatorship. Despite harsh curbs, small groups demonstrated in Yangon’s streets Monday. But  chances for People Power massing seem thin.

The Insein  trial  has triggered broad condemnation from the UN. The US  announced last week that its curbs on Burma would be extended for another year. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solano said:  “It’s not the moment to lower sanctions, it’s the moment in any case to increase them.”

“Ms. Suu Kyi’s  case matters, not only because she is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, “her supporters wrote  in Wall Street Journal. . “Her situation is representative of the suffering of the 47 million people of Burma under an authoritarian and inept junta. There are few regimes in the world as illegitimate and cruel as General Than Shwe’s. When the world fails to stand up for Ms. Suu Kyi, it fails the oppressed Burmese people.”

“The night cannot get darker after midnight,” says the old Burmese proverb. But it did suppression in  suppression  of the “Saffron Revolution.” It  threatens to become pitch  dark  with the kangaroo court in  Insein prison.

(E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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