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Yesterday’s bloodstains

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CEBU CITY — Memories of the brutal crackdown by Burmese troops against Buddhist monks who led the peaceful “Saffron Revolution” of September 2007 are still raw. They remain yesterday’s bloodstains.

They anchor today’s soft but firm challenge by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. “My aim is for a peaceful revolution in Burma,” she told BBC, after release from 15 years of detention by Yangon’s junta.

”A ‘velvet revolution” sounds a little strange in the context of the military,” she mused. But she’s willing to meet the ruling generals” — who jailed her for the “crime” of winning the 1990 elections by a landslide.…”

Except for China and North Korea, world leaders hailed her release from fraudulent convictions. “No further restrictions should be imposed on her,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said. And government ought to release 2,200 political prisoners.

Burma’s rigged polls, authorized under a rigged constitution, shut out Ms Suu Kyi. The sham embedded candidates of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). These are generals in civvies. Nothing more.

Democracy would come eventually, she added. “I do not know how long it will take. “She hoped for a non-violent end to military rule.”

This is civilized hope. What are the odds?

Everywhere, militaries are more reluctant to repress demonstrators, says author Elena Poniatowska of Mexico. Not in Burma.

In the “Saffron Revolution”, the military tatmadaw slaughtered over a hundred, many of them monks, Amnesty International estimates. At least 74 disappeared.

Red Cross has been denied access to prisons since 2005. “In the past two years, at least 238 political prisoners were moved to extremely remote prisons. Amnesty adds, “Reports of torture and ill-treatment are rife.”

“There are, alas, no guaranteed happy endings for People Power.” Viewpoint cautioned. (PDI/ July 5,2005.) The “post-modern coup d’ etat has a mixed record, as the Guardian notes.

In 1986, Filipinos massed and sent the Marcos dictatorship scampering into luxurious Hawaiian exile. People Power 2 forced a soused and corrupt Estrada regime to quit, barely halfway into its six-year term.

Did People Power 3 occur unrecognized? That was when popular sentiment, unlocked by Corazon Aquino’s death, thrust Benigno Aquino III into Malacanang, some argue plausibly.

We hate to rain on our parade. But Filipinos did not invent People Power.

In 1930, Mohandas K. Ghandi led thousands of Indians to protest the Salt Tax. The “power of the powerless” proved non-violent protests could undermine repressive regimes. Ghandi would often refer to Beatitudes that Christ taught two millennia back. “Blessed are the peacemakers….”

Fast forward to post-Edsa Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Uprising” in 1989, compelled communists to dismantle their single party state and allow free elections. Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” of 2004 and Georgia’s “Rose Rebellion” of 2005 protested vote-rigging. Both toppled pro-Soviet governments. Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution” of 2005 drove out Syrian occupiers.

But not all People Power golpes have happily-ever-after endings.

Tanks rolled over Tiannamen Square demonstrators, to the applause of Jose Maria Sison and other Filipino communists. The Uzbekistan revolt of 2005, over rigged polls, was brutally crushed. In Zimbabwe, where inflation doubles prices within 25 hours, people power “failed to ignite”, Christian Science Monitor reports.

“Since the 1970s, the trend has been a gradual global shift from violent “people’s war” to nonviolent people power,” Jesse Walker notes in The Other Insurrections. In his study Unarmed Insurrections, Rutgers’ Kurt Schock tallied 31 major nonviolent rebellions in the Second and Third Worlds from 1978 to 2001.

Will Burma’s junta ride out this trend?

Bunkered in Napyadaw, the xenophobic generals have zero sympathy quotients. Under them, Burma emerged second to Afghanistan as a source for heroin. Once Southeast Asia’s “rice bowl,” the country today is the region largest producer of methamphetamines. Life expectancy is among the lowest in Asean.

But Ms Suu Kyi’s hopes, like most of ordinary Burmese, runs headlong into stark geopolitical realities. Burma’s coastline provides access to the Strait of Malacca — the key chokepoint in Asia.

“Daily, more than 12 million barrels in oil supertankers pass through this narrow passage, most en route to the world’s fastest-growing energy market, China or to Japan,” writes F William Engdahl of Center for Research on Globalization. “Who controls those waters controls China’s energy supplies.”

There is oil and gas in Yadana and Yetagun. In 2004, a large new gas field, Shwe, was discovered off the Arakan coast. China, Thailand, Japan. Malaysia, India and South Korea scrambled over each other to snap up supplies that Burmese generals peddle.

Burma is an integral part of what China terms its “string of pearls,” bases from the Spratleys to Cambodia. Beijing funds construction of a 2,300 kilometer pipeline from Burma’s deepwater port at Sittwe in the Bay of Bengal to Kunming in China’s Yunnan Province. It mans large electronic surveillance facility on Myanmar’s Coco Islands.

Oil has seen Beijing become Yangon’s banker, customer, pipeline builder to armorer, It will set the junta’s policy in the future.

“Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses,” the late Prime Minister Golda Meir once said. “He took us through the desert for 40 years to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil.

Guns, goons and gold will keep freedom entombed, the Burmese junta bets. A frail widow now challenges that wager did Corazon Aquino in 1986. Edsa’s liberation rippled worldwide. So will the emerging Burma challenge.

(Back to MetroPost HOME PAGE)

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