Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Response to SFGate's Coverage of Secretary of State Clinton's Recent Visit to Myanmar

I love SFGate, but I was incensed when I read the glowing report of hope and resurrection that the Clinton visit would supposedly cause. The issue is the economic sanctions. Time to allow Burma to find its way and engage with the rest of the world. Read more:

I'm an American expat living in India and I have just returned from two trips inside Burma in October and November of last year. True, there have been marked changes over the past TWO years, since the worst natural disaster, Cyclone Nargis hit and devastated the country. Once the rice basket for Southeast Asia, there were rumors of impending famine. The leaders may have not felt the food shortages, but the average citizen had to pay far more for their rice while the government continued to export as usual.

In those two years, yes, some things have changed, but not much has changed for the average Burmese man or women, and particularly hardest hit are their seniors and their children. The only thing that US economic sanctions have done is make the military junta richer, while closing off economic opportunity for its citizens. I worked closely with business people trying to build infrastructure, but there is no manufacturing capability in-country. Automobiles have not been imported into the country since 2001, and only recently have they allowed imports, at a nearly 160% duty. Three years ago, a simple cellphone cost a citizen over $3,000 - the cost now is around $125 for simple Chinese phone and prepaid SIM card, but the average income of the office workers I worked with was close to $100/month. Cellular service is spotty in urban centers, virtually non-existent in rural areas. Without electricity, telephone service, internet access, how can any country develop trade outside its own borders?

No US citizen is allowed to sell and deploy solar panels to enable villagers to have affordable lights in their homes where there is no electricity - it is considered country building - what we are already doing in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, yet this country, which has never incited any violence against our country, is forbidden to be helped. 

I met a 12 year old boy who works as a waiter in a restaurant in Yangon. He has a 4th grade education, both of his parents are dead from AIDS, and he lives in the alley behind the restaurant. What are his prospects? There are many, many more children, more orphans, just trying to survive, with no marketable skills. I fear for their future. There is a lost generation and we are failing them. US sanctions are a major part of this problem.

Han, my waiter. He was there both times I visited 19th Street in Yangon. My companion told me not to expect him to be there the next time I visit. These boys don't last long, succumbing to drugs or human trafficking