Friday, September 28, 2007

Burma update, before the weekend

Following up on the post earlier this week about Myanmar/Burma’s unfolding saga, I should offer a quick update. Especially since for North America, Friday afternoon is on us, and the weekend’s distractions may soon begin.

President Bush and the U.S. administration did, indeed, back words with actions this week by ratcheting up sanctions against the military regime. There are some doubts about what impact the increased sanctions will have, but in fairness, I don’t think there is much the U.S. can do directly to influence the regime.

Instead of exploring the minutiae of the debate about whether sanctions are helpful or problematic, I’d like to highlight a few Burmese bloggers, brought to global attention by Richard Ehrlich of the San Francisco Chronicle (at least that is where I found out).

All the blogs he shares have at least a couple things in common: they are run anonymously, they are apparently run by people in Burma, and there is clearly a state of turmoil in what they are posting.

One, by an author claiming to be a woman is written in staccato snippets—posted all at once, but time-stamped and covering events over the course of a day.

Another is clearly more politically focused, with a photo collage on the front page including the caption “Stop Dictatorship Now!” Further down the page is an explanation/apology, “sorry i am closing down Cbox for a while for having miss used, and writing bad words. Thank you”. Most interesting are the photos posted to the site, and the link to a Picasa album of the processions of monks from Monday.

Lastly, there is a blog clearly maintained by a foreigner. It was mostly dormant for the previous 9 months (sounds familiar...) but was resumed shortly after the oil and gas price-hikes at the end of August. It gives a very lucid description of what has been happening, and puts it in a fairly clear context. I don’t know enough about Burma to know if it is accurate. It hasn’t been updated since last weekend.

On what may happen next: the U.S. has little influence in Burma, and has admitted as much. President Bush's statement seems directed at the largest country in the region, China, as much as our closest ally in the region, Thailand. Both have significant interactions with Burma--though it is unclear that either has great leverage. And neither has the same interest. A piece in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, by Michael Green and Derek Mitchell lays out the history, the current challenges, and a possible way forward.

By all accounts, the current protests in Burma began because of price-hikes, and concerns over acute economic conditions. This rapidly expanded into a broader political demonstration. Burma is not the only country with energy-related economic concerns, or political conditions that may change considerably with a small spark. With the world highly interconnected (see yesterday's post), it may be worthwhile to consider how to ensure global progress is not subject to major ups-and-downs caused by volatility in a relatively small number of places.

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