Potomac Fever is the blog of the Hamilton College Semester in Washington Program.
Here's a blog post written by John VerWey, an intern at AEI:Burma: Don’t Let the Facts Get in the Way of the StoryIt seems like last week every major news outlet in the world decided to publish a feel good story regarding Hillary Clinton’s historic visit to Burma. Many have praised Burma for the release of thousands of prisoners, while neglecting to note that only about 220 of the 2000 “prisoners of conscience” were released in the previous months. Others enthusiastically celebrated the “elections” held last year and the release of long time democracy advocate and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, noting that Secretary Clinton’s visit is the culmination of what looks to be political liberalization of the government. What seemed to be missing from the commentary blindly buying the Burmese government’s charm offensive is the healthy dose of skepticism that should be leveled at any authoritarian regime in the midst of ostensible transition.Lest we collectively follow the story line at the expense of the details, a brief summary of Burma’s recent history bears consideration. The Burmese military junta, in charge since 1962, violently suppressed democracy protests in 1988, resulting in the house arrest of president-elect Aung San Suu Kyi in 1990, and has continued its campaign of societal oppression amid allegations of mass forced-labor and warm ties with dictatorships like North Korea. In 2010, a constitution was drafted and elections held, with the military-backed political party unsurprisingly taking 80% of the vote. The Burmese government has so effectively gutted society that today Burma is number 18 (North Korea is number 22) on the Failed States Index and 180 (out of 182) on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. And let’s also not forget that the current leader, President Thien Sein, was appointed Prime Minister in 2007 before he was “elected” in 2010.This is not to say that the events happening in Burma are without merit. Clinton’s historic visit, the first by a US official of her standing in over 50 years, is appropriate insofar as it will help effectively gauge the pace and realities behind the government’s seeming change of heart. However, Burmese leader’s intentions remain opaque, and the US should tread carefully. It is with good reason that US trade sanctions remain in place and there are no signs that an embassy will be established in the near future. A fifty year history of dictatorship and oppression does not disappear overnight, and piecemeal changes should be encouraged but not blindly embraced. As evidenced in the recent bevy of optimistic reports, the Burmese governments charm offensive appears to be working. Lets just home that US policy makers see through the rhetoric to the reality of the situation.
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