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Letter: "Little progress in Myanmar

Subject: Letter: "Little progress in Myanmar"

Wednesday, August 16, 1995

The release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest focused attention on
Myanmar, its appalling human rights record and its so-called development.
These issues cannot be discussed separately, as some amoral businessman have
chosen to do, since they have been closely related for the past few years.
Hotels have sprung up around the capital, Rangoon; many foreigners and
Burmese consider this to have a positive impact. However, most of the hotels
have been built by the relatives of government officials and caused misery
for those forcibly relocated out of those areas. Take, for example, the
Nawarat Hotel, owned and operated by the daughter of Gen. Ne Win, where
water was diverted from a nearby neighborhood, since she did not consider
the water of the first pipeline to meet the standards of her foreign guests.
The aforementioned neighborhood had no water for weeks.
Night clubs have opened and the chaste, young Burmese women are strongly
encouraged to entertain foreign businessmen, something unheard of a short
time ago, and inimical to their culture.
Burmese generals dominate TV, expressing gratitude to the local people for
the contributions that they make to public works projects. In reality,
government officials go door-to-door and demand an unreasonable sum because
a new bridge is being constructed in the area. 
The release of Aung San Suu Kyi coincided with a new government fee of $100
on homes that have satellite TV. Those unable to pay, the vast majority of
course, were not able to learn of the Nobel Prize winner's release until
relatives telephoned them from abroad.
The media often refer to the plight of Suu Kyi, the forced laborers and the
jailed prodemocracy activists when reporting events from my wife's country.
However, they report the economic news as if the conditions of ordinary
Burmese people are improving. Many businessmen, eager to exploit the
situation, promote that view. Asian governments, Japan included to a lesser
extent, boast and praise the progress that has been made. My wife and I see
it another way.