Almost a year after the precipitately named Saffron Revolution, in which tens of thousands marched peacefully in want of democracy, and in which hundreds of Buddhist monks were killed for their participation, a Very Severe Cyclonic Storm swept across the Indian Ocean and through Burma, dealing massive damage. Though the current death toll is hovering around 60 thousand, as of May 12th, there are potentially 80 thousand more people to account for.
The Burmese government, which is run by a military junta in possession of a human rights record fraught with abuses, has dealt with the situation in an absurdly awful way, first refusing aid, and then refusing all aid except for food and medicine, putting many tens of thousands of people in extreme danger. According to AP, “the relief workers have [only] reached 220,000 cyclone victims, only a small fraction of the number of people affected”, “and only one out of 10 people who are homeless, injured or threatened by disease and hunger have received some kind of aid since the cyclone hit May 3.” There are a number of other painfully ridiculous figures, some more personal than others. “”All my 28 family members have died,” said Thein Myint, a 68-year-old fisherman who wept while describing how the cyclone swept away the rest of his family. “I am the only survivor.”"

Concurrently, the Junta proceeded with a previously scheduled constitutional referendum; a referendum that seeks to “ensure the creation of a “discipline-flourishing democracy” in the words of the Burmese government. Proposed amendments include:

# a quarter of the parliamentary seats would be reserved for military officers
# the Ministry of Home Affairs would fall exclusively under military control [5]
# anyone married to a non-Burmese would be barred from running for the presidency.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the internationally celebrated Burmese opposition figure, (her own late husband of British origin) remarked that voting in the referendum was a “consumedly unacceptable act”. Beyond the thinly veiled fascism promised by the new Constitution, the conditions regarding voting in disaster-torn Burma are riddled with controversy. As reported by the Philippine newspaper, The Inquirer:

“Songs extolling the new proposed constitution, which was drafted by a committee hand-picked by the generals, fill the prime-time airwaves of government-owned television and radio stations.
The draft constitution book is now available in many bookstores in Yangon, albeit at a price of nearly one dollar — far beyond the means of most people in this impoverished country.
[The] National League for Democracy (NLD) party is urging people to vote down the charter, but said last week that their activities were being curtailed, sometimes violently.
In the western town of Sittwe on Tuesday, at least 23 people wearing T-shirts bearing just one word — “No” — were arrested, the party said.”

Further, in a public poll by Mizzima, a Burmese News Agency, 64% of those surveyed still intended to vote in the referendum. However, 71% did not know what the constitution was, and 52% have not yet decided whether they will vote to support or oppose it. Among those who voted, electoral fraud reigned, with fraud allegations including:

* Officials giving out ballot papers already filled in with a tick.
* Voters ordered to complete votes for their relatives.
* Government officials sitting close to the ballot boxes and telling voters how to vote.
* Voters bribed to vote yes.
* Officials closing polling stations at 11am and then going to the houses of people who hadn’t voted and making them vote then.

Burma is the poorest country in Asia, and among one of the poorest countries on the globe. It’s economy is essentially an export economy, with main exports of various illicit drugs, precious gems, oil, lumber, and recently, hydro-electricity. Though the country is rich in resources, the GDP is strikingly low, growing at a rate of 2.9 per year. The regime depends on export to continue it’s existence, and since 1989 has liberalized (read: neo-liberalized) certain areas of the economy, including the lucrative gem, oil and forestry industries, of which the profits funnel directly into the pockets of the junta and the various international corporations it is partnered with; including Total, the French oil giant. In the name of development, extraordinarily violent human rights abuses take place, raping and murdering villagers in the northwest of Burma to force them to vacate their resource-rich land. According to the Guardian, “the prize is a bonanza of foreign currency from gems, gold, logging and hydro-electricity that will bolster the repressive regime. The largest and most lucrative project is a series of four dams on the Salween river generating cheap power, mostly for export to Thailand.”

Burma’s long history of abuses and usurpations and the recent climate disaster and it’s complications are calamitous on their own, but they are not standalone. They are the result of our world’s modern economies that depend on genocide and slavery in far off places to keep the gears turning. Although Burma is about as bad as it gets, it’s government and economy are condoned, in fact, encouraged by Western “Democracies” including the United States and the European Union. And while we are not living under quite so absolute despotism, that our governments are supporters of regimes like Burma gives us an idea of exactly what image our own despotic leaders would like to mold our countries in, but have not yet succeeded.