The military government of Myanmar is not as insular, corrupt and oppressive as North Korea but it’s a close runner up. And both governments show a stunning indifference to the welfare of their people.
That was glaringly on display in the aftermath of a lethal cyclone that ripped across Myanmar over the weekend. The death toll has exceeded 22,000 and likely will rise. Hundreds of thousands of people were homeless and 41,000 are missing.
But the junta, which rules from a remote and luxurious capital, was focused not on relief but holding a referendum this weekend on a new constitution that will strengthen its hold on the government and give it an air of spurious legitimacy.
First lady Laura Bush, who rarely seeks out the bully pulpit, appeared at a White House news conference Monday to denounce the Myanmar government as “very inept” and accused it of failing to warn the public of the impending cyclone.
The depth of the government’s unpopularity became apparent last fall when Yangbon was rocked by huge demonstrations, led by students and Buddhist monks, protesting soaring fuel and food prices. The protests were brutally suppressed, leaving many to complain in the aftermath of the cyclone that the military was very good at clearing the streets of monks and students but not at clearing streets of debris.
The junta did appeal for international assistance and the U.N., EU and U.S responded. But the questions remained how willing the regime was to facilitate that aid. It will have to waive burdensome customs requirements for relief supplies and a torturous visa process for relief workers.
The world owes the people of Myanmar its help and sympathy; it owes the ruling junta only its contempt.