Myanmar: Ongoing Updates

2/20/2021
Confirmed fatal shooting of unarmed demonstrators in Mandalay and Burma. From this point forward some strong advice:

I have worked in human rights advocacy for a long time and with that comes being sent photographs you didn’t need to see and cannot unsee. So, if you’re following this on Facebook and encounter a “sensitive content” cover I’ll just say for my own part, I will not open it. It doesn’t enrich the conversation or make you more informed, empowered or effective. You can read what happened and the photos surrounding it will be plenty as it is.

China consulate protest in L.A. starting now. Rohingya are joining in 30 minutes and I’m heading over. Now, if I can just get that one woman to put on a frickin’ mask.

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Lots to say about differing philosophical directions of the movement, but to keep it short, I increasingly think the concerns expressed by BB readers and many in the world at large should continue. The Burman organizers who want a true democracy have got to acknowledge the Rohingya genocide and that the armed forces are capable of doing, and historically done, much worse to the ethnic groups than they’ve done in Yangon. I post an update about the frickin’ mask lady after I transfer pics.

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2/22/2021

Burned out yesterday and the night before. Dealing with an American feeling slighted because events are happening on their religious day off. I don’t want to say what I’m really thinking as my identity may come to light (not that I’m trying hard to hide).

Anyway, here’s a dilemma for the Burmese in the US: Especially among the established pro democracy leadership among them (“Gen X” if you will), they are fixated on restoring DASSK and the NLD to power under the already questionable constitution which is presently being leveraged to fail the entire process and, as it was deliberately written, guarantee some kind of hold by the military in perpetuity.

But let’s focus on the words “DASSK and the NLD”: Both have put forth the same position as the military, that the Rohingya are a visiting people with no rights. You could be 2nd or 3rd generation or beyond that within Rakhine state and under the current law as supported by DASSK and the NLD, they are stateless persons in perpetuity. That is not the world standard. Rakhine state is not a refugee camp.

Almost everyone else on the planet who has heard of Myanmar knows this much: their government is acting toward the Rohingya in a way that appears genocidal. DASSK brought in international lawyers who cynically did what lawyers cynically do: attempted to swap out the word “genocide” for the phrase “ethnic cleansing.” One phrase has ramifications under international law, the other does not.

So the world is ready to listen to the Muslims of Myanmar who are ready to tell the world that this regime is a very bad stand in for democracy as far as the Rohingya are concerned. The only request being made by Rohingya in exile is that the people of Myanmar recognize their rights not to live as stateless persons. If they do this and demand that the NLD do the same, the Rohingya and other Burmese Muslims can get into the corridors of power and diffuse the cynicism with which people who had previously supported DASSK now view her.

I was asked to speak. I said I need time to formulate my thoughts. The reason - I’m ready to speak this uncomfortable truth for people who may not feel ready to hear it. And I would encourage the young people who already understand this to take full control of the movement here. Very uncomfortable for people my age (myself included, if I cling to my ego because none of these kids know who I am).

I’m already having these conversations with people in power or close to it. So, I am going to try to cut down on my BB Sludgy commentary obsession and maybe help get something else accomplished while also “laying low.” Dynamic, charismatic leaders in the making are out here, and really all they need is for someone to sweep the stage and invite them up.

One remarkable thought for the moment: you might notice I’ve said all the doctors and nurses have walked off the job and at other junctures I’ve described people being seen at the hospital. Nothing is ever 100% in any situation like this. So, I want to relay some lovely posts and footage of unionized strikers and citizens kneeling next to work transport buses. They are apologizing to those who remain on the shuttle in their company dress crossing the line and continuing to go to work. We are sorry for inconveniencing you and for the present struggle.

Please think about that.

There is so much Buddhism and psychology going on there. It humanizes them. It says “you will always be part of us and we are all your family.” It does not permit them to wall off what is going on in the country or see those walking off the job as the opposition. It allows that what is going on is not okay, and that their own decision in that moment is okay insofar is it is -their decision-. And it calls for open dialogue and soul searching. It also creates allies within the parts of the country that are still in motion who could provide crucial intelligence.

In 1988, my friend was a chemist, the head and the union head of the salt factory in Sagaing Division. When they all walked off the job, he knew where the money would have gone so he took all of it out of the safes. He left the country on foot and over several days and what he describes as climbing up and down “80 mountains,” he arrived in Thailand where he gave all the money to democracy groups. To stay solvent he invested some of it in a hot dog stand. (I can’t -not- point out here that he was still essentially in the salt business). That little operation kept him and his wife alive and healthy, and they would nurse my future brother in law through a nasty bout with malaria before all three made their way to the USA.

Edit: I had intended to post photos of the current scale of the demonstrations in another thread, which I saw on my phone. I do believe over a million people have been marching; however on examining these on the wide screen I use for doing photoshop work, I am suspicious of some of the photos. As I’ve written before, the truth becomes murky dealing with all sides there and you have to poke at it from numerous angles before you have a sense that you’ve go the entire picture in hand. I think this one from Mandalay is legit, and I also remind the reader that people in Mandalay DESPISE the regime at probably a higher percentage than those who put up with them in the other cities. Most of the old guard generals and their spoiled families live in Yangon, not Mandalay. The children of Mandalay residents, some as young as 8 years old, were forced to work in 95 degree heat all summer ahead of Visit Myanmar Year to dredge the moat and spruce up Mandalay Palace for tourism. Or you could “pay a fee” to avoid the forced labor. The regime dressed this up as charitable labor for earning Buddhist metta. So here’s Mandalay:

At any rate, internet blocking has been extended (now from 1 a.m. to 12 p.m.), the ISP’s literally apologizing to their customers and letting them know they have told the government that this violates the rights of their customers.

Finally, I had promised an update re Mask Lady.

Progress!

Okay one other thing. Unfortunately it appears Biden is seriously looking to ASEAN as a potential partner in resolving what’s happening in Myanmar. This is in my view a huge mistake. Indonesia is already pushing some bullshit solution by which ASEAN would “hold accountable” the government if it doesn’t do new elections within a year. That is to say, Indonesia wants to have ASEAN agree with the Coup government in usurping the results of a free and fair election with the guise of having another one. But ASEAN will never hold them accountable in any way whatsoever. It will help to know the history:

  1. ASEAN was formed as an economic block to form a power base to compete with the growing power of China as well as the EU and others outside the region. So it operates only in the self interest of the other ASEAN nations.
  2. From the outside it appears to have the trappings of a model UN but in actual practice, it is a trading bloc. All they care about is keeping the resources and goods coming. The actual ASEAN charter “aimed to create a single free-trade area for the region.”
  3. They accepted Myanmar into ASEAN in July 1997, two months AFTER the US announced sanctions on the repressive military regime. So they have never cared about democracy in Myanmar and actually leveraged this moment of tension with the US to gain access to those sanctioned resources and strengthen the economic prospects of ASEAN’s dominant member nations. As an example, teak from Burma routinely made its way through Thailand and Indonesia for country of origin laundering to get around sanctions and boycotts.
  4. ASEAN has a core “principle of non-interference” which means for an ASEAN partner they will never stand up against the wishes of whomever is in power, and will instead only lobby on their behalf (which is why they are pushing the same “solution” proposed by the Temporary Coup Regime of Myanmar).

I sincerely hope the US doesn’t fall for this. It would be better to say and do nothing than to accept a plan that yet again ignores the results of a free election, unless that plan is to also go back to ground zero and toss the constitution with it’s promise of eternal Tatmadaw power into a dumpster.

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2/23/2021
Just a personal update. Contributed/edited an op ed about the whole dilemma after inspiring a human rights leader to draft it. World needs to really think about DASSK, institutional racism, stolen lands, the need for an army answerable to the people and not the other way around, and a redoing of the crappy constitution to achieve same. Struggling with the whole idea though. The country seems mighty unified against the coup regime and there are wonderful pictures from Mon State/Tenasserim Division of a multifaith gathering and candlelight vigil. We did something like that at Unocal HQ around xmas one year and it led to a meeting with C level execs.

  • The head shooting victim from Naypyidaw, Mya Thweh Thweh Khine, has died of her wounds. It’s confirmed she was killed by a bullet. Regime says it’s not from their guns. She was 20 and leaves behind a 2 year old. The doctor is now in hiding and is interviewed in disguise - I think CNN should have also disguised his voice. Good piece though.

2/25/2021

  • I skipped out on the Indonesian Consolate demonstration yesterday. Thank goodness there’s no more Suharto running Indonesia, and recognizing the worldwide outcry against sucking up to the regime, Indonesia has now backed down. They are a growing regional player in SE Asia. It’s in the US interest to have a democratic country there gaining influence as a check against a heavy handed (with stuffed pockets) China. But Indonesia’s proposal was laughable. Basically: “What if we just say yes to the Coup but insist that if they -don’t- keep to this new election schedule, we’ll be really mad.” This infuriated the Civil Disobedience Movement. But there is a place for some good cop bad cop. Many billions of dollars in assets are frozen now and even the World Bank has cut them off.

  • Saw lovely pics of a multidenominational anti-coup vigil out of Mon State/Tenasserim Division with monks, imams, priests etc. The part I struggle with is that when forced to pay bribes, look at their country in shambles, weather power outages etc. they hate but put up with the regime without truly understanding the brutality deployed by the tatmadaw in the ethnic regions, which far exceeds even what the current coup regime has been doing in the big cities so far. So while hitting the streets and asking the world why it doesn’t do anything about human rights, as soon as this dies down they want to go about their lives or in the case of the monks their buddhist practices and teachings.
  • Thinking about a future more compassionate governing body and more power-checking constitution by which repatriation of the Rohingya is possible. But right now, I understand the Rohingya in the refugee zones are terrified that the government of Bangladesh will recognize the coup government and try to get rid of their refugee problem by sending them back to face the regime’s attack dogs.
  • Speaking of which, that idea of the regime releasing criminals and ordering them to loot and pillage seemed a little crazy at first. But it was learned by residents who organized against them, detained and interviewed them. The CDM believe the thugs are being told, wirelessly, what to do and who to target:

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  • On FB, security camera video here of men, women and children fleeing from a bunch of these thugs, one of whom is seen brazenly wielding the pick about 30 seconds in.
  • The state controlled TV stations are broadcasting endless drivel about the heroic efforts of the military and police who are protecting the public interest and keeping the country from falling apart. I’m hearing this from everyone - they are afraid this messaging is also being taken up in the outside world (I don’t know of anyone, but I do stumble across FB feeds of pro-military Burmese which are awash in propaganda). They’re definitely not reporting on the anti-coup factions within, like this one (if you see hands raised flat with no bent finger, resembling a seig heil, those are pro-regime “demonstrations”):
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2/26/2021

  • Regime is taking revenge on the muslims in Yangon. These are not necessarily Rohingya. But they know the voice of muslims has significantly influenced Indonesia to turn away from endorsing the regime’s one year plan. So muslims in Yangon are being attacked, harassed, and arrested in their own neighborhood. Incidentally the muslims and jews get along well in Yangon, as the lone synagogue sits in the middle of the muslim sector.
  • Enough of the Myanmar equivalent of Longshoremen have joined the CDM to significantly impact shipping. Maersk is halting shipments because the container ships are backed up (ironically this is also happening in Los Angeles because we just don’t have the capacity to handle covid era imports). Some products such as textiles are still moving as truckers are able to take advantage in the wee hours. Those truckers are making a bundle if they can get the product to port by 4 a.m.
  • The UN is giving a platform to the elected government which cannot govern. Something similar happened in the 1990s. Then it was called the NCGUB and was led by a brilliant if not as charismatic cousin of DASSK, Dr. Sein Win. Now it’s called the CRPH, representing the name of the Myanmar parliament. I know. CRPH. Still sounds better than “SLORC” though. CRPH is represented at UN by Myanmar’s existing ambassador (who the coup generals couldn’t arrest because, not on Burmese soil).
  • Speech to UN is on FB.
  • Yikes:
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2/27/2021

  • Candle Light Vigil in Hollywood gathering at 4:30 PM: 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028 (Hollywood/Highland, Chinese Theatre etc.). They’ve already contemplated the windy day and have hundreds of electric candles. In the past when they’ve picked this location I’ve seen over 1,000 people show up. That was one of the last Free Burma things I did with my friend, the late Andrew Koenig, as he brought a camera and interviewed people.
  • CRPH is the acronym for Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (Pyidaungsu Hluttaw is the same as US Congress here). Nearly 400 elected representatives have formed the CRPH as a legitimate and political force challenging the coup council. Its representative spoke at the UN Assembly this morning. In Myanmar, it is helping the people established the local governing bodies to prevent the coup council from consolidating its power. So CRPH is the Myanmar Government of/by the people at this point.
  • Happening now until 3pm pacific in SF Bay:

Car Rally: Support Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH)

140 Funston Ave, San Francisco, CA 94118-1119, United States

Facebook event page: https://fb.me/e/8t32iZMtd
Support CDM in Myanmar: https://gofund.me/e2db3914

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