What Now Burma?

As the rising sun gets higher in the morning sky the cool air on my rooftop apartment is replaced by smothering heat and some humidity. The hot weather is coming soon to Rangoon. While the pollution is getting worse from all of the cars clogging the road, I wonder what will become of the nice and mellow image of the Myanmar people. I can hear them leaning on the car horns for minutes at a time without stopping. When I hail a taxi lately, the people in the cars following the taxi as it pulls off the road blast their horns. Seemingly they don’t have the patience to let a car pull to the side of the road since they are so in a hurry to get themselves stuck in the traffic jams ahead. Even the poor trishaw drivers are becoming scarce in some areas of Rangoon.

Rangoon is changing to Yangon, finally and officially. It’s a new place since sanctions and the American president has come. It’s all about business now. It’s losing its charming scenery and lifestyles. The impoverished are being herded away form their roadside encampments. Buildings and developments are sprouting up over night. The cityscape changes weekly. Roads will soon be so fully clogged with cars and trucks that there will be a continuous traffic jam throughout the city all day and into the night.

All the while, war rages in Kachin state. Poverty persists and social, ethnic and political divides grow greater. It’s becoming a perfect place for disaster capitalism to flourish. Oil companies and extractive companies are ramping up huge operations. Dams are being built in upper Burma without notice. Activists can’t keep up. People are removed from their property, land stolen from under them. They have no rights. Corporations are ruling! Will rule! Obama has made sure of it, China be damned.

What will become of Democracy? Democracy is a shadow of an idea for people who aren’t wealthy. It’s an illusion, an escape into an opportunity to study abroad, to seek a better life, a better job. It’s a dream, it doesn’t’ really exist. Democracy is a word used to pacify nationalists. To subjugate people who and really care about their country and the well being of countrymen and countrywomen to the doctrine of neo-liberal thought, corporate control, and privatization.

Democracy is the phony Love Doctor Jason Mraz singing to Burmese as the neo-colonialists yes-people sit in the VIP section congratulating themselves and their anti-trafficking campaign as they pave the way for corporations to open manufacturing plants that will produce expensive products for western markets while the makers of those products are paid one to three dollars a day working under sweatshop like conditions.

Right, no need to let yourself be trafficked. You’ll soon have the low wage jobs at your fingertips. Coke and Pepsi will see to it that once they are established they’ll no longer be handing out free cans of their canned corporate piss to people who can’t afford it even at the low cost of 440 Kyats.

Never mind. I’m guilty too. I have a bag of Starbucks coffee given to me by a friend. In Bangkok it costs 18 USD. That’s some rich coffee. And it’s not even French blend.

What’s happening in Burma? Who really knows anymore? It’s a free-for-all. Yangon is becoming like Bangkok quicker than I could have imagined. Young western NGO workers, opportunists, teacher’s volunteers, or whatever they are, and the older ones too can be found on Friday evenings at the growing number of discos and where young women can be rented for the night for about 30 USD. It’s mostly an Asian thing but Yangon is not different from any other Asian city and the western men now flocking to it are finding it a good fucking place to be. And that’s the point. Burma is sinking under the weight of the western colonial policies of the IMF, UN, USAID, AUSAID, and the whole litany of western corporate imperialism.

Recently the USAID dominated NGO called PACT (PEPSI donated 3 Million USD to it in Burma recently) has had some rather embarrassing problems. It seems a lot of their people outside of Yangon have just refused their monthly pay allotment on the grounds that it wasn’t enough to live on. A person working for PACT told me that by his estimates (he works in finance) 60% of all the money PACT takes in goes to salaries for Westerners (which are all well over 4,000 USD a month), modern housing with all services provides, a big car with driver, meals, etc, etc, etc. While the average Myanmar worker for PACT in Yangon makes about 300 to 500 USD a month, in the provinces their counterparts make about 80 or 90 USD a month. Anyone searching the website called NGO’s in The Golden Land can see that PACT is ALWAYS hiring. That’s not because they are ramping up operations, it’s because people it hires are always quitting due to low wages and poor working conditions.

PACT – Protection Against Corporate Takeover? Not on your life. Good luck Myanmar.

Daniel Opacki is an educator and writer who lived in Burma for five years. His collection of stories about his time in Burma is forthcoming. Now residing in Vientiane, Lao PDR, he can be reached via his personal blog at Bamboodazed.com. Read other articles by Daniel.