Education protests in Myanmar attacked by riot cops: Aung San Suu Kyi still stands mute against junta violence

Myanmar protests (Soe Zeya Tun:Reuters) Mar 10 2015

The official narrative about the military dictatorship in Myanmar (formerly Burma) is that it took power in a 1962 coup & dissolved after the 2010 elections when a civilian government took over. We’ve seen that scenario play out in several countries, most notably in Latin America, but after the grotesque deceptions of the military in the Egyptian uprising we should question when & why the military just steps back from direct rule. Sometimes the ruling elite deems the stability of neoliberal capitalism better served by posturing a democratic face while the junta waits in the wings if & when outright barbarism would best serve.

To justify lucrative trade relations with Myanmar after the 2010 elections & the so-called restoration of democracy, the US & European regimes (EU) claimed the human rights record was improved & they pointed to the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest in 2010. For her political defiance of the junta, Suu Kyi had received dozens of honors including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. For obvious reasons, the US & EU didn’t elaborate whether the junta had ceased use of child soldiers, slave labor, child labor, human trafficking, systematic use of sexual violence, torture, or allegations of genocide against the Rohingya Muslims.

Yesterday, hundreds of riot cops attacked students & Buddhist monks protesting a long-disputed education bill that muzzles academic freedom. The protesters had planned to march from Mandalay to Rangoon but were attacked by the cops about 90 miles from Rangoon. Protesters were beaten, dragged into trucks, & carted off to jail.

Officials from the European Union, which has been training Myanmar riot cops in crowd control, issued a statement condemning the violence & deeply regretting the use of force against peaceful protesters. Who the hell do they think they’re kidding!? Since when does the Myanmar military need lessons in crowd control when brute force has served them so well for nearly 20 years?

Suu Kyi is now an elected leading figure in the Myanmar government & wants to run for president. The military connived a constitutional provision preventing her from doing so. This provision should have the entire world scratching its head in bewilderment since no one has been a better servant of tyranny than Suu Kyi since she was released. She sits in the reviewing stands with the generals for military parades. But more significant, she traveled in 2012 to pick up that worthless Nobel Peace Prize while the regime was conducting a brutal ethnic cleansing & forced migration against Rohingya Muslims–& she never uttered a peep of protest.

The 800,000 Rohingya residents of Myanmar have been subject for decades to violent state-sponsored persecution & discrimination conducted by the military, including denial of citizenship (though they have lived in the region for decades), religious persecution, forced labor, land confiscations, arbitrary taxation & various forms of extortion, forced eviction & house destruction, restrictions on travel for health & work, restrictions on marriage, education, & trade. And Suu Kyi, the democracy icon heralded as “the Mandela of Asia,” has nothing to say about that!?

When queried by reporters about the persecution of Rohingya, Suu Kyi responded with platitudes urging people to all just get along & exhortations for the rule of law. Some excused her platitudes as diplomacy & political caution. That was in 2012 but by now her political reputation is irredeemably tarnished. She has refused to speak out against genocide, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary arrest & detention (including of journalists), land confiscation, child soldiers, forced labor, & internal displacement–all documented by human rights groups. Her silence is so deafening regarding the Rohingya & military crimes in the state of Kachin that 23 human rights groups signed an open letter of protest.

No one today would look to Suu Kyi to intervene on behalf of the students & monks assaulted & arrested yesterday. Nobody is puzzled anymore that she refuses to speak out against the violence & human rights crimes of the regime. What’s the point of all those prestigious honorifics or of getting elected to parliament if you have to clam up to get them? But justice is not who she answers to. Sitting in the reviewing stands with the generals & holding smooch-fests with H. Clinton, Obama, & Lagarde from the IMF tell us which side sister Suu Kyi is really on. And in the long-run, she will go down with that junta. Pity that. But it only takes one betrayal–silence on genocide–to go from heralded to heckled.

(Photo of student getting ganged up on by riot cops by Soe Zeya Tun/Reutes)

Syngenta and their Smokey Mountain connection

Smokey Mountain, Manila (Lasse Bak Mejlvang) Mar 11 2015

Syngenta is a Swiss agribusiness company (in competition with Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, & Dupont) that produces genetically-modified seeds, herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides–the entire menu of toxic chemicals they lather on the global food supply. To further its economic interests, it lathers US political candidates & organizations with lobbying money–$1,150,000 in 2012. To promote its image in community service, it’s begun to sponsor an annual photography contest on the theme of “Scarcity-Waste” to address their claim that the world faces “increasingly limited resources.” That claim of course is used to justify population control/eugenics programs & explain away the massive unemployment & immigration rates. They just announced the 2015 winners.

Later this year, the 2015 winning photos will be touring, including in several cities in Brazil. Could that be a Syngenta gesture of “no hard feelings” for the 2007 shootout where their hired goon squad killed one protester & injured several other landless farmers of the Landless Workers’ Movement protesting land grabs?

Syngenta also has operations in the Philippines where agribusiness has destroyed the livelihoods of millions of farmers & driven them into urban slums. That must be why this photo is one of the 2015 finalists–another act of contrition to mask their crimes. The photo is of the slum surrounding Smokey Mountain dump site in Tondo, a district of Manila, Philippines.

Smokey Mountain was a landfill site since the 1950s & in forty years became a smoldering potpourri of toxicity & disease where unemployed scavenged for recyclables. In response to international notoriety, the Filipino government stopped delivering trucks of garbage there in 1995 & declared it closed but without providing alternative employment or housing to the 30,000 residents of the area.

Syngenta has lots of connections to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), a financial institution involved in establishing neoliberal agribusiness in the Philippines & elsewhere–& not just agribusiness but the entire panoply of neoliberal austerity & impoverishment of working people. The ADB boasts of the microenterprises their largesse has helped establish in Tondo, including cooperatives for masonry services, handicrafts, a commercial water-supply service, & an eco-laundromat. Those employed are now between 200 & 300. Maybe a couple hundred more–but what about the other 29,700 unemployed scavengers?

Without a public housing project, what the Filipino regime & neoliberal institutions established is essentially a refugee camp surrounded by garbage dumpsites–because though Smokey Mountain is closed they continue to dump landfill in the area. Residents call it Happy Land–a name ironically derived from what local dialects call smelly garbage: hapilan.

As part of neoliberal austerity, there are no health facilities in Happy Land where the tuberculosis rate is one of the highest in the world & when chemical vapors & rotting unmentionables from the landfill create massive respiratory, skin, intestinal, & other catastrophic health problems.

Happy Land has become one of the sites in the world attracting slum tourists–a phenomenon rooted in privilege, racism, & white supremacy. The accounts of some of those tourists speak of the “poor but happy,” of the delight at seeing a white visitor–or they pity-monger.

The militancy of many slum residents in the Philippines belies the accounts of the ADB, the public relations factory of the regime, the rancid accounts of slum voyeurs. We stand in solidarity with them & hope that soon working people in more privileged countries will get off their leaden asses & put an end to neoliberal plunder.

(Photo by Lasse Bak Mejlvang)