By Roland Watson
March 19, 2013
Robert Mugabe is the dictator of Zimbabwe. It wasn’t always this way.
Zimbabwe was formerly a British colony, called Rhodesia. Mugabe in his
younger years was a freedom fighter. He spent ten years as a political
prisoner. He led the Zimbabwe African National Union. In 1979, the
Rhodesia Bush War ended, and the following year he was elected Prime
Minister. He remains in power, to this day.
Mugabe was viewed as a hero. But as he aged he became autocratic, and
determined not to yield his rule. Now in his fourth decade of power,
Zimbabwe has suffered immeasurably, and is one of the least developed and
most repressive nations in the world.
Mugabe is also known to be prejudiced against a number of the ethnic
groups of Zimbabwe, who as a consequence have independence aspirations. He
has had close relations with China since the last year of the war. China
is now a major investor in Zimbabwe, and workers at Chinese projects are
subject to the worst forms of exploitation. The international community in
turn has applied only limited pressure for change. The U.N., for example,
was recently criticized by its own investigators for downplaying a cholera
epidemic in the country.
Now, for Burma watchers, this probably sounds all too familiar, even like
deja vu. Substitute the name Suu Kyi for Mugabe, and little other than the
location needs to be changed. Burma was a British colony as well. Suu Kyi
backs - or at a minimum refuses to condemn - the regime’s aggression
against the country’s ethnic nationalities. She is also a huge supporter
of China, and has even stood by Beijing in the Letpadaung mine crisis
against members of her own ethnic group, the Burmans. And lastly, she is
the international community’s darling, with the U.N. recently even
allowing its aid caravans to Kachin refugees to be used as cover for the
Burma Army to infiltrate reinforcements to the front. (The U.N. is truly a
collection of Useless Nations.)
Suu Kyi’s evolution
The evolution of Suu Kyi from democracy icon to autocrat has followed a
similar route. In fact, I have always been suspicious of her, and even
criticized her in my first press release eleven years ago, for her belief
that one can accomplish real change by negotiating with a gang of serial
killers. My criticism at the time though was extremely deferential. The
subjects of personality cults must be approached carefully. The
consequences of her wrong-headed policy are now so severe, however, that
she must be confronted head-on.
Suu Kyi has never acted like a real pro-democracy advocate, and not only
because of her adherence to a dogmatic form of pacifism that even Gandhi
would reject. There are many pro-democracy movements around the world, and
they all share common traits. Foremost of these is that the people resist
- they press for change. Suu Kyi has never called for pressure against the
military - far from it, not even after the generals stole the 1990
election, when she could have asked ordinary soldiers - who backed her -
to change sides. And, as far as I know, she has never hoisted the Fighting
Peacock banner. She is not her father’s daughter.
Indeed, during her trips around the country, they seemed more like
self-glorification events, with her standing as an empress on a balcony,
waving to the crowd. She did not go to clandestine meetings to organize an
underground resistance. And, she made no attempts to meet - she never even
mentioned - the ethnic nationality resistance groups.
Then, starting last year, her real nature became openly apparent. She and
she alone commanded the NLD to enter the by-election, through which she
became an MP. She then stopped advocating for the release of political
prisoners, which had been her only tangible pro-democracy activity.
Following this she went on to back the regime in its war with the Kachin,
and its ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. Now, with Letpadaung, she has
even turned on her own people.
She said: “Why do they want the mountain?,” and “Those who do not respect
the rule of law, they get punished.” The latter comment is amazing,
because she apparently considers the military mafia that runs the country
legitimate, and the ordinary people who oppose it criminals, and who
through her statement she has now threatened.
The villagers responded: “We want our Letpadaung mountain”; “Her report is
like a death sentence for the people”; “All the love for you, it’s
nothing”; and “We feel bad for General Aung San’s name.”
The significance of her earlier comment to the Wall Street Journal, when
she said of the general public, “we’ve told them what they need to know,”
should also not be underestimated. She has now transformed this to: “They
must do what I say.” In other words, she is now, openly, a dictator.
Suu Kyi’s ignorance
Suu Kyi, who formerly supported the U.S. sanctions against business
investment in Burma, is now exploitative development’s loudest
cheerleader. Indeed, she called the villagers at Letpadaung ignorant, for
not accepting that they should unquestionably sacrifice themselves for
Burma’s supposed greater good. But here I can no longer compromise the
demand for intellectual honesty; I must state the unvarnished truth. It is
Suu Kyi and her cultish followers - who have repeated her statements - who
are the ones that are ignorant. And, by ignorant, I mean uneducated, not
Suu Kyi is ignorant because, first, she does not understand human rights.
The Rohingya issue is not about citizenship. It is about human rights.
Rohingya children are dying of disease right now in the regime’s
concentration camps. This is an atrocity, and which must be opposed in the
strongest terms by anyone who professes to stand for human rights.
Furthermore, the positions of the Kachin, Shan, Karenni, Karen and other
ethnic nationality peoples are not equivalent to the Burma Army’s. The
Army is the aggressor. The ethnic groups are the victims. Understanding
human rights means not only understanding the set of rights that we
possess through being alive; it also requires the ability to distinguish
between those groups who seek to deprive others of their rights, and the
self-defense actions of the victims in response. Suu Kyi is more than just
a politician positioning for a future election. She clearly does not grasp
any of this.
She is further ignorant about development, which as it is now being
practiced in Burma is yet another type of deprivation of rights. She says
yes to land thefts, and no to protest. That is her development policy. She
further says that outstanding contracts which enshrine the thefts are
sacrosanct, and must be followed. She believes that business in Burma
should be for the benefit of regime cronies, China, Singapore, and Western
investors, not the local people. She is also ignorant of the fact that all
outstanding contracts with the regime should be suspended, and then
reviewed, and either renegotiated, or cancelled if there is no way to make
them supportive of the people. More than anything she is ignorant of the
fact that what Burma needs first and foremost is political development,
starting with freedom from tyranny, then democracy - real democracy, and
then the rule of law, a real, functioning rule of law, after which
commercial development might be considered. She is a charlatan for trying
to dupe the people of Burma into believing that this order can somehow be
Burma needs political development, and social development, including
sufficient food, clean water, schools and clinics, and only after this
economic. And for economic development, the initial focus should be on
food production and small scale, environmentally-friendly industry,
including resource extraction.
The corruption of Aung San Suu Kyi
Now, the question remains, why did she reverse course from at least
preserving the face of advocating for democracy, to openly opposing it?
The answer to this is simple. She has become corrupted.
First, she has been corrupted by power. A developing Burma, even if most
if not all of the development is bad, means fast and big change, and with
her at the center. Suu Kyi clearly does not want to disappear into the
background, and the only way to ensure her status, she apparently
believes, is to embrace the change. This is the deal with the devil that
she has made with the International Community.
Secondly, she is now being corrupted by money as well, which is the
standard definition of the term. People have been calling on her to
present a detailed and well-reasoned set of policies for Burma for some
time. But from the recent NLD congress, no such platform emerged. One of
the few specific policies which was published, though, according to
Xinhua, is to “cooperate in exploring business undertakings which bring
mutual benefit to countries, especially that benefit local people.”
The last clause is hogwash, given what has just happened at Letpadaung,
but the main policy is telling. It implies that the NLD is about to go
into business. And, speaking sarcastically, why shouldn’t it? With the
Burma Gold Rush underway, why shouldn’t the NLD profit, too, including at
the expense of the local people?
It is public knowledge that Senior General Than Shwe’s closest cronies are
now funding the NLD. It wouldn’t be surprising if the NLD name, in some
form, soon appears on business contracts with these cronies as well.
Indeed, Suu Kyi can put her huge Peace Prize award to work as well. I’m
sure the cronies will give her a significant holding for a song. She
should be asked, point blank: Has she used any of the prize money to make
business investments, and if so, with whom?
I would also not rule out - at all - the possibility that she - or her
associates, have not only been offered, but taken, actual bribes, in
exchange for toeing the USDP line.
The Suu Kyi cult
Another question concerning her about face is why did she feel confident
doing it? How was she so certain that the people would follow her? The
answer to this is that she fully understands - indeed, she has cultivated
- the near god-like status with which many people revere her.
Relative to the issue of economic development, there are now a number of
different groups in Burma. For starters, there are the people who reject
it, who believe that the change is false - Than Shwe’s puppet show - and
that the best policy is to go slow and to continue to resist. This
includes many ethnic nationality leaders and most ethnic nationality
people; NLD escapees (but not the National Democratic Force); and largely
Burman resistance groups such as the ABFSU. An open question is where 88
Next is the go fast crowd, including opportunists both Burman and ethnic
nationality. While this group manifests the relief at the minor positive
changes that the regime has allowed in central Burma, it mainly derives
from the selfish motivations of these people to profit personally from the
change. Indeed, many opportunists are so corrupted that if the police were
to torture a monk to death in broad daylight at Shwedagon Pagoda, they
wouldn’t even look up from their tea leaf salads at the Strand Hotel.
Finally, there is the Suu Kyi cult, who don’t understand or for that
matter even care about what is going on. Their allegiance to her is
complete. They will follow her anywhere, and ignore any misstep, and also
critical press such as this. Moreover, they will rise to her defense and
in an aggressive and expletive-filled way.
This cult is the real source of her power, and for Burma to advance it
must be reduced in size. Now, the Letpaduang affair will certainly make a
dent. And since Suu Kyi will no doubt continue her authoritarian ways,
there will be more Letpadaungs in the future. But cults are strong. They
last. And the reason for this is that the members are brainwashed. They
therefore need to be deprogrammed, one by one.
The five steps in the standard method of cult deprogramming are listed
below (source: Wikipedia). Everyone in Burma who is not a Suu Kyi cult
member should do everything they can - they should become deprogrammers -
to help those who are.
1. The figure of authority - the cult leader - needs to be discredited. 2.
This is done by highlighting the contradictions between the ideology and
the reality of the situation.
3. The cult follower then needs to be pushed to the breaking point. When
the follower begins to listen to the deprogrammer, this is when reality
starts to take precedence over ideology.
4. The follower needs to speak out: to engage in self-expression. He or
she needs to open up and voice complaints against the cult.
5. Finally, the follower needs to change his or her self-identification.
This is when the follower begins to identify with the deprogrammers, and
starts to think of him- or herself as an opponent of the cult, rather than
a member of it.
A related problem is the “false” cult of Suu Kyi by the International
Community. The countries of the world, and many big NGOs, are her acolytes
as well. This is the case even though they understand that her positions
are retrograde. They just want access to the Gold Rush that she has
It is up to activists to oppose this aspect of the cult, at least in
democratic countries where they might have some leverage. But, even these
countries, such as the U.S., are not real democracies, since corporations
- which definitely help propagate the cult - have much better access to
policymakers than activists.
Justice for her crimes
One point of attack against the Suu Kyi cult inside Burma is the belief
that she has sacrificed so much for the country. But, is this really the
case? Certainly her father was assassinated, and she spent a very long
time under house arrest - in a comfortable house. How does this stack up
to the experiences of other, normal people of the country?
I believe that many, many people have sacrificed far more than her, and
who in general get no credit, or support - certainly no prizes - at all.
This includes all of the political prisoners who had to suffer in Insein
Prison and the dozens of others prisons, living in cells unsuitable for
dogs, and who underwent such great torture that many of them died or
became mentally unhinged. To them, I would add all of the ethnic
nationality soldiers, who have had to sleep on bamboo platforms covered
with banana leaves, and risk their lives fighting a numerically superior
force. For that matter, we can add all the villagers, such as those at
Letpadaung, who have been driven from their land, including the many who
have had family members murdered by the regime in the process. Sacrifice
is a relative concept. Suu Kyi has sacrificed, certainly, but her
sacrifice has been in no way exceptional compared to so many other people
of the country.
And now, she has turned against them, derides them, and has actually
threatened them. Not only is she refusing to pursue justice for the
people, she wants them to give up even more.
This is an outrage. The people deserve justice for the wrongdoings of Aung
San Suu Kyi. While the chances are slim that she can ever be prosecuted,
either in Burma or at the International Criminal Court, her behavior
should be closely examined to see if it rises to the level of conspiracy
and even criminal collaboration. Her basic crimes once again are covering
for the use of fire bombs - chemical weapons - by the police against the
Letpadaung protestors; her open if tacit support of the ethnic cleansing
against the Rohingya, which is a crime against humanity; and her backing
of the Burma Army, which has committed countless war crimes, in some cases
also involving chemical weapons, in its aggression against many other
ethnic nationalities. There is no shortage of possibilities to
Outside of the actions of the dictatorship, under Ne Win, Saw Maung and
Than Shwe, I believe the worst thing that has happened for Burma since
1962 has been the rise of Suu Kyi, together with her receipt of the Nobel
Peace Prize. This award enshrined an accidental and half-hearted advocate
as a national leader. It is a handicap that has hobbled the country for
the last twenty years.
The Nobel Peace Prize in any case is a sentence of death to a
pro-democracy movement. This is because when it is given to individuals in
dictatorial countries, they are either pacifists who will not push for
real change, or they are in actual bed with the regime. The Prize
Committee will not select anyone who backs strong, much less
Notwithstanding his many outstanding qualities, an example of the first is
the Dalai Lama, whose pacifism has so blocked the movement for freedom in
Tibet that dissident monks have been reduced to despair, and
self-immolation as their only form of protest. Similarly, many forceful
pro-democracy activists for China consider both Peace Prize winner Liu
Xiaobo and last year’s Literature Prize winner Mo Yan, as apologists for
the CCP, which is ironic since Mr. Liu now finds himself under arrest.
But, returning to Burma, in addition to Suu Kyi, we should also consider
the evolution of her organization. One can say that the National League
for Democracy is misnamed, because it rolled over when the 1990 election
was stolen, and has never pushed forcefully for democracy ever since. Now
the NLD has transformed itself into the National League for Development,
since this seems to be the only issue it is really promoting. But, since
Suu Kyi’s recent actions are so extreme, backing the police and China
against fire-bombed monks and farmers, perhaps the correct name is the
National League for Dictatorship. However, if you add in the underlying
racism, not only against the Rohingya, but against the other ethnic groups
as well, probably the best name of all is the RLD, the Racist League for
Burma can’t possibly undergo real progress with Suu Kyi as the leader. Of
course, she is not the leader. She’s just a willing stooge of the latest
incarnation of the military junta, the National Defense and Security
Council, which now rules the country from behind the scenes.
In conclusion, the people in Zimbabwe are waiting for Robert Mugabe to
die. The country has no chance at freedom until he does. The people of
Burma should not have to do the same thing with Suu Kyi. While it is also
unlikely that she will disappear from the political scene, her status must
be reduced. Burma pro-democracy activists should work hard to change her
role, so that she is only the head of the Suu Kyi party, and which is but
one of many.
I gather that Burma may be close to seeing bonfires made from Suu Kyi’s
posters. If and when this happens, I hope the fires are well publicized. I
can only say, the sooner we see them, the better.