U.S. hostility hampers relief
Published May 15, 2008 12:43 AM
Is the Bush administration really trying to help the people of Myanmar recover
from the natural disaster that struck there? Then why is it insisting that the
Pentagon be in charge of its aid? And why did it impose sanctions on the
country when it knew the cyclone was about to hit?
One of the severest storms of the century slammed into the low-lying, densely
farmed Irrawaddy Delta of Myanmar on the Gulf of Bengal on May 2. It is a
fertile but underdeveloped region, especially susceptible to flooding. The
Delta is home to one fourth of Myanmar’s 57 million people. The last
tropical cyclone to make coastal landfall was 40 years ago.
Meteorologists had been following Tropical Cyclone Nargis for a week. But when
the cyclone hit land it brought with it an unpredicted tidal wave of epic
proportions. A wall of water 12 feet high surged seven miles inland.
Over a million people have been left homeless and tens of thousands are
missing. The estimates of deaths range from 20,000 to 100,000. Yangon, the
former capital and major commercial port city, was left in shambles.
The U.S. corporate media are full of stories on the scale of the disaster and
the inability of the government to cope with the relief effort. Completely
omitted is any mention of the U.S. government’s own abysmal track record
in providing disaster relief.
Each news article repeats the demand that Washington be given full military
access to Myanmar to deliver emergency supplies. There is outrage and shock
that Myanmar will not permit U.S. military planes to land or Navy ships to
dock. The charge that the Myanmar government cannot possibly be trusted to
deliver the supplies is repeated again and again.
What is not reported is that the Bush administration, with criminal calculation
and planning, consciously made the relief efforts far more difficult. The day
before Cyclone Nargis actually hit Myanmar, but when the approach of the
monster storm had already being announced and tracked for a week, President
George W. Bush signed a harsh new level of economic sanctions on Myanmar.
Sanctions are an act of aggression, a form of economic warfare that
specifically targets the poorest and most desperate.
Sanctions imposed as cyclone hit
With all its spy satellites, Washington was far more aware than the people of
Myanmar of what was coming. The sanctions made direct U.S. and international
donations of emergency funds and aid almost impossible. Xinhua News on May 2
reported that Bush’s executive order was worded to “block all
property and interests in property of designated individuals and entities
determined to be owned or controlled by the government of Burma
This criminal executive order decreeing expanded sanctions was followed within
days by expressions of deep concern for the devastated population. The cynicism
and hypocrisy could not be greater.
The new sanctions prevent U.S. humanitarian organizations and individuals from
donating money directly to causes within impoverished Myanmar. U.S. aid
organizations, such as the American Red Cross, found they could provide only
supplies—not personnel or money—to the relief effort under the
sanctions rules. While the U.S. corporate media have carried hundreds of
reports arrogantly lecturing Myanmar on what is not being done, they are not
even mentioning the impact of the new U.S. sanctions that were imposed as the
storm barreled toward the country.
Based on weather satellite monitoring, many scientists had tracked the storm as
it gained momentum. Nearly a week before it struck land, the Indian Meteorology
Department was releasing detailed warnings of route, speed and locations. The
Myanmar government, while it received text messages of warning from India
starting on April 26, and announced storm warnings on state radio, does not
have coastal radars to detect a cyclone’s path, nor did this impoverished
country have an evacuation plan.
The U.S. government has been insisting that the Pentagon be given the right to
deliver assistance with its own personnel and equipment. Evidently, this rich
imperialist country has no other way to deliver humanitarian relief except at
the end of a bayonet.
Many other countries, however, have found non-military ways to provide
immediate assistance. The Myanmar state radio has reported that international
humanitarian aid has poured in from China, India, Japan, Singapore, Italy,
Bangladesh, Laos and Thailand. Arriving at the Yangon International Airport
with their respective aircraft were tents, mosquito nets, power generators,
medicines, water purifiers, dry potato and pork, instant noodles, biscuits,
cloth, zinc sheets, hammers and nails, and candles.
The U.S. government expresses outrage that Myanmar, while it accepts aid, will
not allow foreign personnel to oversee its distribution. The government-run
newspaper New Light of Myanmar on May 9 explained why this is so: “The
Pentagon is desperate to station their military bases in our
This is not wild paranoia on the part of the military junta that rules Myanmar.
The Pentagon has hardly hidden its interest in overthrowing the regime. This
comes as pressure is put on the country to open up and allow the leasing of
U.S. bases and U.S. corporate access to Myanmar’s vast nationalized oil
and gas deposits.
Here’s how Shawn W. Crispin put it in an article entitled “The case
for invading Myanmar.”
“With United States warships and air force planes at the ready, and over
1 million of Myanmar’s citizens left bedraggled, homeless and susceptible
to water-borne diseases by Cyclone Nargis, the natural disaster presents an
opportunity in crisis for the U.S.
“A unilateral—and potentially United Nations-approved—U.S.
military intervention in the name of humanitarianism could easily turn the tide
against the impoverished country’s unpopular military leaders, and
simultaneously rehabilitate the legacy of lame-duck U.S. President George W.
Bush’s controversial pre-emptive military policies.
“U.S. Air Force and naval vessels, including the US C-130 military
aircraft now in neighboring Thailand, and the USS Kitty Hawk and USS Nimitz
naval warships, are currently on standby in nearby waters. ... Policymakers in
Washington are now no doubt weighing the potential pros and cons of a
pre-emptive humanitarian mission in a geo-strategically pivotal and suddenly
weakened country.” (Asia Times 0nline, May 10)
Many countries even in the midst of a disaster fear U.S. and Western assistance
because it so often comes with strings attached, including onerous debt
conditions and demands to reorganize their economy and privatize nationally
Naomi Klein’s book, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster
Capitalism,” describes in great detail how U.S. aid, the IMF and World
Bank are used to take advantage of a country in shock, even when it is faced
with a devastated infrastructure from a natural calamity of a hurricane,
tsunami, drought or flood. Such crises are seen as an opportunity to push
through unpopular economic “shock therapy” such as selling state
assets and privatizing resources. It’s therapy, all right—for the
international bankers, not the affected countries.
U.S. record in New Orleans and Iraq
Missing from all the corporate media’s lecturing on what Myanmar should
and could do is any mention of the U.S. ruling class’s own disastrous
record in emergency planning, evacuation and relief during and after Hurricanes
Katrina and Rita hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
The whole world watched the criminal neglect, racism, lack of planning and
total confusion as floods and broken levees drowned the city of New Orleans on
Aug. 28, 2005.
This was followed by an arrogant refusal to accept assistance from
organizations and individuals seeking to volunteer and an outrageous rejection
of international aid. Offers of help from Cuba and Venezuela, which had fully
provisioned teams of doctors on standby and offered tons of food, water and a
million barrels of extra petroleum, were refused. Even French aircraft and a
hospital ship standing ready in the Caribbean, along with German and Russian
help, were put on hold.
International camera crews flew overhead filming desperate people clinging to
rooftops. More than 20,000 people without potable water, food or sanitation
packed into the Superdome and tens of thousands of others spent days at the
Convention Center in blistering heat. Emergency crews from around the U.S. were
prevented from reaching New Orleans.
Air Force helicopters at a base close by were ordered grounded, although pilots
volunteered and pleaded to use them to evacuate people. FEMA and Homeland
Security actually blocked aid and volunteers, according to many media reports.
Truckloads of water and tons of material sent from around the country were
Two and a half years later, tens of thousands of evacuees are still not able to
return to their homes.
Pentagon in Iraq and Somalia
The Pentagon’s record in Iraq is far worse. More than five years after
smashing their way into an Iraq crippled and weakened by sanctions, the U.S.
military has proved unable to provide the most basic human survival needs of
potable water, basic nutrition, electricity, emergency health care or
If more than 160,000 U.S. troops, 100,000 private contractors and the largest
collection of military equipment on the planet won’t provide reliable
electricity or potable water in Baghdad, should anyone expect they would do
better in Yangon?
Using the excuse of a humanitarian mission in famine-stricken Somalia, the U.S.
pushed through a U.N. resolution allowing Marines to occupy the capital of
Mogadishu in December 1992. The outraged population drove the Marines out by
the following year. The Pentagon had totally miscalculated the popular
anti-imperialist sentiment, even among a desperate population.
In Myanmar, mass opposition to British and then U.S. domination is a strong
current in the population. Any intervention could meet with stiff resistance,
despite the suffering caused by the cyclone.
In all the U.S. media attacks on the government of Myanmar as a dictatorship,
it is important to remember that the Pentagon has propped up, armed and
financed brutal military dictatorships around the world–from Saudi Arabia
and Indonesia to Pakistan, Chile and Congo. Their opposition to the
dictatorship in Myanmar is not due to its repressive measures but that it has
not undone the nationalization of the natural resources forced through by
anti-colonial mass sentiment decades ago. This is what U.S. corporations are
determined to reverse.
The anti-war and progressive movement should be wary of the reactionary media
campaign around Myanmar. The people there have a right to immediate
international assistance free of U.S. demands or sanctions.
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