I had probably heard about Burma, renamed Myanmar by the reigning junta, before. But until Cyclone Nargis crashed with 150 mph winds into the overpopulated Irrawaddy Delta, I had not paid much attention to it.
I decided to use the word Burma in this story. International humanitarian agencies in the area estimated the death toll to be over 100,000, with 220,000 missing.
By many accounts, even these incredible numbers are conservative at best.
This was due to the desperate efforts of the junta – which has been ruling the country with an iron fist since 1962 – to minimize the worst tragedy in recent history. (In 1962, General Ne Win led a military coup d’etat that toppled the democratically elected National Coalition Government Of The Union of Burma (NCGUB) and ended democratic rule.)
The NCGUB, which has been outlawed by the military government, has been functioning in exile since 1990, with the goal of restoring democracy in Burma.
Dr. Sein Win, first cousin of Aung San Suu Kyi, is prime minister. When I first heard the news of the cyclone, I was numbed by shock. My heart screamed in pain and agony when I saw the desperation of so many men, women and children.
Then, a wave of frustration and anger swept over me upon hearing of the junta’s refusal to get humanitarian aid to its people. What can move some to do the most generous act that melts the coldest hearts, and drive others to atrocious behaviors that defy humane imagination?
After three weeks of relentless pressure, the junta apparently agreed to let humanitarian aid in, but they have yet to supply a plan of action. So, in the middle of this incessant nightmare, they left the 2.5 millions Burmese immediately affected by this to speculation, wondering in their misery if they’ll survive the wait now that typhoid fever is spreading as fast as wild fire.
Once this badly needed humanitarian aid finally reaches its destination, easing the deadly misery of the Burmese people, they will forever be grateful that the army of nations stood strong in face of the heartless junta.
Members of the Burmese government may wear their best disguise to hand out food brought by the international community (to make believe it came from them) but no one will mistake them for Papa Noel- Santa Claus.
And just like the democratically elected government now in exile, the Burmese will continue to press for change amid the blinded chars and heavy artilleries, because they know that
“Youn jou pou chase, you jou pou jibye, — one day for the hunter, one day for the prey” and “pa gen lapriye ki pa gen amen-every prayer has an amen!”
Marleine Bastien is the founder and executive director of Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), or Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.
Marleine Bastien • Marleine_Bastien@Hotmail.com