In Bloomberg Businessweek today, it is reported that Burma’s opium production has increased this year by 26%. They say that the reason for the increase is desperation among poor people. UNODC’s Myanmar Country Manager Jason Eligh is quoted saying, “Opium farmers are not bad people, they are poor people. Money made from poppy cultivation is an essential part of family income.”
Roughly 192,000 households in Myanmar now work in opium production. “Villagers threatened with food insecurity and poverty need sustainable economic alternatives,” says Eligh, “or they will continue, out of desperation, to grow opium as a cash crop.”
Another reason the articles on my RSS feed this morning give for the rise in production is a rise in demand. They credit “organized crime” for being the culprits who both represent demand and supply the illicit poppie mash by purchasing it for 500 dollars per dry kilogram – a huge incentive to people who can’t keep food on the dinner table, send their children to school, and have lost their possibility to provide for themselves.
Question: who is “organized crime?”
If you answered the Burma Army or the regime itself, you are a smart cookie. Here’s how it goes:
The Burma Army has a policy of self-sufficiency. Each General has to “live off the land.” In Burma that means live off the produce and on the muscle of villagers and tribal people. And the compensation the villagers get for this exchange is their homes burned down, churches desecrated, and their men forced to porter for the regime; they carry their own produce to fortified compounds for the thieves (I mean soldiers) to consume it. Then they kill you after they make you watch them take turns on your wife.
This is life under the black boots; life where the police and military are the criminals and control everything including the judicial system.
There is no private property in Burma. So the farmers who have worked the land for the last thousand years actually only “own” their land based on community arrangement. The central government, so called elected officials, have absolute legal control of the land and the contents of it.
When an energy company eyes a particular river that has not been developed for hydro generation in Kachin or Shan state and offer the “government” to buy this land and develop it, chipping in a few percent of produced electricity to power homes in Burma, they sell it, leaving the villagers in a lurch.
Then they force the people who live there to relocate to a place they have prepared for them. How nice of them, right? Wrong. Many of the villagers see no alternative but to accept the relocation “offer” the soldiers have made. And guess what industry often awaits them at the relocation site? You got it: opium.
Or golf. Yes, you can also be relocated to Shan State to construct a golf course for the criminals (Generals and parliamentarians) who run the opium trade.
It takes decades to cultivate land for rice farming, because it’s all done by hand. Irrigation canals need to be carved out of rocky terrain with primitive tools to draw water from one valley to another. Fertile valleys able to support the growth of hungry communities are where they lived for generations. What I have seen and heard is that relocation sites have neither the water to restart life, nor the good soil needed to sustain it.
The ones who wait it out often relocate after construction has already begun, because of abuse, and the glaring fact that they are standing against an unbeatable foe. Those who hold out until the very end retreat only as the water rises, flooding their precious farms forever.
With gold, tin, jade, and molybdenum: same story. Oil and natural gas: ditto. Poor you who were born where natural resources lay waiting to be gathered, and where your rights as a human being were never recognized.
Another report I received from the Trans National Institute describes the “reform” process in Burma in terms you may appreciate:
“…after over 30 months of the Thein Sein government, political transition continues to be military-dominated and top-down, with essentially the same ruling elite in political and economic authority as under the former State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) regime. Hopes remain that, through political negotiation, democratic reforms will be achieved which lead to just and inclusive solutions. But as the countdown to the 2015 general election begins, concerns are growing that essential reforms will not be delivered.”
My terms are less sophisticated: lies, continued violence, and cunning deception. Thein Sein is a war criminal and his government are using foreign direct investment and development (charity and diplomatic) funds to kill children in Burma. The entire platform of hope is built on broken promises.
How many people have to suffer and die before the promises start coming to pass?
While the diplomatic community twirl that question through the noodles of bureaucracy, Partners Relief & Development will keep starting schools, development projects, clinics, and feeding the masses of displaced people who lack shelter, rice to eat, and sanitation. We will do this because we were asked to by Jesus who himself offered these words as his manifesto:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free”