Friday, January 16, 2015

What is really going on in Burma under the surface?

While traveling in Burma it's hard to figure out what is really going on. On the tourist side, you see a country changing quickly to make room for the growing tourism numbers. The story you hear is that the military government which has had a strict control on every aspect of life here for 60 years decided to begin to open up and allow more political freedom. They finally released Aung sung Sui ki from house arrest. She won a Nobel Prize for her efforts to open up the country and has been one of the worlds most famous political prisoners. When they released her she told the world it was ok to come to Burma again and the travel boycott being observed by many in the west was lifted, allowing millions of travelers to visit. Tourism numbers show 360k coming in 2006, 790k coming in 2010 the year the change happened and 2 million coming in 2013.

So on the one hand, growth in tourism is rapidly changing the country and opening it up to the outside world. Tourists are everywhere. New hotels and restaurants are popping up.  But then on the other hand one is always wondering what is really going on and if the military really does have much more control than they admit. Our guide is very careful when he answers our questions.  Tourists are only allowed to go to certain areas of the country or they need permits that are virtually impossible to get. 

I find myself eager to believe the story that things are changing fast and political freedom is rising and that the upcoming elections this year will bring a new president directly elected by the people, but I also feel myself worrying that that is not going to happen and many of the changes are much more on the surface.  And the frustrating part is there really is no way to figure out what is the truth. 

Added after returning to the US:

I have been getting Google Alerts about Burma news since I got back and feel a bit naive about how little I knew about the ethnic conflicts happening all over the country. The country officials clearly want tourists to see some stuff and bypass a lot of other issues.  I still hope Burma is on the road to the right kind of change since it was a beautiful interesting to place to visit.  I hope tourism is used as a liberating force, not as a way to get money to use to keep the Burmese people in line.

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