Burma: A Changing Landscape
By | August 31, 2012

SHAN STATE, Burma – Bordeaux and the Loire Valley are not what one immediately associates with the Shan highlands of eastern Burma.

Yet in a region better known for its poppy fields, opium and narco-armies, regimented rows of leafy grapevines now cover an undulating hillside bounded by lush tropical mountains.

A glass of the local sauvignon blanc, tart with a long, smooth finish, explains why Aythaya vineyard is struggling to keep up with demand—it will produce 100,000 bottles for Burma’s domestic wine market this year.

It could almost be a metaphor.

Fine Burmese wine seems almost as inconceivable as the astonishing political developments the country has experienced in the past 18 months where another transplant, democracy, is being grafted onto one of the world’s most reviled military regimes.

Whether the political and economic reforms under way are simply an attempt by Burma’s former military leaders to make themselves more palatable to the international community, or if they truly mean to relinquish power, remains to be seen.

But the reforms already embarked upon by the quasi-civilian government have given Burmese people a taste for freedom, and buoyed cautious optimism. How far the former generals will go is the question on many lips.

Daw Sann, a businesswoman in Rangoon, summed up the feeling: “We wait and wait, and now we hope.”

New cars in Rangoon are the first visible signs that something has changed in this city of six million. Old buses and battered Toyota taxis, the type abandoned in Bangkok 30 years ago, were once the only vehicles that bumped along the city’s narrow streets, where dilapidated British-colonial architecture and cracked pavement slabs bear the marks of the country’s neglect.

Billboards that once spouted the military’s call to patriotic duty have been crowded out, or replaced, by advertising for upcoming Burmese rock music concerts, household electric appliances and cosmetics.

Tattoo parlors, music shops selling compact discs, and new shopping centers keep the middle class occupied on weekends. Kids pour out of cinemas downtown showing Hollywood movies, and state television features Western movies of a decade ago, Korean sitcoms, and home-made soap operas involving idealized middle-class Burmese families living in large villas, and driving nice cars to jobs at air-conditioned offices.

Then there is the face that you see everywhere: beatific to most, or “strict,” as one Burmese friend described it. She adorns T-shirts, walls in homes and businesses, graces the front of Burmese newspapers and magazines, key rings, hats, mugs and what appeared to be a fridge magnet.

Banned until recently, the iconography of Burma’s opposition party leader Aung San Suu Kyi, or “The Lady” as she is know by locals, permeates Rangoon and beyond.

Ms. Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest until her release in November 2010, and it feels as if the city’s merchandisers are making up for every second of her enforced invisibility.

On a recent morning at Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy headquarters in Rangoon, throngs of party supporters, young and old, urban and rural, came and went. They sported Suu Kyi t-shirts, or wore pale terracotta-colored round-neck cotton tops – the hallmark of the opposition leader and her party. Adding to the jamboree of meetings and strategy planning for NLD youth activists, a stall was erected at the entrance to the weathered office where more Suu Kyi t-shirts, baseball hats, badges, DVDs, and posters were doing a brisk trade.

The plainclothes military intelligence officers who once kept close tabs on the NLD headquarters are no longer to be seen.

Inside the hectic office, a secretary smiled from behind a tall wooden counter, her merry expression not giving away the now well-known fact among local journalists that Ms. Suu Kyi is not giving interviews at the moment.

“Write a letter,” the helpful secretary said, handing over a plain sheet of white paper and a disposable pen. “Everyone must write a letter,” which may, or mostly likely not, be passed on to Ms. Suu Kyi. Sitting on the secretary’s counter was a black ledger that appeared to be stuffed with similar hand-written interview requests.

Aung San Suu Kyi was in Naypidaw, addressing Parliament, of which she is now a member – another of Burma’s momentous changes.

The Road to Naypyidaw

“Have you ever been to Naypyidaw?” asked Tin Oo, the deputy leader of the NLD, taking a slight pause in a rapid-fire speech about reforms the government still needs to make. Mr. Tin Oo was holding the NLD fort while Ms. Suu Kyi addressed parliament last month.

“They are taking too much pride in the construction, the building of Naypidaw…. Big roads, everything is huge and you can very rarely see a single man or two or three persons on the road walking and going somewhere,” said the 86-year-old deputy leader of the opposition, who wasted no time to pause for breath when speaking.

“Everything is so far away,” Mr. Tin Oo said, following up with a joke that it takes longer to travel from the airport in Naypyidaw to the parliament, than it takes to fly to the new capital from Rangoon—a flight of some 30 minutes.

Unhappy with Rangoon as the capital, the military built themselves a new one, several hours north in the interior of the country. Potemkin-like Nayypidaw was apparently chosen for its defensive capabilities by a junta paranoid of invasion from the sea. Though officially Burma’s capital, commentators never fail to point out that its eight-lane highway has more bicycles than cars. But the city’s planners were right in one respect; Naypyidaw will never be over-run, not by visitors at least.

“Yes, quite a lot of changes,” Mr. Tin Oo said, describing the current government reforms, which have seen the release of political prisoners, an end to press censorship, economic liberalization, and the promise of free and fair elections in 2015.

“They cannot stay any longer as a totalitarian government now, that is my first [answer]. They cannot go on. Everything is set on the economic condition. And those conditions were gradually deteriorating from a long time ago.”

Bankrupt for ideas, and short of money after the expense of building Naypyidaw, the military junta had to reform, Mr. Tin Oo said.

Currently, he conceded, the situation is “moving for the betterment; for the future prospects of Burma, though slowly.” The problem, however, was changing the mindset of the generals who were attempting to embrace a form of democracy and economic liberalization, which would require more than soldiers taking off their military uniforms and putting on business suits.

To help democracy in Burma, Mr. Tin Oo suggested, international aid donors might consider inviting the former military men on overseas trips to see how the free world works.

“You better invite them for some sort of workshop. The EU, or France, or Australia… They are already imbued with the ideas of the military. I just noticed that the chairman of the assembly, he was [speaking] as if giving a command to soldiers. His face was not like a politician. It was like a general’s.”

“But we must be pragmatic and go slowly, go gradually,” he added.

A short drive from the NLD headquarters, on the main road leading to the city’s Inya Lake, its leafy residential suburbs, the Yangon Sailing Club, and the golf club, graffiti has been splashed across walls—another sign that things have changed in this city. The vibrant aerosol-sprayed images and words, mostly in English, all have a message. Ubiquitous is the image of a boxy television set with wings, as if in flight, extending from which is a power cable and electric plug dangling in the air: “Plug the city, Plug the country,” the caption implores, referring, I was told, to the city’s constant power outages—an ever present reminder of the country’s poor infrastructure.

On another concrete surface, a street artist takes on Burma’s legendary corruption—the country ranked alongside Afghanistan in second-to-last place in Transparency International’s corruption index 2011—with a deft rendition of a front-loading washing machine and a dollar sign in the machine’s front-loading glass door: “Money Laundry, 4 U Right?” Alongside the image was a list of several of the country’s main banks.

Across the road, a graffiti artist has written a simple appeal in red paint on a dirty concrete wall: “Dear President Thein Sein, in your second wave, please give us more power (electricity wise)…” The remainder of the message was unreadable because of what seemed like an attempt to erase it. Another that had not been erased expressed in clear terms what should happen to those who inform for the authorities: “f–k snitches.”

All the President’s Men

When Senior General Than Shwe stepped aside in 2011, at 78 years old, in favor of President Thein Sein, his choice was a relative unknown. There was reportedly nothing in particular to distinguish Mr. Thein Sein, except for the fact that he did not have a reputation for rapacious self-interest and enrichment. Since his inauguration in March 2011, President Thein Sein has continued to burnish his reformist credentials internationally. Domestically, he receives rare praise from Burmese that have never thought much of the military.

“Thein Sein was born on Friday. Buddha was also born on Friday,” said Nanda, a 36-year-old resident of Rangoon who is self-employed and never supported the military government.

“He is not like a rich man or government official,” Nanda said, recounting a story that embodied a seemingly common sentiment about President Thein Sein.

It was last year, shortly after Thein Sein was sworn in as president, when a government vehicle entered the car park at the Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon late one evening. The car park attendant, not paying much attention, indicated to the driver to pay the parking fee. The occupants of the vehicle complied. When the passengers alighted it dawned on people nearby that it was the new president with members of his family, paying a private visit, without security personnel, to the temple.

“He visited by the Southern Gate, he came with his family and without security. He was like an ordinary man. This was a memorable time for me,” Nanda recounted recently, explaining that the rich and powerful in Burma like to demonstrate their wealth even when they visit a pagoda. It was inconceivable that the president would appear in such a humble manner, he said.

“He is the president and he paid the 100 kyat for the car park fee. Educated people love that. For this affair, I love him,” Nanda said.

Asked how President Thein Sein compared with Ms. Suu Kyi, and whether he might ever be motivated to vote for the president. Nanda gave a sideways smile. “Aung San Suu Kyi is our mother.” Expanding on his response, Nanda was a little more measured. He said that he would vote for those who give young people jobs, and can deliver on their promises to develop the country.

Hnin Wint Nyunt Hman, a research associate with the Asean Studies Center at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, wrote in a recent article that Burma’s youth vote will likely determine who wins the 2015 national election. Though the NLD swept by-elections in April, demographics and broader competition by new political parties in three years time will mean a tougher fight for Ms. Suu Kyi’s party.

“If the electoral system landscape becomes more inclusive, with varied credible choices among the opposition parties, it could have significant ramifications for the main opposition party,” Ms. Hnin Wint Nyunt Hman wrote.

“With reforms picking up speed, the decades-old over-simplified distinction between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ is fading.”

For the most part the Burma narrative has been one of good against an entrenched evil, Ms. Suu Kyi stoic in her detention and determined not to compromise with the military government. Now, the many shades of gray that make up Burmese life are coming to the fore. What is more, the government may now have more popular appeal than it has had in a long time owing to the recent violence between Burmese and Rohingya.

Savage village warfare between the Buddhist population of Rakhine State in the west of the country and the area’s sizable population of Rohingya Muslims exploded in June when a Buddhist woman was reportedly raped and murdered by Rohingya men. Retaliation came in the slaughter of 10 Muslim men on a bus – who were not ethnic Rohingyas – and then the burning, killing and looting by mobs of both Burmese Buddhists and Rohingya throughout Rakhine state.

Officially the government said some 80 people were killed in the sectarian violence, though human rights groups believe the death toll to be far higher. Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless. Western human rights organizations, and increasingly Muslim groups from around the world have accused the mainly Buddhist police and military of using the crisis to target the Rohingya, who the Burmese government considers illegal immigrants and does not recognize as a legal minority in Burma.

Initially, President Thein Sein proposed that the U.N. resettle the Rohingya in third countries. No one was quite sure if he was referring to the country’s entire population of some 800,000 Rohingya. Bangladesh, from where most Burmese will tell you the Rohingya illegally migrated and where they rightfully belong, has made it clear that it doesn’t want the refugees either.

It is a rare voice among Burmese Buddhists that expresses much sympathy for the Rohingya. Antipathy toward the Rohingya, or “Bengalis” as they are more commonly called, is so virulent in Rangoon at least that even those who had despised the repressive military have a new found respect for their strong-armed approach in Rakhine.

“People don’t like the military. But we support them on this issue. The national issue,” said Nyunt Win, a journalist in Rangoon. Mr. Win had a relatively more progressive view on the matter than several others spoken to, who believed they should be forced back across the border to Bangladesh. Mr. Win’s solution entailed the systematic “assimilation” of the Rohingya into Burmese culture, and a complete closure of the border to prevent any more from entering Burmese territory. Without a long-term solution, Mr. Win warned, there could be a far more serious conflict.

“I don’t want there to be an Israel-Palestine conflict” in my country, he said.

Aung Nay Myo, 22, a university student, explained that foreigners could not understand the Rohingya problem, and were unfairly judging the Burmese. As he explained, the Rohingya are Bengalis who were only ever laborers brought in to work the land in Rakhine. He had to search for the right word in English to express himself. He finally found it: “Like a slave. Very cheap to [do] work.”

In mid-August dozens of demonstrators gathered in Rangoon holding banners and calling for the U.N. to stop discriminating against the Buddhists of Rakhine state, claiming the world body was soft on the Rohingya. Already dozens of groups and political parties had called for the sacking of the U.N.’s envoy on human rights, Tomas Ojea Quintana, claiming he was openly biased toward the Rohingya in his investigation of the violence in June. The protestors in Rangoon that day, who were given rare official permission to protest publicly, carried banners expressing clearly how they see their Muslim neighbors in Rakhine state: “Don’t Bring Terrorists to Our Land,” read one banner, according to Agence-France Presse.

Ms. Suu Kyi’s failure to adopt a clear position on the violence in Rakhine state has led to rare criticism of her internationally. The Independent newspaper recently clipped at angelic wings when they called Ms. Suu Kyi’s silence on the Rohingya her “blind spot.”

“Throughout her two decades in jail and under house arrest, Ms Suu Kyi earned herself worldwide adoration for her refusal to bend to Burma’s military junta and her steadfast criticism of all human rights abuses inside her country. But “The Lady” has remained uncharacteristically silent on the persecution of Burma’s Rohingya, knowing that speaking out would risk alienating many of her political allies who are vehemently opposed to them,” the Independent wrote.

As the democracy icon becomes a politician, expediency would seem to demand that Ms. Suu Kyi steer a cautious and quite path around the issue of the deeply unpopular Rohingya.

Evan Osnos in The New Yorker pointed out that Ms. Suu Kyi was warned of what lay ahead by no less a political veteran that Hillary Clinton during their meeting in Rangoon in December.

“…[A]ccording to an Administration official, Suu Kyi told Clinton, ‘I don’t want to be an icon, I want to be a politician,’ and Clinton replied, ‘Get ready to get attacked,’” Mr. Osnos wrote. “As a gift to Suu Kyi, Clinton brought books on Eisenhower and George Marshall, to help her understand the mind-set of soldiers who go into politics.”

On the morning that Ms. Suu Kyi met Mr. Quintana at her residence in Rangoon on August 2, Burmese Buddhists were celebrating a major festival and roads around the city were congested with people traveling to pagodas. More than a dozen local journalists and photographers waited outside Ms. Suu Kyi’s lakeside villa where she had been detained for all those years. Once the house was impossible to approach, but now cars pulled up and families, both Burmese and foreign, jumped out to have group photographs taken in front of Ms. Suu Kyi’s razor-wired topped gate.

Flags of the NLD and a picture of her father, Aung San, formed the backdrop of their souvenir photos. Mr. Quintana’s mission was focused on the communal violence. Journalists had been expecting Ms. Suu Kyi to break her silence on the issue. They may have expected Ms. Suu Kyi to denounce the violence in measured tones, and take the moral ground suitable for a Noble Peace Prize winner.

But, as Mr. Quintana’s SUV, police outriders and attendant vehicles departed, the large metal gate was slowly rolled shut, giving only the briefest sighting of Ms. Suu Kyi’s assistants and NLD officials inside. Whatever transpired in the meeting was kept firmly inside the walls of her compound that morning.

“There are big human rights, and small human rights, which are important too,” said Thant Aye, a Muslim business owner in Rangoon. He is Burmese, not Rohingya, he explained, careful to emphasize the difference. He was critical of the systematic discrimination by most Burmese against the Rohingya, but he didn’t direct any of his blame at Ms. Suu Kyi. There is a bigger political game at play, he said, and one that the military needs to win.

“If there is [a crisis] the military government comes and they are stronger,” Mr. Thant Aye said, explaining that the military has found public support in its harsh treatment of the Rohingya. And as national elections loom in 2015, having a popular crisis to deal with helps the government’s popularity.

“Aung San Suu Kyi, she cannot speak about this. She is not the government. How can she speak? She has no power,” he added.

“You think things have changed?” Mr. Thant Aye said finally. It was a rhetorical question.

Kicking the Habit

Old habits will die hard in Burma. Young police officers armed with old but well-oiled and shined automatic rifles are still posted behind decaying sandbag bunkers at embassies, hotels and important buildings of the security apparatus in Rangoon. Red and white painted wooden frames wrapped with rusting barbed wire sit at road intersections, ready to be pulled in place to form makeshift roadblocks.

Jaywalking pedestrians were being targeted at one busy intersection near the Shwedagon pagoda on a recent morning. A dozen or so people caught in the act of crossing the road at random were lounging in the back of an old, drab green military truck where burly men in civilian dress wearing red arm bands had marched them. When the truck was full, they were driven off to a local police station where they were relieved of some precious kyat in the form of fines.

Growing traffic congestion, the side effect of the new economic liberalization as the government reduces dizzying import taxes on vehicles is one of the more immediate issues for Rangoon’s municipal authorities.

Motorcycles are already banned in central Rangoon and it is not hard to imagine how bad traffic could get if the population gets the right to ride the vehicle of their choice at a cost not super-inflated by the authorities.

Much like the realm of politics, the dilapidated and neglected British colonial-era buildings of downtown Rangoon are getting a makeover, with blocky scaffolding and netting erected around some of the finer examples of period architecture. Left for so long to crumble and mildew in the tropical heat, Rangoon’s authorities have finally woken up to the tourism potential of the city. Government offices and ministries too—noticeably the ministry of industry—are starting to receive a new coat of paint to accompany their new “open for business” policies.

The lobby of Traders Hotel, long a meeting point in the city, hums each day with diplomats, U.N. staff, tourists, and the many sharp-suited businesspeople on reconnaissance in Rangoon.

Rich in natural resources and with a population of 60 million people, one third of whom are youths, Burma’s potential for generating fortunes for investors has been described by one international investor as “staggering.” But it is hard to share the same frisson of financial analysts right now in an economy where the most basic services are scant at best. Credit cards are all but impossible to use in Burma meaning that visitors bring large amounts of U.S. dollars with them on their travels.

Power cuts are common. Large diesel generators bark noisily on pavements beside buildings so they can work through the gray-outs. Communications, mobile phones and the internet are much more affordable than before, but the prices are still unrecognizably costly to residents of any of Burma’s neighbors. A few years ago a single mobile phone SIM card cost $2,500. That fee is now cheaper, but still costs a hefty $250.

The Asian Development Bank in its recent report, “Myanmar in Transition – Opportunities and Challenges,” gave an upbeat but sober assessment of the current situation.

Consider these two figures from the ADB report: “Myanmar is the only developing Asian country with a defense budget that is greater than the education and health budgets combined. The government has substantially increased spending on the social sectors, but education and health spending may still account for less than 2.0% of GDP based on its FY2012/13 budget.”

And according to the ADB, “In the 1960s, Myanmar was one of Asia’s leading economies. Its per capita income in 1960 was about $670-more than three times that of Indonesia, more than twice that of Thailand, and slightly lower than that of the Philippines. However, the International Monetary Fund estimates that in 2010, Myanmar had Southeast Asia’s lowest per capita GDP in purchasing power parity despite relatively good growth during 2000-2010.”

And for all the breathless talk about Asia’s next tiger economy, this is what the ADB has to say about basic infrastructure.

“Areas such as transport, access to electricity, and telecommunication merit particular attention. The national transport networks, including road, railway, and inland waterways, are outdated and remain insufficient to support growing economic activity. Only about 26% of Myanmar’s population had access to electricity in 2011 and even they faced frequent power outages,” the report states, though it does mention that off-grid power sources were available to people also.

“Similarly, teledensity [both fixed and mobile] and internet access are among the lowest in the region: for every 100 people in Myanmar, only 1.26 have access to fixed telephone lines and 0.03 have broadband internet subscription,” the ADB said.

Taking in the surroundings from the 20th floor of the Sakura Tower, a Rangoon landmark, on the corner of Aung San and Sule Pagoda Road, not too far from where soldiers shot protestors during the Saffron Revolution in 2007, the changes in Burma are written across the skyline. To the west and south the Yangon River forms a natural border with green paddy fields beyond. In the east, the flat expanses of agricultural land can be seen in the early morning haze beyond the city’s limits. To the north the hilltop Shwedagon pagoda and the trees and green belt of the Kandawgyi lake and the city’s colonial-era zoo give the city a garden-like quality.

New to the skyline on the city suburbs, are the steel and concrete skeletons of condominium blocks and hotels rising up from the surrounding low-rise buildings. There is evidence of some investment and the growing confidence in the changes coming to the country.

Burma’s tourism sector, though miniscule compared to neighboring Thailand and small compared to burgeoning tourist markets in Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, is feeling early on the effects of the country’s new freedoms.

There are not enough hotels, particularly in Rangoon, to keep pace with the new demand to see Burma in its new light. Even in the rainy, low season months of July and August, many hotels in the city were filled to capacity. Demand with unsatisfied supply has also led to steep price hikes for rooms, particularly among the larger hotels.

Some hotels increased their room rates by 300 percent in a year, said Cho Cho, an independent tour agent based in Rangoon.

“Room rates are incredibly high,” Ms. Cho said, blaming the situation on simple price gouging by the bigger hotels that had doubled and tripled room prices because guests had no other choices. Making a quick profit should not be the distinguishing feature of a nascent tourism industry just getting off the ground when comparable hotels in Bangkok only charge 50 percent of what is being charged today in Rangoon.

“Tourism is booming…. But they should think of the ethic of business. Even though tourism is high, they should think about the visitor. If the rooms raters are that high, they will choose another destination,” she said.

“I do not agree to squeeze the guests for money. I would be more happy with people visiting and introducing our culture to tourists,” she said.

Anger over the skyrocketing cost of rooms became so intense that a group of local travel agents sent a letter to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism calling for an end to price gouging. Rangoon’s foreign-owned hotels—who were fingered as the main culprits—were ordered by the ministry to impose a $150 limit on the cost of standard rooms. Then just as the hotel price issue was cooling down, the country’s domestic airlines announced more price increases for foreigners for the forthcoming high season, which starts in October.

Local newspapers reported that the increases will make flights 30 percent more expensive than a year ago. Possibly to sate the anger of tour agents, the airlines also announced a 5 percent drop in the cost of fares for Burmese nationals. According to the reports, a one-way flight from Rangoon to Mandalay will now cost in the region of $130 dollars, up from around $80 last year.

A Sense of Humor

On a sunny Sunday afternoon at an art gallery in Rangoon, Aw Pi Kyeh moved easily among the crowd of enthusiastic visitors. Many were there to see a retrospective on a late cartoonist’s work, but just as many of the crowd of young, old and families had turned up to see Mr. Aw Pi Kyeh, it seemed; he is a living legend in Burma. It is a reputation earned from his quiet 30-year struggle to sketch cartoons that shone a harsh, if comical, light on the military regime. Banned, barred and threatened, but never deterred from his art (more than 300 of his cartoons were censored), Mr. Aw Pi Kyeh said it was too early to be too optimistic about Burma’s potential future.

“Before, two or three years ago, there was no future. Now I think we have a future. Good future or the same future, I don’t know. But, I think, not too bad,” he said, telling of how his cartoons were once considered so sensitive that the military censors had special procedures when dealing with his work.

Unable to be overtly political, the cartoons carried hidden meanings that the military often missed, but the public understood clearly. Because of the hidden meanings in his cartoons, the military censors had to consult with their superiors.

“They have their step-by-step censorship. But lower level censorship staff they never read [my cartoons] if they saw my signature…. This is for a higher level. If they saw my signature they circled in red, and it would go up—an upper level thing.”

Possibly more sensitive to most to the changes taking place in Burma, Mr. Aw Pi Kyeh expressed an opinion, or a question, that many people subscribe to: how far will the government go with the promised reforms? Vested interests in business and politics, and the potential for greater wealth as the country opens leave Mr. Aw Pi Kyeh skeptical for now.

“Some of the army side, some of the tough liners can get power back,” he said. “They don’t want to give up their properties. It is one of the problems. If there is a democracy…I think they don’t like that because they got those properties free [and] now it stops, they don’t like…. I believe their desire [for wealth] will not stop.”

But, Mr. Aw Pi Kyeh points out that he is not a politician, and whatever the future holds for the country, whether the military goes back on its promises or the opposition fails to live up to theirs, he will continue to capture life in his cartoons.

“I am not an expert in politics. I am not an expert in anything. My only way is to be transparent, to be honest. And I will draw. I want to draw only cartoons.”

Thiha Saw, editor-in-chief of the popular Open News Weekly, said that people have been so pessimistic for so long that they are still suspicious of the reforms: “Is this real or what?”

People need more “tangible things than feelings,” Mr. Thiha Saw said, adding they need to see and experience change before believing in it. The country has not yet reached the “point of no return,” where the momentum behind reform is irreversible. After 18 or so months of reform, reforms are still in their infancy, and there is a long way to go, he said.

“How can you correct everything that has been wrong for 50 years?” Mr. Thiha Saw asked.

There will be no quick fix in Burma, where, amid the drum banging of international financial analysts to ‘invest now,’ there is still the silent cry of a desperately poor country whose physical and social infrastructure bears deep scars.

If a vineyard can flourish in the soil of Shan State, then democracy can certainly grow in Burma’s fertile society. But, like good wine, it will take time to mature.

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