One of a very small number of old-school military dictatorships left in Asia, Burma—renamed Myanmar in 1989 by the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council—remains a pariah state that practices forced labor, massive censorship, and a corrupt and criminally irresponsible economic policy. In other words, Burma resembles most developing countries, except for the fact that its generals don't play ball with multinational corporations or, by extension, most nation-states. The famous democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, currently under house arrest in Yangoon [sic], long ago asked foreigners not to visit the country, and many potential western tourists, especially from English-speaking countries, continue to honor her request.
In Pagan, where over 5000 people were forced to pack their belongings and move to an undeveloped area, many were given just 10 hours’ notice and little compensation for the destruction of their homes. [...]
In February 2004, Burmese soldiers rounded up ethnic Salons, or ‘sea gypsies’ who normally live on boats in the Mergui Archipelago, forced them to live on land and take part in a ‘Salon Festival’ aimed at foreign tourists. The Salons were forced to perform traditional dances for the tourists. [...]
Throughout Burma men, women, children and the elderly have been forced to labour on roads, railways and tourism projects, under the harshest conditions.
But many Burmese who hunger for democracy disagree with Suu Kyi on this point, arguing that foreign visitors provide a flow of desperately-needed dollars to ordinary Burmese and also make violent mass repression less likely—at least in the parts of the country that tourists and their cameras are allowed to visit. With Alan's encouragement, J and I decided to take the plunge, though the news that forced labor helped refurbish some key tourist destinations, like the Mandalay Fort, hardly quelled my anxiety.
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