A FOLLOW-UP LETTER TO DAW AUNG SAN SUU KYI, ON HER RELEASE FROM HOUSE ARREST
Would anyone who is in a position to give this to Daw Suu Kyi, please do so.
7 July 2002
Dear Daw Suu Kyi,
My name is Roland Watson and I am an author and photographer and also the founder of a group called Dictator Watch (www.dictatorwatch.org). I have been involved in Burmese democracy activism since my first trip to the country in 1994. I have written a series of articles about your dialogue with the SPDC, and also in-depth analyses of the entire democracy struggle. Many people, particularly from the ethnic groups, have told me that they agree with my ideas. Of course, others likely disagree, but they have been too polite to say so. I have tried to have the articles conveyed to you, but do not know if this has been successful.
I should add, as background, that in my former pre-activist existence I was an international banker. I used to advise top corporate executives on the acquisition and sale of companies. I have strong advisory skills, and I know how to close a deal. For Burma to move forward, the deal the defeat of the dictatorship must be closed.
For years you have been subject to an information asymmetry. While people no doubt have been bringing you news, as you yourself have commented there is no substitute for experience. One of the effects of your house arrest was the limiting of your experience, and hence of your direct knowledge of the overall situation: in the towns and river valleys of Burma, in the hills, and next door in Thailand and farther away in Europe and the US.
Right now you are acknowledged as the leader of the entire Burmese democracy movement, not only of the NLD. But this is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, you are a strong leader, and movements for change regularly require such leadership. On the other hand, no one person can do everything, but people have been looking to you as if you can. You are even viewed by many as the savior of Burma. (I hope you do not hold this view yourself.) One consequence of this is that people wait for you to act, instead of taking responsibility, and action, themselves.
In addition, and as you know only too well, a unifying symbol can be counterproductive if that symbol is taken away.
During the secret phase of the dialogue, the democracy movement was basically put on hold: both inside and outside the country. In particular, characteristic diplomatic inertia took over and many important initiatives in the US and Europe failed. Foreign activists heard again and again from government officials, in response to their call for new and stronger sanctions, that nothing should be done since the dialogue was underway. The view was that it would be a mistake to rock the boat.
Such attitudes reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of history, and if they persevere nothing in Burma will ever change. Dialogue alone will not cause a murderous military dictatorship to yield power. Instead, pressure must be added, from one source after another, faster and faster until the dictatorship breaks. To relax on one front when making ground on another is the opposite of what a successful strategy demands.
An alternative is to follow the good cop/bad cop approach. You would be the good cop, talking to the SPDC, while the ethnic groups in the hills and foreign activists keep up the pressure. The dictatorship must either be defeated, or forced to sue for peace. But for this approach to work, you must convey the message that although you are engaged in dialogue, this does not mean that others should suspend their efforts. Instead, you should encourage all such efforts.
One view on strategy is to think from the ground-up, to organize every group involved in the struggle, starting with the people of Burma, and encourage them to do everything they can to pressure the SPDC. Every little bit helps. Another view, though, is to start with the endgame, to review the distinct processes by which the generals can actually be forced from power. History demonstrates that barring conquest from the outside dictators are either defeated by actions within their own military, such as coups, or via popular uprisings. For the former, if the trend of ethnic army victories continues, as through the newly established Military Alliance, this could encourage mid-level Tatmadaw officers to act. For the latter, there are the recent examples of Serbia and Venezuela.
In Serbia, a call for a mass uprising, lead by the student group Otpur, coupled with a plea to the Serb military not to attack strikers and marchers, forced out Milosevic. And in Venezuela, after Hugo Chavez turned autocratic, the same pattern was followed. Labor and the media organized a popular uprising, again coupled with a call to the military not to strike back. (As Chavez was democratically elected, this was branded a coup, and he remains in power. The Venezuelan situation is still developing he will either become more democratic or be forced out.)
Many people have told me that there will never be a popular uprising in Burma, because the people are too afraid. Never is a very long time. I recently met a woman from Ayerwaddy Division who said that the people there are talking a lot about the SPDC and that they are very angry. They are starving: they only have food every two or three days. Hunger can overcome fear. If this is widespread, the prerequisite for an uprising is in place. All it needs is to be organized.
It is essential to note that an additional, critical, timing opportunity now exists. While the SPDC continues to rape and slaughter in the hills, their ability to do so in the cities, at least without incurring the wrath of the international community, has ended. Were such an uprising to take place, a repeat of the 1988 massacre is highly unlikely. Of course, I cannot tell the people of Burma to rise up, and neither in fact should you. However, a suggestion is different from a demand. Everyone must make their own decision, that the risks are now worthwhile to bear.
You are the leader of the NLD, and NLD activities are important. But you are also, for better or worse, the leader of the entire democracy movement. Even though so much has already gone before, now is the time to fulfill this role.
I would suggest that, overtly or covertly, you do the following:
- Ask all the nations of the world to heed the call from the International Labor Organization for new sanctions. Ask the EU to enact investment sanctions and the US both import and retroactive investment sanctions.
- Ask the oil companies to suspend operations until democracy is established.
- Ask Special Envoy Razali, Prime Minister Thaksin, and other regional leaders to end their business dealings with the SPDC.
- Ask the United Nations to suspend Burmas membership until the democratically-elected government assumes power.
- Ask Russia not to provide nuclear technology.
- As a sign of respect for the Karenni, ask Japan not to give new aid for the dam site in their state.
- Encourage Thailand to aggressively confront the drug problem.
Pressure must be heaped on the SPDC until the Big Three break: until Than Shwe, Maung Aye and Khin Nyunt take exile in China. We will all work to achieve this goal. But, as part of this effort, the people of Burma must throw off their defeatism and their irrational hope. Perhaps more than anywhere else, it is here that you can have the greatest impact.