2010 - %3, November

Burma's Checklist for a Bogus Election

| Fri Nov. 5, 2010 3:50 PM EDT

On Sunday, Burma's ironically named military dictatorship, the State Peace and Development Council, is holding the country's first elections in 20 years. Pretty much every Western government, including ours, has written them off as a sham; from the moment they were scheduled, it was clear the race was fixed. Here's an update, along with some new bad news, about how thoroughly a junta can shit on the democratic process.

  • Shut down the Internet. Slowdowns and interruptions have been reported all week. Now The Irrawaddy, the most prominent exile site and best place for getting inside info from the notoriously cloistered country, has been cyberattacked to death—again.
  • Don't let reporters in. So info can't get out via outsiders, either.
  • Form a political party loaded with military men who've stepped down so they can run as civilians. Even though you've also already set aside 25 percent of legislative seats for active military men. 
  • Hold mandatory village meetings where your political party shows people the correct way to vote (for them). Yeah, that really happened.


Those are some of the reasons a lot of people in Burma just won't vote. At this point, it appears the best-case scenario is that the same bad men who rain human rights abuses all over their country will remain in power. But that's still better than the worst-case scenario: Some worry that Burma's government will use the new shroud of democracy to intensify its evil campaigns. The real question right now is whether those grim prospects will lead to massive protests this weekend, like 2007's Saffron Revolution

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Tomas Puts Haiti on Red Alert

| Tue Nov. 2, 2010 5:06 PM EDT

Today, Haiti officially went on red alert—not for the cholera outbreak apparently imported by Haiti's UN peacekeeping force, MINUSTAH—which a lot of Haitians already don't love—but because of tropical storm Tomas. 

The late-season storm is projected to intensify into a hurricane and make landfall on Friday, with winds and rains beginning today, and authorities are warning people that they may have to evacuate. They are not, however, telling them where they all might evacuate to, since a million people already live under little more than plastic sheets after January's devastating earthquake. 

A series of hurricanes in pre-quake 2008 Haiti killed 800 people. This weekend, Tomas killed at least 14 people in fully functioning St. Lucia. Read how many people in Port-au-Prince died when it rained for 10 minutes when I was there in September. Aid groups and the UN are scrambling for extra supplies like rope and tarp, but there's little they can do for the ultravulnerable in the camps. 

One of my new Haitian friends made fun of me when I texted him yesterday expressing concern for his well-being, texting back that he'd be fine: he'd gotten an extra case of vodka. He lives in a house in the mountains like the rest of the wealthy, but is well aware of the conditions in the displacement camps. And every light shower knocked out the power at even my fancy hotel during my two weeks. Still, my friend said, "Come on, you guys need to lighten up"—"you guys" being Americans and/or the media, I guess. I do hope he's right that we're getting all worked up over nothing. But I have my grave doubts.