Any objective examination of the 2004 tragedy, however, reveals a very different picture.
Thehuge tsunami waves engulfed impoverished villages around the Bay of Bengal onDecember 26. For days, as the death toll quickly mounted into the tens of thousands, USPresident Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other world leaders failed to makeany statement on the disaster. When they finally broke their vacations, their collectivecontempt for the fate of the victims was revealed in their perfunctory comments andpathetic offers of aid. It was only after an outpouring of sympathy and donations fromworking people around the world, aghast at the enormity of the disaster, that the US andmajor powers began to act.
In the worst affected countries, emergency relief efforts were hamstrung by red tape andpolitical agendas, of both the local regimes and the donor countries. The Indonesian and SriLankan governments had been waging brutal long-running wars against separatist movementsand were extremely reluctant to allow aid organizations, let alone foreign militaries, into thedisaster zones. Far from helping the victims, the Indonesian military seized the opportunity tointensify its operations against Achnese rebels. In Sri Lanka, attempts to establish a joint aidbody with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) under the auspices of the 2002 ceasefirecollapsed, amid bitter communal recriminations over any official recognition of the separatists.The Indian government insisted that it would control its own relief operations and dismissed anysuggestion that foreign militaries should be involved. The Indian military was particularlysensitive to the presence of international aid workers in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands,which were among the worst hit areas, because of the presence of strategic navy and air forcebases there. More than three years later, thousands of tsunami victims on the islands, as wellas in other parts of India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, are still living in squalid conditions intemporary accommodation.No one in ruling circles in the US or Europe suggested at the time that a military operationshould be mounted to override Indian sovereignty or to make unilateral air drops over theAndaman and Nicobar Islands. In the case of Sri Lanka and Indonesia, the governmentseventually permitted the US military to assist in aid operations on their territories. In both cases,Washington’s overriding purpose was
political—to forge closer working relations with themilitaries of the two countries as well as to set a precedent, which is now being invokedto exert pressure on the Burmese junta.
US Secretary of State Rice bluntly told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January2005 that the tsunami constituted “a wonderful opportunity to show not just the US government,but the heart of the American people... And I think it has paid great dividends for us.” Rice nowdeclares that US aid offers to Burma are “not a matter of politics”, but the Bush administration isintent on transforming this latest disaster into a new political “opportunity” to advance itsstrategic and economic interests in the region.
The decision of the Burmese junta to selectively accept aid from sympathetic countries such asChina, India and Thailand, and not the US, is hardly surprising. The Bush administration hasmade little secret of the fact that it favours “regime change” in Burma—the removal of themilitary regime and its replacement by a government, headed by opposition leader Aung SanSuu Kyi, more amenable to Washington’s interests and to opening up the country to foreigninvestors.