Burma: A Pariah No More

Well, this is a big deal:  The USA is restoring full diplomatic relations with Burma. The move comes after several months of very rapid reforms and liberalization within the country. The final straw it seemed, was the release of over 650 political prisoners. President Obama immediately released the statement (below) and Hillary Clinton announced that the USA was going to re-open its embassy.

The USA broke off diplomatic ties with Burma in 1990 after the military Junta jailed Aung San Suu Kyi following her party’s victory in national elections.  Burma’s been in the international dog house ever since.

So how did we get to this point today? One big turning point was the November 2010 elections.  At the time, the elections looked like a total sham. They were neither free, nor fair and they appeared to simply re-brand the military Junta as a regular political party.

In retrospect it turns out that the election set into motion a series of events that have lead to a brighter future for Burma.  Though the elections were sloppy, reformers were empowered. The international community –particularly the USA– seemed to play its hands right.  High level engagement the past two months seems to have given the push that was needed.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who in the space of a year went from being under house arrest to running for parliament, will probably be the next head of State of Burma.

This is progress!

From the White House:

President Thein Sein’s decision to release hundreds of prisoners of conscience is a substantial step forward for democratic reform.  Two months ago, I spoke with Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein about how America’s engagement can help empower democratic reform, and improve relations between our countries.  Shortly afterwards, Hillary Clinton became the first Secretary of State to travel to Burma in over half a century.  In her meetings in Nay Pyi Taw and Rangoon, she discussed with President Thein Sein and other leaders the steps that would advance a new beginning between our countries.  A key part of that discussion was the need to unconditionally release  prisoners of conscience and allow them to participate fully in public and political life.

Since that visit, there have been a number of positive developments, including the announcement of elections to be held on April 1, and the decision to allow Aung San Suu Kyi and her party to participate.  There has also been an important ceasefire agreement reached with the Karen National Union, which the United States welcomes.  Today, I applaud President Thein Seins’s decision to release hundreds of prisoners of conscience, which is a crucial step in Burma’s democratic transformation and national reconciliation process. I’m pleased that Aung San Suu  Kyi has welcomed this step as she continues to pursue a dialogue with the government.  I urge the government to ensure that these and all other former political prisoners are allowed to participate fully and freely in the political process, particularly the upcoming by-elections, and to free all remaining prisoners of conscience.

In Indonesia, I spoke about the flickers of progress that were emerging in Burma. Today, that light burns a bit brighter, as prisoners are reunited with their families and people can see a democratic path forward. Much more remains to be done to meet the aspirations of the Burmese people, but the United States is committed to continuing our engagement with the government in Nay Pyi Taw. I have directed Secretary Clinton and my Administration to take additional steps to build confidence with the government and people of Burma so that we seize this historic and hopeful opportunity. We will continue to support universal rights, and engage the government as it takes the additional steps necessary to advance freedom for prisoners of conscience, democratic governance, and national reconciliation.