The worldwide wave of democracy swept over Myanmar last month, leaving a testament to the human spirit. The people of Myanmar, formerly Burma, wanted to vote, and they did, against all odds. Myanmar's military government did everything imaginable to rig the election. Opposition leaders were jailed. Gatherings of more than four people were outlawed. Campaign speeches were censored. The military launched a downtown "beautification" project in Yangon, formerly Rangoon, not to spruce things up but to widen the sidewalks so police would have quick access to demonstrators. The military bulldozed houses, forcing the people to move to the countryside where voting would be more difficult.
Given that prelude, the Myanmar election should have been a sham. But the people raised their fists and voted out the military regime that had turned Myanmar into one of the poorest nations in the world. What was once the "world's rice bowl" has become the world's heroin pit.
The military says it will honor the results of the election and turn the reins over to the newly elected National League for Democracy. But the brave people of Myanmar will have to hang on for a while longer. The military says it will not relinquish power until a new constitution is drafted, and that could take up to two years.
On the eve of the election, our associate Jim Lynch traveled to the tense Myanmar-Thailand border and spoke to a leader of the democratic resistance, Ate Saung. Like many of the rebels camped on the border, Saung was sweating out a bout of malaria.
He had no notion of how the election would turn out and no hope of a peaceful settlement with the military no matter what the outcome. Saung said the resistance lost its best chance to topple the military by force when the government was running out of money and bullets last year. But the Thai government and business people intervened.
Thailand has logged its own forests to death, and in late 1988 negotiated the rights to cut Myanmar's lucrative teak forests. Teak sales to Thailand last year were what refueled the Myanmar military. Reportedly, Chinese, Indian and Japanese logging interests are also scalping Myanmar's lush hills.
Part of the package with Thailand was to deal in human flesh -- the return of Burmese refugees hiding out in Thailand in trade for more logging rights. Arms for hostages shocked the United States, but logs for refugees did not faze most of the Thai people.
Now, the fighting in Myanmar goes something like this: The military marches brazenly into a resistance camp. There is a brief skirmish before the rebels run out of bullets. "We fight, and we run away," Saung said.
Is there any outside help for the resistance? Congress talks of boycotting products from Myanmar, but it is just talk. Some U.S. firms are buying oil rights in Myanmar and others peddle their wares there.
Saung sent a message back to Congress and the White House: "They should recognize that this military regime is really repressive. The people are justified to get rid of it. They should stand beside the people of Burma."