The Politics of Humanitarian Aid
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After Cyclone Nargis ripped through Myanmar’s Irrawaddy delta area, the Bush administration was wringing its hands over the Myanmar ruling junta’s delay in approving international aid, which is interesting, considering how the Bushies responded to offers of international aid after Hurricane Katrina.
Commentary By: Walter Brasch
President Bush was justifiably upset. A cyclone four days earlier had destroyed a large portion of Myanmar, and the country’s military junta was still refusing humanitarian aid. “Let the United States come to help you, help the people,” Bush pleaded with the junta. “We’re prepared to move U.S. Navy assets to help find those who’ve lost their lives, to help find the missing, to help stabilize the situation,” said the President, “but in order to do so, the military junta must allow our disaster assessment teams into the country.”
With more than 20,000 dead, possibly 40,000 missing, and close to one million homeless, the junta made it clear that it, not the international community, would provide whatever humanitarian aid was necessary.
A week before the cyclone hit, President Bush extended sanctions against Myanmar by another year because of what he called that junta’s “large-scale repression of the democratic opposition.” Paranoid about anything that could threaten its power, the junta was frightened that the United States would use the cyclone as a reason to invade the country.
The junta’s response the first week of May was little different than the international concern almost three years earlier. It wasn’t the destruction of villages and the rice farming industry, but the destruction of cities and the shrimp industry. It wasn’t a cyclone named Nargis, but a hurricane named Katrina.