The video contains 10 minutes from an English language documentary about the Myanmar government's oppression against minority cultural and religious groups. The video includes a discussion of the persecution of Christian churches in Myanmar (Burma) and provides background information about the military junta in control of the country.
The best solution for cyclone relief, if possible, would be for the relief to be distributed by the Burmese people themselves with as little visible outside influence as possible. Given the magnitude of the disaster, that is probably not possible. The government's tolerance of the resulting deaths and suffering, and the likelihood of increasing devastation due to resulting spread of disease, will be understood in the context of the nationalism and cultural oppression already present in the country before the disaster, as shown in the video.
The government views certain forms of Buddhism as unifying and supporting of nationalism. It oppresses other forms of Buddhism and non-Buddhist religions along with other cultural minorities to a point that the documentary discusses whether it should be called "genocide." The oppression increased in the 1990's, particularly after a failed peaceful uprising in 1998.
According to CNN, the U.N. is now furious that cyclone relief supplies were seized for lack of a permit. I do not know whether other organizations have been able to get relief supplies into the country or not. I would suppose that some small channels exist, such that supplies could be carried into Thailand awaiting local people who can carry them across the boarder for relief agencies that already have government approval. Or simply given to ordinary Burmese citizens among exile groups in Thailand. The exiles have contacts in Burma who could carry some amount of food back across the boarder for themselves and others . . . . although the likelihood now is that anyone who can get out of the disaster area is not likely to want to go back into it unless they are willing to risk their own lives for charitable purposes.
More Information on Cultural and Religious Oppression in Myanmar
Carey Suante's website has a Brief History of Christianity in Burma written by Rev. Khup Za Go, M.A., M.Th., written in 1993 while doing theological study in Bangalore. According to Rev. Khup Za Go, Portuguese Catholic missionaries brought the Catholic faith to Burma in the 16th century. They were known for their charitable works, including schools and hospitals. Protestant missionaries also evangelized the country. As Burma was under British control until the mid-20th century, Anglican churches still exist, including an Anglican cathedral.
Foreign missionaries to Burma were forced to leave the country from 1965 to 1966 as their permits were not renewed. Go states:
"As a result 234 Catholic priests and nuns, 56 American Baptist, 29 Anglicans, 18 American Methodists, 15 British Methodists, 8 Salvation Army and 7 A.G. workers were expelled from the country. Christian literatures, journals and magazines could not be printed without being officially censored. Supply of printing papers were controlled by the government, permits was required to buy papers for books and magazines."
Christian schools and hospitals were nationalized out of a concern that they did not promote nationalism. Christian literature cannot be printed there without government censorship, and a permit is required to obtain paper for printing books and journals.
However, the Christians who were then 2% of the population grew to 5%. As explained by Go:
"The hand of Providence can be clearly seen as the Burmese Christians were emancipated from the strangle of the missionaries and could embark on its own programme of propagating and identifying with the people. This incident greatly changed the notion of Christianity in Burma."
The difficulty with obtaining Christian literature is something I have learned elsewhere, when I met a visitor from Burma some years ago. He was a simple lay person who carried books back with him for use at a seminary.
The U.S. State Department's information about Myanmar includes sections on the country's religious demography and religious freedom that are informative, including this:
"The Government has allowed a few elderly Catholic priests and nuns who worked in the country prior to independence to continue their work. At times religious groups, including Catholics, Protestants, and other Christians, have brought in foreign clergy and religious workers as tourists, but they have been careful to ensure that their activities have not been perceived by the Government as proselytizing. Some Christian theological seminaries established before 1962 also continued to operate; however, in 2000 military authorities closed a Bible school that had been operating in Tamu Township in Sagaing Division since 1976."
About 89% of the population is said to be Buddhist, 4% Christian, and 4% Muslim, according to the Myanmar government. However, as the State Department website says, the percentage of non-Buddhist religious groups is almost certainly underestimated.
Last year's protests by Burmese Buddhist monks seeking democratic freedom underscore that the government's oppression also affects Buddhists. The government supports and controls certain forms of Buddhism, oppressing others. The State Department website explains:
"The Government continued to show its preference for Theravada Buddhism and to control the organization and restrict the activities and expression of the monkhood ("sangha"), although some monks have resisted such control. Beginning in late 1990, the Government banned any organization of Buddhist monks other than the nine state-recognized monastic orders. These nine orders submit to the authority of a state-sponsored State Monk Coordination Committee ("Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee," or SMNC), which is elected indirectly by monks. The junta also authorized military commanders to try Buddhist monks before military tribunals for "activities inconsistent with and detrimental to Buddhism," and it imposed on Buddhist monks a code of conduct. Infractions of the code are punished by immediate, public defrocking, and often criminal penalties. In November 2001, two nuns at Thayet were arrested and sentenced to 7 years in prison for violating this code.
"In January 2003, three nuns were arrested under the 1950 Emergency Provision Act for demonstrating in Rangoon for lower prices on basic commodities, progress in political dialogue, and the release of political prisoners. They were defrocked and sentenced to at least 7 years in prison."
The pro-freedom protests by Burmese Buddhist monks last year are discussed in a September 2007 article from the New York Times (one of many news reports about the protests). 10,000 monks demonstrated in Rangoon in support of detained pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.