September 21, 2006 –
Today I am just going to blog about a non-investment topic. When a coup happens in the country you’re in, I think I’m entitled to digress some. Furthermore, I’d like to set the record straight about the coup here as well. Several of my friends who were planning to travel here said that they heard it was too dangerous and risky to come to Thailand now. Just take a look at the photos above for a start. And they don’t even include the photos I’ve seen of children climbing on top of tanks. Does this look dangerous to you?
I must admit I am not surprised at the U.S.’s reaction to the military coup here in Thailand.” Today I read a BBC news headline that read “The United States has condemned Tuesday’s coup in Thailand and called for the restoration of democracy in its close ally as quickly as possible.” This very reaction is the reason why the U.S. is often viewed by the rest of the international community as the world’s bully. The U.S. has a history of supporting coups including the CIA-funded overthrow of a democratically elected government in Guatemala in 1953 to assist the economic aspirations of the United Fruit Company to most recently, an allegedly, though unsubstantiated, attempt to oust Venezuela’s leader Hugo Chavez.
In the past, the U.S. has intervened in Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, sometimes through overt military action, to replace leaders that are not aligned with American ideals or that do not serve American interests. However, when a country such as Thailand sees fit to replace a corrupt leader through a bloodless coup to restore democracy, U.S. government officials state that such actions are “unjustifiable” even when such actions have the silent blessings of the much revered and respected King.
From my experience over the past couple days, people in Bangkok seem to be generally happy and supportive of the coup. The general sentiment in Bangkok is that the current regime was so corrupt that it needed to be replaced. While the Prime Minister may have been extremely popular in poor rural areas due to the fact that he enacted many programs that genuinely helped the poor, these acts were generally viewed as acts that required little capital but that would pay high returns. Unlike in some Western countries, the poor actually vote in national elections here in Thailand, so to fund programs that aid the poor that cost virtually nothing in order to secure millions of votes is just good politics. However, such goodwill does not empower politicians to act corruptly and to ignore the constitution.
U.S. State department spokesman Tom Casey, said there was “no justification” for the coup and White House press secretary Tony Snow said that the U.S. free trade agreement depended upon a “swift return to democracy”. In light of the true situation here in Thailand, not only do these statements appear ignorant and meddling, but they will undoubtedly be perceived by many Thais as downright foolish.
A survey today in Bangkok revealed that 83% of Thais support the coup. That’s pretty damning support. Not a single Thai I have spoken to so far, from students to businessmen, has said that he or she is against the coup. In fact, when I told some of my Thai friends about Tom Casey’s and Tom Snow’s comments, they overwhelmingly replied, “Did the U.S. government even take the time to understand the situation here before condemning us or did they speak out only because Bush is friendly with Thaksin?” Many went on to tell me of stories where Prime Minister Thaksin changed Thai laws and siphoned off government program money for his own personal benefit to the tune of millions of U.S. dollars. But maybe these actions are what Tony Snow desires when he calls for a “swift return to democracy.”
Other Thais, when I told them of these two U.S. officials’ comments, scoffed, and said, “Do they even know that our King endorsed the coup? I doubt it.” Another stated, “What would they rather have, a peaceful restoration of democracy, or riots to overthrow a corrupt government? “ In general, the disdain for U.S. criticism of the overwhelmingly popular coup was palpable. I got the feeling that many felt that the U.S. was trying to tell Thailand that Thai citizens were incapable of deciding what was best for their own country and that they needed the U.S., the U.K. or some other world power to tell them how to run their country properly.
In fact, one of my friends even took the time to explain that the King had set up a council to govern over conflicts between Muslim separatists and Buddhists in the south of Thailand. He said that all was peaceful down south until the council was disbanded by PM Shinawatra, and 85 Muslims were killed under new iron-fist tactics employed by the Thai PM, triggering frequent retaliatory bombings. Now that the PM has been ousted, many feel there is a chance for peace once again in Southern Thailand. But maybe Tom Casey wanted to see the violence escalate and strike Bangkok before there would be ample “justification”.
So when Americans, including myself, always wonder why the rest of the world holds a negative view of us, it’s because of the ignorant comments of U.S. officials that either (1) know the truth and hide it from Americans to promote partisan politics; or (2) are too arrogant to take the time to properly learn about something before commenting about it.