The Last Phoenix by Carl Douglass, 1997, Excerpts
Until 1962, Burma was the world’s largest exporter of rice, shipping two million tons annually. But after General Win seized power in that year, closed all borders, nationalized all industry, imprisoned all intellectuals and government executives, halted all developmental activities of the World Bank, forced all Indians and Chinese to flee the country, and drove out all foreign business – her economy failed.
The rice export fell to 170,000 tons; and civil warring among the seventy fractious ethnic groups made anything but opium production unprofitable for the majority of the peasantry. More than one-third of the gross national product became accounted for by smuggling, a natural response to the needs of the impoverished populace. To people whose average annual income did not exceed $179, the niceties of how one made a living were relegated to a low place on the list of concerns. The Burmese became rice importers and sophisticated drug refiners, transporters, marketers and exporters.
The SUN, or Shan People, maintained a 20,000 man army and concentrated their activities on the running and protection of refineries that turned out heroin by the ton. Together with the UWS, they owned and controlled more than 75% of all the heroin produced in the area, and they were the largest supplier [70%] of the insatiable American market. They were responsible for 50% of the entire world’s supply. The Shan people jealously guarded that status. Their $4-10 billion yearly trade afforded them ample profit to maintain a more than adequate security establishment and to deter any government that might foolishly try to rein them in. It also allowed them to participate in the hugely profitable and perfectly legitimate business of mining rubies and sapphires, the only other product worthy of mention in Burma.