I have so many Burmese friends who have told me stories of the slaughter during the Democracy movements, the massive number of political prisoners (2100+/-) and the complete repression in Burma. I went expecting to see people completly beaten down and miserable. After spending 8 days there and talking talking with a friend who is working as an aid worker, I came away much more confused than when I started.
The government is total crap, repressing the people while enriching the military elite. They imprision their people for expressing opposition. They block much of the internet and restrict the movement of its' people and foreign tourists. Tourists end up seeing the best of Burma, which is pretty fabulous, and do not see the dark underside.
That said, my friend, who has worked as an aid worker in Congo and Sudan and has been exposed to much more of the country than tourists are, thinks that the government is less repressive than other regimes and has created an enviroment which at least provides safety for its' people. She does not support the government, but she says it is much less bad than others. Another aid worker told me she has seen a noticable difference in the governments level of repression since the saffron revolution. She posed an interesting question, "Why boycott Burma when other governments are worse? It is becoming harder to justify."
I suppose if the coming elections (the first since 1991) are somewhat free, that will be a clear sign the direction the country is taking.