As this article discusses, the government of Vietnam still oppresses many people, and Christians are often the targets for persecution, arrest and torture. While the country has become more developed since the Vietnam War, there are still many ways in which Vietnam demonstrated that it is a Communist country, controlling the people and everything they do.
The rocky road to development in Vietnam
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (01/04/06)
In the quest to become developed, communities around the world embark on staggeringly different journeys.
Some seek access to potable water as the first step, some pave the way for social freedoms while others enable development through technology.
Since February, I have been travelling Asia and participating in communities that are on this journey. In Vietnam , my experiences culminated in a poignant lesson regarding one of the great debates of international development.
Vietnam is a mesmerizing country. Its scenery is breathtaking, its people are genuinely kind and its history is fascinating. Daily life in Vietnam , however, begs for development.
Poverty and malnutrition are a reality for many. Clean water and proper housing are rare and the Vietnam War left permanent scars on the Vietnamese people and landscape.
All of this greets travellers relentlessly from one end of Vietnam to the other. Hope mediates most of the interactions between tourists and locals; children stand by anxiously as restaurant patrons eat their meals, hoping for leftovers, while other locals stay up late into the night hawking postcards and flowers, desperately hoping to bring something home to their families.
Hope continued to be a dominant theme as I veered off Vietnam s tourist path, as locals shared with me their hopes for their families, for their communities and for their country. Democracy was mentioned often amongst these hopes.
Whether they live in urban cities that ring with the constant hum of motorcycles or in rural villages hidden deep in the jungle, Vietnamese are denied access to democracy and instead subjected to a never-ending propaganda campaign by the government.
The denial of political and civil rights is one of the remaining signifiers of the governments communist roots. In 1986, the government eschewed Marxist economic planning for free-market capitalism in its Doi Moi (renovation) campaign.
Nineteen years later, Doi Moi has converted Vietnam into one of the worlds fastest growing economies and the Vietnamese government into an ardent fan of capitalism. While Ho Chi Minh, the father of Vietnamese communism, would have cringed to see Vietnam s current Prime Minister Phan Van Khai ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange last June, most of the world welcomed Vietnam s economic reform.
Many development theorists applauded the reforms, arguing that the new embrace of capitalism sets the country on the road to development. From this humble beginning, theorists envision that the higher standard of living enabled by economic growth will eventually create a prosperous middle class who will then demand, and be capable of attaining, democratic rights.
But in my travels of this country, I was repeatedly shown that development in Vietnam requires much more than economic liberation now with the potential for democratic freedom later. I side with the theorists on the other side of the debate true and lasting development starts with democracy.
The Vietnamese government has a brutal history of human rights abuse. These violations go unreported in the 500 newspapers and magazines that circulate Vietnam , as all are owned and closely monitored by the government.
In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, independent labour unions are banned and strikes are prohibited in most industries. Religious freedoms are curtailed through the seizure of numerous temples and churches, the disbanding of religious organizations and the persecution of monks and priests.
All personal mail is censored and parcels are searched. Telephones are tapped and access to the internet is strictly controlled. Political meetings are forbidden and all gatherings require a permit from authorities. Those who speak out against the system are arrested, detained for up to two years without trial and imprisoned.
This political climate doesnt bode well for development. A local grassroots agency, the Vietnam Relief Effort (VRE) seeks to bring educational, medical and relief projects to impoverished regions of Vietnam .
In a democratic society, the VRE would have the luxury of coupling these outreach efforts with lobbying for policy changes to ensure real and lasting change. In Vietnam , the VRE is reduced to providing Band-Aid solutions. For the Montagnards, an indigenous ethnic minority who suffer continual marginalization and persecution by the Vietnamese government, agencies like the VRE simply serve to heal the damage inflicted upon them by the government.
Reason for hope comes from the pro-democracy movement in Vietnam . As dissenters face severe punishment, the movement is forced into secrecy and hidden within Vietnamese society.
Fueled by access to cellphones and the internet, and armed with the understanding that economics are only one piece of the development puzzle, the movement has increased in numbers and organization in the past few years. Technology now allows these brave activists to bring their stories to listeners around the world. And the world is listening, as evidenced by the myriad of international groups that are working in solidarity to bring freedom to the Vietnamese people.
Its a risky business, as members of the movement risk their lives and that of their families to fight for democracy in Vietnam . But in a country where so many depend so deeply on hope, that is well worth fighting for.