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Cablegate: Catholic Hiv/Aids Centers Stuck in Legal Limbo

VZCZCXRO4528
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0750/01 2330834
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 200834Z AUG 08
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4798
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 3226
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 5026

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000750

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/AWH AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PGOV PREL CASC VM
SUBJECT: CATHOLIC HIV/AIDS CENTERS STUCK IN LEGAL LIMBO

REF: A) HCMC 503 REF B) 07 HCMC 1222 REF C) 07 HCMC 665 AND PREVIOUS REF D)
HANOI 862 REF E)2007 HANOI 2118

HO CHI MIN 00000750 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: On August 4, Father Toai of Mai Tam AIDS
Orphanage and Drop-in Center discussed with ConOffs the tenuous
position of Catholic charities providing care to people living
with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). While the HCMC Archdiocese's Pastoral
Care Committee for PLWHA has been able to extend its coverage
significantly, many of its operations are hindered because they
lack legal status as non-governmental entities, leaving them
vulnerable to interference from local authorities and limiting
their clients access to Vietnam's government-supported social
services network. While Father Toai believes that USG
endorsement through President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief
(PEPFAR) support has allowed for some progress, the Catholic
Church's legal limbo limits their ability to expand assistance
to people living with HIV/AIDS further (ref A). End Summary.

PERMIT PROBLEMS FOR PASTORAL CARE
---------------------------------
2. (SBU) Father Toai established Mai Tam Drop-In Center in 2004
as part of the Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese's Pastoral Care
Committee for People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), a
Catholic-run initiative that provides medical care and
counseling, improves PLWHA quality of life, raises HIV/AIDS
awareness, and combats societal discrimination for some of the
most marginalized members of Vietnamese society. Mai Tam
Drop-In Center assists HIV positive women and children with
food, shelter, and medical care, as well as vocational training
for mothers to resume an independent working life.

3. (SBU) Since he first applied for a license in September 2005,
Father Toai has consistently encountered difficulties from
various GVN agencies during the permit approval process for Mai
Tam (ref C). Though HCMC leaders at the highest levels have
expressed support for the Church's HIV/AIDS work, authorities
have yet to grant the permits to allow Father Toai to operate
Mai Tam as a legal charity. Father Toai believes the main reason
authorities are baulking is because of the Center's religious
affiliations, as there are a large number of non-faith-based
charities providing assistance to PLWHA already. In contrast,
Catholic-run health clinics in Vietnam are licensed as private
clinics, and these clinics are taxed even though they provide
free services. Mai Tam recently relocated to a second facility,
and Father Toai decided to go ahead and to register again as a
private clinic rather than wait for his bid for legal charity
status to come through.

4. (SBU) Father Toai also reported little progress in the two
and a half year process of acquiring permits to establish an
expanded center in HCMC's Can Gio District. Last December,
Cardinal Man told the Ambassador the Church had to re-apply for
land permits after the Can Gio authorities who signed off on the
site were sacked for corrupt land dealings (ref B). Father Toai
has now received the new land permits, and must file additional
paperwork to obtain zoning permits from district authorities.
Father Toai did express his appreciation for PEPFAR support,
noting that the endorsement from the USG has helped move the
approval process for Can Gio forward, but lamented over the
limits placed on his work due to the legal limbo Catholic
charities currently face.

LOCAL-LEVEL HARASSMENT
----------------------
5. (SBU) Due to their lack of legal status, Father Toai said, he
cannot obtain birth records for the Center's children, limiting
their access to public services like education and health care.
Father Toai reported that local authorities also routinely
harass staff and residents at Mai Tam Center, which he believes
stems from the authorities' fear of "the political influence of
religious organizations." Father Toai said police have
threatened to close the center on numerous occasions, citing a
lack of adequate space/facilities, certified staff, and fire
safety concerns -- claims that Father Toai says are unfounded
because he keeps the center scrupulously up to code.

ADOPTIONS FRAUGHT WITH PROBLEMS
-------------------------------
6. (SBU) Father Toai said he has received inquiries from
families willing to adopt some of the non-HIV orphans at the
Center, but because the children are not in a state-run
orphanage, they are not officially eligible for adoption.
Father Toai said that he was told to "abandon the babies in
front of a GVN-run orphanage" if he wanted Mai Tam's orphans to
be eligible for adoption. Father Toai's comments echo what we
have heard from others in the Church and in the community about
the unregulated nature of the adoption system in Vietnam (ref D).

COMMENT
-------
7. (SBU) Though HCMC leaders, including a Vice-Chairman of the

HO CHI MIN 00000750 002.2 OF 002


People's Committee, have told us they support the Church's
efforts to assist people living with HIV/AIDS, this has yet to
be translated into action in terms of granting full legal status
for Catholic-run charitable organizations. While the Church
continues to make informal inroads into charitable/social work,
reams of red tape and local-level harassment plague their
efforts. Despite these concerns, the Church continues to press
forward and remains optimistic about expanding its pastoral care
program for people living with HIV/AIDS and other social work
initiatives. End comment.

8. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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