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Cablegate: Hoa Hao Religion Thriving Again in Vietnam

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


2002HOCHI00695 - UNCLASSIFIED

UNCLASSIFIED PTQ9877

PAGE 01 HO CHI 00695 01 OF 02 150601Z
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INFO LOG-00 NP-00 AID-00 AMAD-00 CIAE-00 DODE-00 SRPP-00
EAP-00 EB-00 UTED-00 H-01 TEDE-00 INR-00 IO-00
L-00 MOFM-05 MOF-01 NSAE-00 NSCE-00 OIC-02 OPIC-01
PRS-00 P-00 SP-00 SS-00 STR-00 TEST-00 TRSE-00
USIE-00 PRM-00 G-00 NFAT-00 SAS-00 /012W
------------------CB0CCE 150602Z /38
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6509
INFO AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY
USMISSION GENEVA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000695

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV AND EAP/PD/KFOSTER
DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF VM HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: HOA HAO RELIGION THRIVING AGAIN IN VIETNAM

1. SUMMARY: FOLLOWERS OF VIETNAM'S HOA HAO RELIGION
HAVE ENJOYED CONSIDERABLE FREEDOM TO WORSHIP SINCE THE
GVN GRANTED OFFICIAL RECOGNITION IN 1999 TO THIS
PREVIOUSLY OUTLAWED BUDDHIST SECT. DURING A JUNE 23-25
VISIT TO AN GIANG PROVINCE IN THE MEKONG DELTA, POLOFF
VISITED A SPARKLING NEW HOA HAO BUDDHIST PAGODA AND
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 HO CHI 00695 01 OF 02 150601Z
SPOKE WITH SEVERAL OPTIMISTIC FOLLOWERS OF THE RELIGION
AT PHU MY (HOA HAO) VILLAGE. ON JUNE 28, MORE THAN
200,000 HOA HAO DEVOTEES JOURNEYED TO PHU MY TO ATTEND
AN ANNUAL RELIGIOUS FESTIVAL. STILL, SOME BELIEVERS
REMAIN DISSATISFIED WITH THE GVN'S HANDLING OF HOA HAO
AFFAIRS, AND THE GVN REMAINS WARY OF HOA HAO MONKS IT
CONSIDERS "DISSIDENT." SEPTEL WILL REPORT ON A HOA HAO
MONK RECENTLY RELEASED FROM PRISON AND ON POLICE
PREVENTING POLOFF FROM MEETING WITH ANOTHER DISSIDENT
MONK. END SUMMARY.

FREEDOM TO WORSHIP
------------------

2. THE HOA HAO WERE AMONG THE LAST RESISTANCE TO
COMMUNIST FORCES IN THE MEKONG DELTA IN 1975. THEIR
ANTI-COMMUNIST HISTORY STEMS FROM THE VIET MINH'S
EXECUTION OF THEIR FOUNDER, HUYNH PHU SO, IN 1947. IN
SUMMER 1975, THE GOVERNMENT DISBANDED THE HOA HAO,
CONFISCATED THEIR PROPERTIES, AND OUTLAWED THEIR
PRACTICES. BECAUSE ITS BASIC TENETS EMPHASIZE
INDIVIDUAL AND FAMILY PRAYER AT HOME RATHER THAN PUBLIC
WORSHIP AT PAGODAS, THE RELIGION SURVIVED.

3. IN 1999, THE GVN ORGANIZED A HOA HAO CONGRESS THAT
SELECTED OFFICERS FOR A NEW GOVERNMENT-SANCTIONED HOA
HAO REPRESENTATIVE COMMITTEE. THIS LED TO OFFICIAL GVN
RECOGNITION LATER IN THE YEAR. MANY HOA HAO FOLLOWERS
ALLEGE THAT THE REPRESENTATIVE COMMITTEE IS ANYTHING
BUT REPRESENTATIVE -- THE 11 OFFICERS ELECTED AT THE
CONGRESS WERE THE SAME 11 PERSONS THE GVN HAD SELECTED
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HO CHI 00695 01 OF 02 150601Z
TO ORGANIZE THE CONGRESS.

4. SINCE RECOGNITION IN 1999, THE GVN HAS RELAXED
SIGNIFICANTLY ITS EARLIER RESTRICTIONS ON HOA HAO
PRACTICE. MOST IMPORTANTLY, HOA HAO BELIEVERS MAY NOW
WORSHIP FREELY IN THEIR HOMES AND PUBLICLY AT
RECOGNIZED PAGODAS. THE GVN NO LONGER FORBIDS DISPLAY
OF THE FOUNDER'S PHOTOGRAPH, ALTHOUGH IT STILL
PROHIBITS DISPLAY OF THE HOA HAO FLAG. THE OFFICIAL
REPRESENTATIVE COMMITTEE HAS PUBLISHED SOME, BUT NOT
ALL, OF THE HOA HAO SACRED LITERATURE. PROVINCIAL
GOVERNMENTS HAVE RETURNED A FEW PREVIOUSLY CONFISCATED
PAGODAS, BUT CONTINUE TO HOLD AND USE FOR OTHER
PURPOSES MOST HOA HAO PROPERTIES THAT HAD BEEN
CONFISCATED AFTER 1975.

NEW HOA HAO PAGODA
------------------

5. ON JUNE 24, POLOFF MADE AN UNSCHEDULED STOP AT
SPARKLING NEW PHU THO ONG BA HOA HAO PAGODA IN CHO MOI
DISTRICT IN AN GIANG PROVINCE. THE PAGODA MANAGER, MR.
NGUYEN VAN THOI, SAID FLOODING TWO YEARS EARLIER HAD
SEVERELY DAMAGED AN OLDER PAGODA BY THE SAME NAME,
LOCATED NEARBY. HE AND OTHER HOA HAO FOLLOWERS
REQUESTED AND RECEIVED PERMISSION FROM THE LOCAL
GOVERNMENT AND THE OFFICIAL HOA HAO REPRESENTATIVE
COMMITTEE TO BUILD A NEW PAGODA. MR. THOI CONFIRMED
THAT PHU THO ONG BA WAS THE FIRST NEW HOA HAO PAGODA TO
BE BUILT SINCE BEFORE 1975; CONSTRUCTION WAS COMPLETED
IN MAY 2002.
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HO CHI 00695 01 OF 02 150601Z

6. MR. THOI, HIS DEPUTY, THE SENIOR MONK, THREE OTHER
MONKS, AND APPROXIMATELY 30 ORDINARY HOA HAO BELIEVERS
WERE PRESENT AT THE PAGODA WHEN POLOFF VISITED.
ALTHOUGH THE MONKS AND BELIEVERS APPEARED PLEASED BY
POLOFF'S UNANNOUNCED VISIT, MR. THOI SEEMED A BIT
DISCONCERTED. STILL HE INVITED POLOFF TO STAY FOR
LUNCH. DURING THE MEAL, MR. THOI, HIS DEPUTY, AND A
FEMALE FOLLOWER WHO MAY HAVE BEEN A HOA HAO NUN SAID
THAT RECOGNITION OF THE HOA HAO IN 1999 HAD MADE LIFE
EASIER. THEY WOULD NOT BE DRAWN OUT ON SPECIFIC ISSUES
WHERE THEY HAD SEEN IMPROVEMENT, HOWEVER.

7. MR. THOI SAID THAT SINCE 1999, HOA HAO COMMITTEES
HAVE BEEN ESTABLISHED AT PROVINCIAL, DISTRICT, AND
COMMUNE LEVELS IN AREAS WHERE HOA HAO BELIEVERS ARE
POPULOUS. HE AVOIDED POLOFF'S QUESTIONS ON WHETHER
THESE COMMITTEES WERE ELECTED OR APPOINTED.

8. THE SENIOR MONK TOOK POLOFF ON A TOUR OF THE PAGODA,
WHICH CONTAINED SEVERAL BUDDHIST SHRINES SET UP IN TWO
SPACIOUS ROOMS. WORSHIPPERS PRAYED AND BURNED INCENSE
AT THE SHRINES, WHICH DISPLAYED EITHER RED WOODEN

UNCLASSIFIED

UNCLASSIFIED PTQ9878

PAGE 01 HO CHI 00695 02 OF 02 150602Z
ACTION DRL-02

INFO LOG-00 AID-00 AMAD-00 CIAE-00 DODE-00 SRPP-00 EAP-00
EB-00 UTED-00 H-01 TEDE-00 INR-00 IO-00 L-00
MOFM-05 MOF-01 NSAE-00 NSCE-00 OIC-02 OPIC-01 PRS-00
P-00 SP-00 SS-00 STR-00 TEST-00 TRSE-00 USIE-00
PRM-00 G-00 NFAT-00 SAS-00 /012W
------------------CB0CE3 150602Z /38
P 150450Z JUL 02
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6510
INFO AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY
USMISSION GENEVA

UNCLAS SECTION 02 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000695

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV AND EAP/PD/KFOSTER
DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR DRL/IRF


BLOCKS TO SYMBOLIZE THE BUDDHA OR SMALL FIGURES OF
BODHISATTVAS. THE CENTRAL FIGURE AT ONE OF THE MORE
PROMINENT SHRINES WAS A BUST OF HO CHI MINH. IT
APPEARED THAT WORSHIPPERS PRAYED AND BURNED INCENSE IN
FRONT OF THIS STATUE IN THE SAME WAY THEY DID AT THE
OTHER SHRINES. (NOTE: VIETNAMESE RELIGIOUS PRACTICE
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 HO CHI 00695 02 OF 02 150602Z
INCLUDES VENERATION OF HISTORICAL PERSONALITIES. THERE
ARE SMALL STATUES/PORTRAITS OF HO CHI MINH IN OTHER
GOVERNMENT-REGULATED PAGODAS. VENERATION OF HISTORICAL
FIGURES, HOWEVER, USUALLY IS PERFORMED IN A PAGODA-LIKE
STRUCTURE CALLED A "DEN." FOR HISTORICAL REASONS, THE
BUST OF HO CHI MINH INSIDE A HOA HAO PAGODA SEEMED
INCONGRUOUS. END NOTE.)

VISIT TO PHU MY (HOA HAO) VILLAGE
---------------------------------

9. ALSO ON JUNE 24, POLOFF VISITED AN HOA (THE MAIN HOA
HAO PAGODA) AND TO DINH (THE HOA HAO FOUNDER'S
ANCESTRAL HOME), BOTH PILGRIMAGE SITES IN PHU MY (HOA
HAO) VILLAGE. THE OFFICIAL HOA HAO REPRESENTATIVE
COMMITTEE, WHOSE OFFICES ARE LOCATED AT AN HOA PAGODA,
PREVIOUSLY HAD DECLINED TO MEET WITH POLOFF. THEY
EXPLAINED THEY WERE TOO BUSY WITH PREPARATIONS FOR THE
ANNUAL FOUNDING DAY FESTIVAL - FALLING ON JUNE 28.

10. PREPARATIONS FOR THE FESTIVAL INDEED WERE IN FULL
SWING. POLOFF SAW SCORES OF PEOPLE BUSY PACKAGING
FOODS AND CONSTRUCTING SHELTERS FOR THE TENS OF
THOUSANDS OF HOA HAO FOLLOWERS EXPECTED TO DESCEND ON
THE VILLAGE FOUR DAYS LATER. HUNDREDS OF HOA HAO
FOLLOWERS ALREADY WERE VISITING AND WORSHIPPING AT THE
TWO PILGRIMAGE SITES. (NOTE: ON A REGULAR DAY, BETWEEN
100 AND 200 FOLLOWERS VISIT AN HOA PAGODA.)

11. POLOFF SPOKE TO SEVERAL OF THE ORDINARY HOA HAO
FOLLOWERS HE ENCOUNTERED. THEY ALL EXPRESSED
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HO CHI 00695 02 OF 02 150602Z
APPRECIATION THAT THEY NOW COULD COME TO THE PAGODA TO
WORSHIP FREELY AND PUBLICLY. ONE FOLLOWER NOTED THAT
NEIGHBORING PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENTS HAD DISTRIBUTED A
CIRCULAR INFORMING HOA HAO BELIEVERS THAT THIS YEAR
THEY WOULD BE ALLOWED TO HOLD PUBLIC CEREMONIES TO
COMMEMORATE FOUNDING DAY IN THEIR OWN LOCALITIES.
(NOTE: THE GVN HAD PROHIBITED PUBLIC COMMEMORATION OF
FOUNDING DAY BEFORE 1999, AND FROM 1999 UNTIL THIS YEAR
HAD RESTRICTED IT TO PHU MY VILLAGE.)

12. AFTER FOUNDING DAY, POLOFF SPOKE TO SEVERAL HOA HAO
CONTACTS WHO TOLD HIM THAT BETWEEN 200,000 AND 250,000
PERSONS HAD MADE THE PILGRIMAGE TO PHU MY. THEY PRAYED
AT THE PAGODA, BURNED INCENSE AT THE ANCESTRAL HOME,
LISTENED TO SPEECHES, AND PICNICKED IN A FESTIVE
ATMOSPHERE, ACCORDING TO THESE CONTACTS. MOST OF THE
ATTENDEES WERE FROM THE MEKONG DELTA -- ABLE TO MAKE
THE JOURNEY AND RETURN HOME THE SAME DAY. MANY PEOPLE,
HOWEVER, STAYED OVERNIGHT OR FOR SEVERAL NIGHTS WITH
FRIENDS, RELATIVES, OR AT HOTELS. POLOFF, WHO HAD
ATTENDED THE 1999 FOUNDING DAY FESTIVAL AND HAS VISITED
PHU MY VILLAGE THREE TIMES SINCE, NOTICED SEVERAL
HOTELS, SHOPS, AND OTHER SIGNS OF A TOURIST INDUSTRY
THAT WERE NOT APPARENT THREE YEARS EARLIER.

COMMENT
-------
13. RECOGNITION OF THE HOA HAO IN 1999 HAS LED TO
SIGNIFICANT FREEDOM OF WORSHIP FOR ORDINARY HOA HAO
FOLLOWERS. SOME BELIEVERS, HOWEVER, CONTINUE TO
CRITICIZE THE NON-DEMOCRATIC MANNER IN WHICH THE GVN
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HO CHI 00695 02 OF 02 150602Z
ESTABLISHED THE OFFICIAL REPRESENTATIVE COMMITTEE.
LEADERS OF THE PRE-1975 HOA HAO CHURCH ARE STILL ANGRY
AT BEING EXCLUDED FROM PARTICIPATING IN ADMINISTERING
HOA HAO AFFAIRS. LOCAL AUTHORITIES, MOREOVER, CONTINUE
TO CLOSELY MONITOR AND SOMETIMES HARASS MONKS OR OTHER
BELIEVERS WHO ORGANIZE WORSHIP ACTIVITIES INDEPENDENT
OF THE OFFICIAL REPRESENTATIVE COMMITTEE.

YAMAUCHI

UNCLASSIFIED

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