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Cablegate: Sfrc Staffer Focuses On Plight of Vietnam's Central

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

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 001173

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, DRL, DRL/IRD
STATE PLEASE PASS TO SFRC STAFFER FJANNUZI

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM SOCI PREL PGOV VM HUMANR ETMIN
SUBJECT: SFRC STAFFER FOCUSES ON PLIGHT OF VIETNAM'S CENTRAL
HIGHLAND MINORITIES

REF: A) HCMC 1140; B) HANOI 2594

1. (SBU) Summary: Paternalism, racism, bureaucratic ineptitude,
communist orthodoxy, economic and educational marginalization, and
war legacy issues were all on display when SFRC staffer Frank
Jannuzi assessed the status of ethnic minorities -- Montagnards --
in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai September 2-4. In
this mix, religion is but one of many fault lines between the
Montagnard minority and the ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) majority. It
was apparent that the Highland's Montagnards were second-class
citizens in their traditional lands, creating an environment in
which ethnic minority unrest and protests -- such as those that
occurred in 2004 and 2001 -- could easily flare.

2. (SBU) GVN officials told Staffdel that they are committed to
address problems affecting Montagnards; Staffdel did see some
efforts to close the educational and economic gap between the
ethnic minorities and the Kinh. However, those efforts fall far
short of addressing the political, social, and religious
disenfranchisement of the Montagnards. Moreover, despite
indications to the contrary from the GVN in Hanoi, local officials
told Staffdel that there would be no halt to in-migration of
ethnic Kinh to the province. Until the GVN adopts a broader and
more creative approach, we can expect ethnic minority tensions in
the Highlands to fester. End Summary

3. (SBU) The status of ethnic minorities was a key focus of Senate
Foreign Relations Committee staffer Frank Jannuzi, who,
accompanied by HCMC PolOff visited Pleiku, administrative capital
of the Central Highland province of Gia Lai September 2-4. (Gia
Lai was one of the epicenters of ethnic minority unrest in 2004
and 2001.) In Pleiku, Jannuzi met with Chairman of the Gia Lai
People's Committee, the Deputy Director of the centrally
administered Central Highlands Development Authority and the
Provincial Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA). Jannuzi also
met with the Directors of state-owned coffee and rubber
plantations as well as the Chairman of the largest privately owned
company in the province. Staffdel also visited two Montagnard
communities, albeit in the constant company of GVN officials.
(Note: at the invitation of the GVN, Michael Sullivan, a U.S.
journalist for National Public Radio based in Hanoi, accompanied
the Staffdel throughout the visit to Pleiku.) Ref a reports in
more detail on freedom of religion issues raised during the
Staffdel visit.

Separate and unequal
--------------------

4. (SBU) Over the past 15 years, GVN-planned and spontaneous
migration of ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) and the explosion of cash
crop cultivation -- coffee, rubber, and pepper -- have transformed
the demographics and the economy of the region. Once an
overwhelming majority, GVN officials told us that the Montagnards
now comprise no more than 45 percent of the population in the
province. Economic and demographic pressures and competition for
land have forced them to abandon their traditional semi-nomadic,
slash and burn agricultural lifestyle. The Chairman of the
People's Committee told Staffdel that 85 percent of Montagnards
are settled in fixed settlements scattered throughout the
province.

5. (SBU) The Staffdel visit underscored how little Montagnards
have benefited from changes in the region. Physically, they
largely remain isolated from the Kinh majority. Even the
Montagnard village that the GVN sought to showcase to Staffdel was
moldering, backward and set far from major roads, shops, schools
and jobs (and the Kinh). In general, the three Montagnard
villages that PolOff visited (two with Staffdel were clustered
near the rice fields and cash crop plantations in which they work.

6. (SBU) Educationally, the ethnic Minorities appeared to lag far
behind their Kinh counterparts. Many Montagnards spoke only
limited Vietnamese at best; the directors of the rubber plantation
and privately owned furniture factory told Staffdel that some of
their Montagnard hires were illiterate. Both companies were
forced to run in-house training programs to bring ethnic minority
hires up to minimum standards. In contrast, Kinh migrants had
adequate educational skills; one young Vietnamese Kinh told
Staffdel that he had recently migrated to Pleiku from Northern
Vietnam and was able to find well paying employment in a local
factory. He added that Montagnard hires in his firm "usually
don't work out" because of cultural and educational differences.

7. (SBU) Economically, the Montagnards lag behind the Kinh, in
part because of their educational backwardness, in part because of
past GVN neglect. In the fields, they have not been able to apply
more sophisticated agricultural techniques, thus earning less than
their Kinh counterparts. In the companies of the region, the
Montagnards hold the bulk of the low-skill, low-pay jobs. In
Montagnard villages, the local kiosks are owned and run by Kinh
migrants who return to Kinh-majority areas at night. Staffdel was
told repeatedly that the Montagnard's lacked the educational
skills, financial savvy and capital needed to move up the economic
ladder.

8. (SBU) Local GVN officials acknowledged the economic disparity
between Kinh and Montagnards. They noted that it created a
vicious cycle in which the Kinh, out-earning the Montagnards, use
their profits to buy land from the Montagnards. Over the long-
term, this phenomenon exacerbates the ethnic minorities economic
plight and sense of dispossession.

New economic pressures ahead?
-----------------------------

9. (SBU) Shifts in the cash crops business also foreshadow new
pressures on those at the bottom of the economic ladder in the
highlands. The director of a major state-owned coffee plantation
told Staffdel that, in response to depressed world prices for
Robusta coffee -- caused at least in part by over-planting in
Vietnam --the company might be forced to restructure. Their plans
calls for shedding direct-hire labor and land, outsourcing
cultivation and focusing on higher value-added activities such as
processing and distribution. While not stated explicitly, it was
clear that the bulk of the 30-35 percent of the company's 2,000
employees that were ethnic minorities hold those low skill jobs
that could be lost. The director proffered that released workers
would be offered coffee leaseholds, but they would be required to
sell their product back to the company in an exclusive contract.

10. (SBU) A similar phenomenon appears to be occurring at the
large state-owned rubber plantation. Even at this relatively
progressive and expanding company -- two thirds of the 1800 direct-
hire employees are Montagnard -- a local ethnic minority villager
told Staffdel that the company froze permanent hires. The company
is now only employing contract labor, at monthly wages that are
almost half that of the average direct-hire salary.

11. (SBU) The ethnic Minorities also were politically under-
represented. All the leading GVN and economic figures that met
with Staffdel were ethnic Kinh. Most of them were migrants from
provinces outside the Central Highlands.

12. (SBU) Religion also reflects the minority/majority divide.
Protestantism essentially is a minority religion. According to a
trusted church contact, at least 90 percent of the province's
100,000 Protestants are ethnic minorities. Similarly, the chief
Parish Priest of the Catholic Church in Pleiku told Staffdel that
two thirds of the 180,000 Catholics in the province are
Montagnard.

The GVN: we are working on it
------------------------------

13. (SBU) Deputy Chairman Ha of the centrally administered Central
Highlands Development Authority told Staffdel that the GVN
launched programs to address the educational and employment
disadvantages of the Montagnards in the early 1990s. He said
that, recently, Hanoi has become seized of the matter and became
"very strongly determined to solve" these issues, even though the
Montagnards "obsolete traditions and rituals" hindered progress.
He and other local officials highlighted:

-- agricultural extension programs focused at assisting ethnic
minorities to improve staple food yields,
-- priority land distribution for Montagnards;
-- a separate system of subsidized boarding schools for Montagnard
children, and,
-- preferential admission into local universities.

14. (SBU) However, beyond limited educational and economic
measures, there was little new in the GVN pitch. They maintained
that "outside reactionary forces" from "FULRO" and the "Dega
Protestant" movement were exploiting and magnifying minority
discontent to foment anti-GVN and separatist activities. (FULRO
was a Montagnard guerilla movement that continued to resist
Hanoi's authority in the Central Highlands well after unification
in 1975. FULRO formally ended its armed struggle in 1992.)

No end to in-migration
----------------------

15. (SBU) Every GVN official made it clear that, despite
indications to the contrary in Hanoi (ref b), there would be no
halt to in-migration of ethnic Kinh to the Highlands. They
explained that each province had a GVN-approved "master migration
plan" that guided local leaders on land allocation and subsidies
to GVN-approved migrants. They indicated that GVN-supported
migrants receive subsidies of 5,000,000 Dong (USD 315) per hectare
of GVN-allocated land that they clear. According to the Chairman
of the Gia Lai People's Committee Pham The Dung, the province
needed another 400,000 migrants to "fulfill its economic
potential."

16. (SBU) Dung sought to make a distinction between planned, GNV-
supported migration and "spontaneous" migration outside the plan.
According to Dung, some 50,000 to 70,000 Kinh migrants have
settled in Gia Lai in recent years. He explained that, these
migrants have been a significant source of friction with the
Montagnards, as they tend to encroach on "vacant" lands that the
ethnic Minorities consider theirs. Nonetheless, local authorities
would take no action to expel them or to deter them from settling
by denying them residency permits. The People's Committee
Chairman concluded that, despite the friction they cause, the
province needed their labor to "fulfill our potential."

Comment
-------

17. (SBU) The good news is that even local authorities, which in
the past have denied that anything in the province was amiss, now
recognize that they have a serious problem on their hands. The
bad news is that their solution -- educational and economic
solutions based on party-approved economic plans -- will do little
to address the root causes of ethnic minority disaffection. Real
change will require policy-making creativity, a willingness to
provide ethnic minorities with a real voice in decisions that
affect the province, including migration, tolerance and respect
for minority culture -- including religion -- and a willingness to
partner with NGOs and other international organizations to bring
in vital development expertise and funding.

18. (U) Staffdel Jannuzi did not have the opportunity to review
this message prior to sending.

WINNICK

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