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Cablegate: Dancing with the Deputy Prime Minister

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RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHVN #0618 2150914
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 030914Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1432
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0586

UNCLAS VIENTIANE 000618

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON PREL EAID SENV LA
SUBJECT: DANCING WITH THE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

1. (SBU) Summary: Econoff accompanied Standing Deputy Prime
Minister Somsavat Lengsavad, along with a group of senior
diplomats, on a 36-hour set-piece "study tour" of two
districts in Sayabouri province. Thanks to a focus on export
crops, primarily corn, the districts appear to be doing well
economically. However, the most interesting aspect of the
trip was watching how the Lao Government, at a senior level,
entertains foreigners. The Deputy Prime Minister likes to
dance. End summary.

2. (SBU) Econoff accompanied Standing Deputy Prime Minister
(and former longtime Foreign Minister) Somsavat Lengsavad,
along with a group of senior diplomats, on a 36-hour
set-piece "study tour" of Sayabouri province's Paklai and
Kenethao districts. The trip shed some light on the
situation in the province, and was even more interesting as a
glimpse into how this Communist country is run.

3. (SBU) After a long trip primarily through Thailand (Lao
roads not being reliable during the rainy season), the
diplomatic entourage, consisting mostly of ambassadors, was
directed from one staged visit to the next. During one
break, the government hosted the entourage for lunch--or so
everyone thought. A few days after returning from the trip,
each of the diplomats received a bill. During a typical
stop, a large convoy of Land Cruisers pulled into a rundown
governmental compound. A line of local residents waved Lao
flags and smiled. Traditionally dressed women put flowers
around the necks of the visitors and filled their hands with
Lao gift bags woven from locally grown cotton, wrapped them
in cotton scarves, and, in one case, put bright orange and
yellow cowboy hats on their heads. The diplomats trooped
into a meeting room, where the local mayor gave a speech,
passably translated into English.

4. (SBU) The speeches followed a standard format -- how
many families in the district, their ethnic groups, the
number of women, number of poor people, types of animals
raised, development success stories, and invariably a request
for assistance. The Deputy Prime Minister would then make a
speech. In all cases he was completely at ease, smoothly
interacting with the local politicians, praising them for
their successes, reminding them where they should improve,
and offering benefits, such as expansion of the electrical
grid.

5. (SBU) From an economic perspective it appears that the
two districts the group visited in Xayaboury are doing well,
apparently because they have moved away from subsistence rice
farming and are focused on export crops. Corn is the primary
crop, growing almost everywhere over the rolling hills and
primarily planted not in small family plots but in large
areas using tractors. According to the DPM, Sayabouri is the
only province in Laos to embrace corn, and it has benefited.
Two Ambassadors who had accompanied the DPM on a similar, but
week-long, trip two years ago noted the increase in concrete
homes and the almost universal use of permanent roofing
instead of thatch for homes and businesses. They were
impressed with the overnight accommodations as well. During
the previous visit the walls of the government guesthouse
came alive with worms seeking refuge from heavy rain outside.
With the exception of the unpaved roads, Sayabouri did not
look strikingly different from neighboring northern Thailand.

6. (SBU) The most interesting aspect of the trip, however,
was watching how the GOL, at a senior level, entertains
foreigners. The Deputy Prime Minster likes to sing, he likes
to dance, and he is entranced when foreign diplomats
(particularly diplomatic corps dean Karen Tan of Singapore,
who was scheduled to complete her assignment four days after
the trip) can be "encouraged" to sing and dance (Lao style)
too. Watching the DPM belt out Lao songs to the pulsating
beat of a digital accordion, accompanied by a red-faced
Johnny Walker Gold fan screaming out "rotate, rotate, rotate"
(to encourage the couples doing the Lamvong, the traditional
Lao circle dance) is an unforgettable experience. When Mr.
Walker invites the Indian Ambassador and his wife to sing,
and then begins to dance an original composition apparently
inspired by Bollywood, one takes notice. Watch out for the
Lao delegation at the next ASEAN Ministerial.
HUSO

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