Vietnam revolutionaries bitter on anniversary

Feb. 5, 2010

HANOI — Liberation fighters and former Communist Party officials in Vietnam have bitterly denounced what they say is a corrupt system whose leaders are sullying the country’s hard-won independence.

Vietnam’s most powerful political figure, Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh, marked the ruling party’s 80th anniversary Tuesday by saying it will prevent “hostile forces” from exploiting democracy and human rights to sabotage the country’s revolution.

But critics say Vietnamese leaders themselves have distorted the legacy of liberation. They allege they have used power to serve their own interests and have compromised the country’s independence through ties with China, which occupied Vietnam for about 1,000 years in ancient times.

“Today, we have about three million members in the Communist Party of Vietnam but they have neither the force, nor the power, nor the trust of the past,” said Nguyen Trong Vinh, a former ambassador to China and retired general who remains a party member.

During the struggle against French colonialists, which ended in 1954, the party had very few members but was powerful enough to lead an uprising and win independence, Vinh said.

He and other critics say people have lost a large amount of trust in the party because they see Hanoi as too conciliatory towards China.

Government approval for a Chinese company to build a bauxite mine in the Central Highlands region triggered rare public outcry last year.

A cross-section of the population said the environmental and social damage will far outweigh any economic benefit, and pointed to security concerns.

The most prominent opponent of the mining is General Vo Nguyen Giap, who masterminded Vietnam’s 1954 victory over the French at Dien Bien Phu.

There has also been public criticism — primarily over the Internet — of what some perceive to be a weak government response to maritime sovereignty disputes with China in the South China Sea.

The neighbours have a long-standing disagreement over ownership of the Paracels and a more southerly archipelago, the Spratlys.

At the same time, China was Vietnam’s largest trading partner last year, according to Vietnamese data.

“Today, the attitude of the leaders is unclear in relation to China,” said Bui Tin, a former colonel and veteran of the state press who lives in French exile.

While the party played an essential role in independence, particularly against French colonialism, its leaders now attack intellectuals who denounce threats to territorial integrity, he said.

An appeals court last month upheld jail terms of up to six years for dissidents convicted of acts against the state that included the hanging of democracy banners.

Along with denunciations of the Communist Party, the banners indirectly referred to the maritime dispute with China.

“It seems that leaders today are ready to sacrifice the people, the country, to receive aid and protection from China in order to maintain their monopoly on power,” said Nguyen Thanh Giang, a retired geophysicist who spent two months in prison in 1999 after calling for political reform.

In an anniversary speech, Manh, the communist leader, said there have been times when the party “was not able to avoid committing errors, but it knew how to correct them.”

He added: “The working class is increasingly developed.”

More than 20 years ago, after defeating the United States in a long war, poverty-stricken Vietnam began to turn away from a planned economy to embrace the free market.

The move made it one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies in the last decade.

“The society is richer. We have a more open diplomacy… The human rights situation is also better than before,” Giang said.

But there remains a “brutal” gap between rich and poor, he added.

Giang, who says he fought against the French but never became a party member, mocks the “red capitalists who are even more rich than the Western bourgeoisie.”

Critics say the problem is rooted in widespread corruption, including within the party.

Hanoi has repeatedly prioritised the battle against graft and, in his speech, Manh said tackling corruption is one of the party’s biggest challenges.

Vinh, the retired general who has lived through much of the party’s history, suggests a course for the future. He says the party needs to be “put back in order” and corrupt members severely punished, while leaders must “listen better to the people.”

Source:  AFP


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