Wukan Nam

The contagion of Wukan appears to have spread to the south and west, across the border into Vietnam.

Doan Van Vuon,  a college-educated agricultural engineer, spent 18 years and his life’s savings turning 99 acres of coastal swampland near Haiphong into a viable aquaculture farm. His daughter and nephew drowned in the process, but he pushed on and eventually built dykes capable of protecting the coastline from tropical storms.  In Vietnam all land belongs to the state, but sweeping economic reforms in the 1980s led to conditional 20-year land grants to many farmers.  In this case, state-run media have alleged that the family was cheated in 1993 when they were given a lease of only 14 years instead of what should have been 20 years.

[Last week]  when local police arrived in riot gear to evict the Vuon clan, family members were ready with homemade land mines and improvised shotguns. In a guerrilla-style ambush, they wounded six officers.  After the raid, two houses on the family’s land were burned and bulldozed, forcing Vuon’s wife to take shelter under a plastic tarp.
 “Our family was cornered,” she said.  “We put all our efforts and money into our farm, but the authorities evicted us without compensation. It’s very unjust.”

Vietnamese law allows authorities to seize land for national security or defense, economic development or the public interest.  In some cases, that translates into highways or industrial parks that bring jobs to the poor.  But increasingly, it means grabbing fish farms or rice paddies for swanky golf courses and resorts only accessible to the rich.  The area [near Vuon’s farm] was slated to be developed for housing and an international airport.
Vuon and fellow farmer Vu Van Luan filed a lawsuit in 2009 challenging the proposed land seizure. Luan said the court had agreed to let them stay if they dropped the suit. But when they did so, the eviction order went ahead anyway.

Well, in a much smaller nation, the Vietnamese Communist Party just might be much closer to its people than in vast, teeming China.  Even better, the Party quickly learns the lessons of history.  Also, most Vietnamese don’t have the same get-rich-at-all-costs ethos that appears to plague modern day China.   And Hanoi is just around the corner from Haiphong (just ask John McCain).  So the central government recognized an opportunity to reclaim a portion of the legitimacy that may have been lost during the past decade:

Retired generals and a former president have weighed in on Vuon’s behalf.   Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered an investigation, ruling that the eviction was illegal and those who ordered it should be punished. He also encouraged local authorities to renew the family’s land lease. 

The Supreme People’s Court on Wednesday ordered a new trial yesterday in farmer Doan Van Vuon’s suit against the Tien Lang District People’s Committee in the northern city of Haiphong, ruling that the People’s Court there wrongfully dismissed his action in April 2010.  The Supreme People’s Court found that the trial court failed to comply with all required legal procedures or to consult with relevant land management agencies before issuing its judgement. The court also failed to consider the issue of compensation due to Vuon when his land was seized, even if the seizure were deemed lawful.   The People’s Court of Haiphong also failed to facilitate conditions for Vuon and the Tien Lang District People’s Committee to negotiate [for compensation] in accordance with the law.

A representative of the Supreme People’s Procuracy argued in support of Vuon’s appeal and also urged the Haiphong People’s Court to handle the case in accordance with the law.

If the Vietnamese are adopting/adapting the Wukan model for their own purposes, Farmer Vuon will soon be running for local office.  When you’re seeking to recruit the US of A as your ally in standing up to China, it’s always good to demonstrate commitment to democracy and the rule of law.  Unless you’ve got lots of oil or an influential lobby in Washington.


Tags: , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: