Strongmen and Henchmen, Aiders and Abetters

On the road, we try to ‘observe only’. It’s not easy. But we try hard; to still our minds and hold our tongues. Few opinions and no judgements. Because honestly, what can we conclude? We just pass through!

But for Cambodia; we will not hold our tongues.

We read like always. We look like always. We listen like always. But what we learn and see and hear appals! Cambodians endure an awful abuse.

To stay still sanctions. To SPEAK OUT is the least we can do.

And we SHOUT OUT against Cambodia’s Strongmen and Henchmen. Three bloody SETS of them! And their feeble flurry of Aiders and Abetters.

Yes, they pull in … after 50 years of colonisation, after 8 years of collateral Vietnam War damage and after 3 years of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge!

Pol Pot leaves a third to a half of surviving Cambodians with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Researchers find this PTSD passed on to the next generation. The personality of a nation alters! A nation fills with traumatised people. Depression, insomnia, dull passive behaviour, violent outbursts, blurred vision, headaches, panic attacks ….

Fertile ground for Strongmen and Henchmen? Surely, not! But yes – three SETS of them. And old Cold War enemies aid and abet from the wings.
• Strongman No. 1 – Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge and Vietnam soldier. The Soviet Union and Vietnam prop him up.
• Strongman No. 2 – Ranariddh, the rebel son of the former King. He hates Vietnam and the United States funds with pleasure.
• Strongman No. 3 – Sihanouk, the former king. He swings with the wind; the French, the Chinese.

These Strongmen gather Henchmen. Together, they grapple for power. They seize and grab. They snatch, just in time. If need be, they trample to death. They build no schools and pave no roads. In 1993, 15 years after Pol Pot, the United Nations says “enough”. Cambodia becomes a UN protectorate. Then, 16,000 troops, 5,000 administrators and 3 billion USD flow in. They organise elections and 80% of Cambodians vote. Strongman No. 2 wins, marginally. The other two balk! The UN helps mediate and negotiate. Strongman No. 3 becomes the figurehead king, Strongman No. 2 first prime minister and Strongman No. 1, second prime minister. For Cambodia’s sake!!!!! The UN pats itself on the back and leaves. Donors and NGOs, 2000 of them, stay behind.

The horror doesn’t end.

Strongmen No. 1 and No. 2 dish out the government departments between them. Their Henchmen trip over each other. They pay their Strongmen in Cambodia. Henchmen claim lucrative government positions. The plunder continues, this time unopposed. Strongmen suffer paranoia. Personal armies grow from the hundreds to the thousands. Assassins gun down journalists. Hand grenades explode at political rallies. And in 1997 tanks rage full-blown warfare in the streets of Phnom Penh (capital city). A coup. Strongman No. 1 is top dog.

From then to now, little changes. Elections rig every 4 years. International aid groups pledge 500 million USD each year. And anti-corruption legislation gets an umpteenth draft.

Strongman No. 3 passes away in 2012. Another son, not No. 2, replaces him. A new party emerges from old players. Sam Rainsy leads this Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).

We find an English newspaper. We chat to young Cambodians. And we too start to suspect everything! We distrust these pleasant streets of Phnom Penh.

Cambodia is an Apology for a Democracy. Harry and I prefer the One Party Communist State that is Laos.

 

Strongman No. 1, Hun Sen and his Cambodian Peoples Party.

Strongman No. 1, Hun Sen and his Cambodian Peoples Party.

 

Strongman No. 2, Ranariddh. His Funcinpec Party is in trouble again.

Strongman No. 2, Ranariddh. His Funcinpec Party is in trouble again.

 

Strongman No. 3, King Sihanouk, is replaced by his son, Sihamoni.

Strongman No. 3, King Sihanouk, is replaced by his son, Sihamoni.

 

Another Strongman, Rainsy ... creates a new party  made up of old players ...

Another Strongman, Rainsy … creates a new party made up of old players …

 

Strongmen operate from some really grand offices in the capital Phnom Penh.

Strongmen operate from some really grand offices in the capital Phnom Penh.

 

...

 

And Strongmen make all the right noises.

And Strongmen make all the right noises.

 

But in reality, whistleblowers have no protection.

But in reality, whistle-blowers have no protection.

 

Articles like these fill an english newspaper ...

Articles like these fill an english newspaper …

 

...

Oh my, the players confuse, the statistics repulse and the stories sicken. What to SHOUT OUT about? Spoilt for choice! I select these three stories to tell. One is about Schools, one is about Land and one is about Ladies in PJs (pyjamas).

 

 – Schools –

The Khmer Rouge abolishes normal schooling. Most people over 40 have very little education. School building efforts only commence in the 1990’s – 12 years after Pol Pot’s regime! This story is about schools today.

We visit this school close to Seam Reap in west Cambodia. This school is named after Strongman No. 1.

We visit this school close to Seam Reap in west Cambodia. This school is named after Strongman No. 1.

 

School is not compulsory ...

School is not compulsory …

 

... and is supposedly free ...

… and is supposedly free …

 

... but in reality school children pay teachers a fee to be taught.

… but in reality school children pay teachers a fee to be taught.

 

Many parents cannot afford to pay these bribes. Their children stay at home and work in the fields. These are the lucky ones.

Many parents cannot afford to pay these bribes. Their children stay at home and work in the fields. These are the lucky ones.

 

Teachers in turn give bribe money to the Principal to secure their jobs.

Teachers in turn give bribe money to the Principal to secure their jobs.

 

And so it goes on ... Principals pay local Education Officers who pay National officers   ... all the way to the top. All cash!

And so it goes on … Principals pay local Education Officers who pay National officers … all the way to the top. All cash!

 

By the time these children are in secondary school they are well versed in corruption ... and pay for exam papers and better results.

By the time these children are in secondary school they are well versed in corruption … and pay for exam papers and better results.

 

These practices must stop ... this is no future for her ...

These practices must stop … this is no future for her …

 

... or him ...

… or him …

 

... or them.

… or them.

 

This young man, standing with Harry, cannot complete his studies ... because he cannot afford the bribe money at university.

This young man, standing with Harry, cannot complete his studies … because he cannot afford the bribe money at university.

 

 – Land –

The Khmer Rouge destroys all title deeds. Afterwards people just settle were there is space.  Today, the government is the custodian of all land. Land grabs are rife. For a bribe, government officials organise a ‘land concession’ or a ’99 year lease’. This story is about a typical land grab today. 

This is a map of Phnom Penh, the capital city. The Boeng Kak Development Area, the pink orange blob in the centre, used to be a lake.

This is a map of Phnom Penh, the capital city. The Boeng Kak Development Area, the pink orange blob in the centre, used to be a lake.

 

On the fringes we see the remains of the community that used to live around and on the lake.

On the fringes we see the remains of the community that used to live around and on the lake.

 

A community of 4000 families that lived here for 30 years.

A community of 4000 families that lived here for 30 years.

 

...

 

And made livings as boatbuilders, carpenters, weavers ...

And made livings as boatbuilders, carpenters, weavers …

 

... washerwomen ...

… washerwomen …

 

... and artists ...

… and artists …

 

But only a fraction of the families were allowed to remain here.

But only a fraction of the families were allowed to remain here.

 

...

 

...

 

...

 

In 2010 most families are trucked to an eviction site 24 kms out of town.

In 2010 most families are trucked to an eviction site 24 kms out of town.

 

And behind these walls hide the grab of this lake and the land around it.

And behind these walls hide the grab of this lake and the land around it.

 

The government leases the land for 99 years to  a Chinese and Cambodian consortium. Half owned by a Henchman (and wife) of Strongman Hun.

The government leases the land for 99 years to a Chinese and Cambodian consortium. Half owned by a Henchman (and wife) of Strongman Hun.

 

This used to be the lake! The Developer fills it with sand and by 2010 water spills into the streets and floods out the community at its edge.

This used to be the lake! The Developer fills it with sand and by 2010 water spills into the streets and floods out the community at its edge.

 

It is now 90 hectares of brand new real estate and we see a premier city in the making!

It is now 90 hectares of brand new real estate and we see a premier city in the making!

 

See how well located this site is with the skyscapers of the capital city in the background. The civil services are visible in the foreground.

See how well located this site is with the skyscapers of the capital city in the background. The civil services are visible in the foreground.

 

And luxury apartments are rising out of the lake ...

And luxury apartments are rising out of the lake …

 

... everywhere.

… everywhere.

 

But they are certainly not affordable to the community that used to live there.

But they are certainly not affordable to the community that used to live there.

 

– Ladies in PJs –

The Khmer Rouge issues black uniforms for all to wear. This story is about clothing today.

I may be way off.  But it strikes me. Bittersweet! So many ladies wear PJ (pyjama)-like tops and bottoms. Not black, but full of colour. Not good-fits, but comfortable and cheap. Not fashion statements. But perhaps, just perhaps, a ‘sweet’ statement about the ‘bitter’ Khmer Rouge days.

… my dears …

 

This is the uniform issued by the Khmer Rouge. It is worn by everyone from 1975 to 1978.

This is the uniform issued by the Khmer Rouge. It is worn by everyone from 1975 to 1978.

 

This is the first photo I take in Cambodia. It is the clothing worn by these women that strikes me.

This is the first photo I take in Cambodia. It is the clothing worn by these women that strikes me.

 

And it is not just one freak photo.

And it is not just one freak photo.

 

Working women throughout Cambodia wear these PJ like clothes.

Working women throughout Cambodia wear these PJ like clothes.

 

We see it everywhere ... in towns ...

We see it everywhere … in towns …

 

... and in rural areas.

… and in rural areas.

 

And especially at markets where working women generally gather.

And especially at markets where working women generally gather.

 

...

 

...

 

We see it on older ladies ...

We see it on older ladies …

 

On younger ladies  ...

On younger ladies …

 

And even on really young girls ...

And even on really young girls …

 

 

7 Responses to Strongmen and Henchmen, Aiders and Abetters

  1. Jeff Botha

    All the more relevant considering the depths that our own ruling elite have sunk to here at home.

    Lets hope we wont sink to the same depths as what has happened in Cambodia. Maybe our vocal protest at home are a good thing?

    Keeps our elected on their toes!

    Well in theory anyway!

  2. Jan and Gail

    What an eye opener. I can see how sad it all is. Thanks for the deep insight. love Mama Gail

  3. Mad Rider

    Human greed and lust for power seems to have no boundaries .Thanks for the insight

  4. Colin Pienaar

    Cambodia a very Interesting country and culture. All the best for the rest of the trip
    Colin & Debbie puenaar Durban South Africa,

  5. Philna

    So much sadness and greed in the world. I think it is not going to get better. Love to you.

  6. Philna

    So much sadness and greed in the world. I think it is not going to get better. Love to you.

  7. Mike

    So much corruption and greed in the world. Is SA headed in the same direction?

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