DAGBOG FRA SAIGON 1975: “SUPERHØGEN LETTER – KNUGENDE SIN HÅNDTASKE OG STARS AND STRIPES”

I dag for 40 år siden sluttede Vietnam-krigen endelig, efter det meste af landet var lagt i ruiner og 3-4 millioner menneskeliv gået tabt. I dagene forinden svirrede rygterne om, at kommunisterne havde planer om at foretage et sidste skånselsløst blodbad under indtagelsen af Saigon. De sidste amerikanere og de fleste vestlige journalister flygtede over hals og hoved. Som eneste danske journalist blev Jens Nauntofte tilbage for at dække magtovertagelsen.  Min blog er i dag overladt til Jens i form af disse uddrag fra hans dagbog ‘Gul Stjerne over Vietnam’.

JensNauntofte1975OgBog

30. april 1975

Ved daggry vågner vi ved lyden af de sidste helikoptere, der løfter bagtroppen ud. Kl. 08:56 letter den sidste Sea Knight fra betonkolossen. Et par minutter forinden har den sidste amerikanske bulletin forladt Saigon. Sendt til The White House Situation Room, hvorfra (præsident) Ford og (udenrigsminister) Kissinger følger begivenhederne: LADY ACE 09 afgår med CODE TWO, et synonym for ambassadør Graham Martin. Knugende sin håndtaske og Stars and Stripes letter Superhøgen.

Graham Martin

Ambassadør Graham Martin under et sidste kaotisk møde med Saigon’s pressekorps. Billedet er taget af det amerikanske nyhedsbureau AP’s fotograf Ky Nhan, som 30. april troppede op på sin arbejdsplads med sine hidtil hemmeligholdte nordvietnamesiske forbundsfæller.

********

Det går stærkt nu. Befrielsesfronten er på vej ind i centrum, radiostationen er besat. Ved postkontoret i Le Loi gaden, hvor også telexcentralen ligger, er der stuvende fuldt af mennesker, som vil sende sidste telegrammer ud af landet. Langs Saigon Floden er der stærk forvirring, der er skydning på den anden side af floden, både læsset med mennesker stævner ned mod havet, en slæbebåd kommer tæt forbi os. På dækket sidder et halvt hundrede mennesker med kufferter og bylter. De håber vel på at nå så langt ud, at de bliver samlet op af de amerikanske evakueringsskibe.

*********

Foran Nationalbanken er der opløb. Skaren har samlet sig om to unge nordvietnamesiske soldater, der er blevet smidt af på hjørnet af den store bankbygning. De holder vagt. De bliver nidstirret. Grønne uniformer. Flade hjelme og sorte Ho Chi Minh-sandaler. De er ikke et år over tyve, de står og klamrer sig til de erobrede M-16 geværer, tydeligt generte over den intense opmærksomhed de vækker.

En tøvende konversation er så småt i gang. Den ene tager imod en cigaret og lyser op i et stort smil da den bliver tændt for ham. Så følger hans kammerat eksemplet.

*********

Imens strømmer soldaterne ind i byen. Vi ser dem nu overalt, mens vi kører mod paladset. Et sted går en nordvietnamesisk soldat med en lang række tilfangetagne Saigon-soldater. Fortovene er fyldt med henslængt militærudrustning. Stålhjelme, våben, støvler – og bukser. Man ser unge mænd på gaden kun iført sorte shorts. Kapitulationen taler sit eget kontante sprog.

******

Ved paladset kører tre T-54 tanks med et smæld gennem det elegante gitterværk og tværs over plænerne. I et hjørne af parken får en gruppe Saigon-soldater skrupler og åbner ild. Kanontårnene drejer 180 grader og i et par minutter er alt blåt og hvidt. De jublende mennesker smelter chokeret væk. Så er der stille igen, og folk kommer frem for at fraternisere med de unge soldater der hopper af vognene hele vejen end gennem alléen. Et par hensynsfulde soldater fejer senere de blodige rester af paladsvagten til side.

BuiTin

Præsident Minh forsøger her at overdrage magten til den nordvietnamesiske kommissær Tung, der senere bliver verdensberømt under sit rigtige navn Bui Tin for sit bidende svar: “Det kan De ikke, De kan ikke overdrage noget De ikke har.” Bui Tin lever i dag i eksil i Paris efter et voldsomt opgør med ledelsen i det vietnamesiske kommunistparti.

inde i Hallen venter præsident Minh. Ved hans side står premierminister Vu Van Mau, der har nået at fungere i sit nye embede i 36 timer.

– Velkommen, udbryder Mau med sit mest strålende smil. Også Min smiler, men lidt krampagtigt. Kommissær Tung fejer forbi dem ud på balkonen for at hejse fanen over paladset, så folk i Saigon kan se, at magtskiftet er fuldbyrdet.

Minh forklarer Tung, at han er rede til at overdrage magten. Tung afviser det. Han mener ikke, at Minh har nogen magt at overdrage.

*********

På AP’s kontor dukker fotografen Ky Nhan frem i døren. I tre år har han arbejdet for bureauet som dets fotograf, og bureauchefen George Esper finder, at han er en behagelig samarbejdspartner. Altid villig til at tage derhen, hvor der sker noget.  Pludselig får han øje på de fire nordvietnamesere, der står ved siden af Ky Nhan, to af dem er officerer. De første Esper har set. Måbende stirrer han fra den ene til den anden. Siger så ind i telefonen: Mit bureau er okkuperet af Viet Cong. Så lægger han rører på.

Med et stille smil siger Ky Nhan, at han i de tre år også har arbejdet for Befrielsesfronten.

*********

Hen mod aften slutter Vietnam-krigen. De sidste modstandslommer er nedkæmpet. Også faldskærmssoldaterne, der havde forskanset sig i et skibsværft er blevet tavse. En stribe mortér-granater har ramt plet.

Det har været en lang dag. Lige fra Graham Martin lettede med LADY ACE 09 i morgentimerne og efterlod flere hundrede grædende vietnamesere, som ikke fik et lift med ud til ‘den frie verden’. Lige fra det buldrende indtog af panserkorpset, slaget om paladset, og til nu, da Tran Van Bom og hans veninde sidder trætte på Underhusets trappe og undrer sig over, at fra i dag vil hele deres liv skifte karakter. De er kommet på junglen ind fra stenbroen.

Saigon siger i dag farvel til sig selv. Saigon, den gamle luder: beregnende, forlystelsessyg, grisk og kærlig. Altsammen er det forbi.

*******

Det Saigon Graham Greene så forelsket beskrev er også væk. Idag ligger Rue Catinat oversået med opadvendte stålhjelme og militærstøvler. Da klokken blev fem sad der ingen på Continentals terrasse og drak vermouth cassis eller pastis. Der var tomt. Men da mørket sænker sig, sidder de trætte partisaner der og sludrer.

JensNauntofte2014

Siden krigen er Jens vendte tilbage til Vietnam mange gange, hvor jeg har haft stor fornøjelse af hans selskab – senest i 2014, hvor jeg overtalte ham til at stille op foran sit gamle Hotel Continental. Det sort-hvide foto, han holder, er taget i 1975 og viser Jens stående på sin gamle altan på øverste værelse. Bagefter gik ved ned på en af Saigons legendariske, frankofile sidegade-restauranter. Det blev en lang aften med masser af røver-historier og kølig Beaujolais, serveret af rødmende servitricer, der for første gang oplevede Jens rulle charmen helt ud.

AGENT ORANGE: A LETTER FOR OBAMA

hoantalking

Hoan was born with one hand and missing both lower legs. One out of thousands of 2nd generation Agent Orange victims in Vietnam.

In 1975, peace finally arrived in Vietnam. A long and bloody war came to an end, but not for all. Still today, thousands of Vietnamese, American and allied soldiers – and their families – suffer from Agent Orange exposure. The deadliest toxic ever invented by man.

Hoan giggles:

”It was a coincidence which gave me the idea to write a letter to the President of the United States. I googled him one day and stumbled on a public letter, which he had written to his daughters during his election campaign. He said that he had entered politics to make the world a better place for his daughters – actually all daughters on this earth.

So I thought I would tell him: “I am right here in Vietnam. We are a lot of daughters who could use your help.”

Hoan never got a reply from the White House.

“I don’t mind. I know he is very busy”, Hoan says with another burst of shy laughter, tapping the table with the fingers of her one hand which  she was born with some 20 years ago in Da Lat.

Hoanlaptop

Hoan wrote to Obama. She has yet to hear from President of the United States.

Hoan is one of more than 400.000 Vietnamese, who have been officially registered as 2nd generation Agent Orange Victims in Vietnam. Agent Orange was a dioxin contaminated defoliant used massively by the US Army and Airforce during the war in Vietnam.

Approximately 72 million liters of Agent Orange were sprayed over Southern and Central Vietnam in the years 1962-1971. The exposure to Agent Orange is widely believed to have caused a continued disaster for thousands of Vietnamese as well as US and Allied soldiers, who fought in the contaminated areas.

In the US alone more than 40.000 Vietnam veterans claim that they and their families are victims of dioxin related diseases.  Dioxin, or 2,3,7,8 Tetrachlorodbenzodioxin, is thought to be the strongest ever synthetic poison, so far developed.

For more than 50 years, scientific researchers have suspected that dioxin may cause a broad range of cancers, other very serious diseases and birth defects. Since 1978, dioxin contaminated pesticides have been banned in the US, but in previous years they have been used extensively around the globe for agricultural as well as military purposes.

In Vietnam they were used by the US forces in an unprecedented scale and with  the strongest concentrations ever.  This went on for years in spite of strong concerns, voiced by the scientists who had developed the pesticides for use on a much more limited scale.

The never ending story

Agent Orange was also the reason that this observer came to Vietnam as a young journalist more than 30 years ago. Other reporters from all over the world have filed thousands of stories in the past 4 or 5 decades about Agent Orange. Even though the faces of the victims are different, the stories are the same. To me this is the most scary part: It just goes on and on. Most recently the Danish anthropologist Tine Gammeltoft published the book ‘Haunting Images’,  the disturbing result of a major study among pregnant Vietnamese women and the nationwide fear of having children with birth defects due to exposure to Agent Orange.

Hoanroommates

Hoan is sharing a room with other victims at the To Do hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

In 2010, I set out to get a wider picture of the disastrous consequences of Agent Orange in Vietnam. What you are reading here  is the outcome of 5 years of visits all over Vietnam to cities and villages, which are still affected. The information in this blog also draws on several hundred reports and assessments by others. (If you google ‘Agent Orange’ you will get a very good idea of the enormous amount of information.)

Here come the voices of the victims, as I heard them.

hoanwiththianh

Hoan has passed a BA in English. Her dream is to become a doctor, like her foster mother.

We return to Hoan at her hospital ward in Ho Chi Minh City, former Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam until 30 April 1975.

Hoan always seem to be more than happy to receive visitors at her ward in the Tu Do hospital.

“Please come up with me to see our room. It is much better now than the last time you came to see me.” Hoan leads the way up the stairs to the 3rd floor with an impressive speed.

Her only hand takes a strong grip on the rail and her two leg stumps does the rest of the job pushing her body upwards as fast as we can climb the stairs on our legs.

“I never use the elevator. I try to do a lot exercise to stay healthy. My dream is to become a doctor like my foster mother,” Hoan says.

hoanstairs

Hoan move up the stairs as fast as anybody in spite of her handicap.

She is sharing the room with 11 other victims, some of them appears to be just a few years old. Here and there, a twisted arm or leg sticks out through the bed rails looking like branches on a naked tree. Some faces are heavily disfigured, several of the patients are obviously severely retarded.

aobaby-06

Tu Do hospital has been completely renovated, but the suffering remains as bad as ever.

The victims are not very different from the ones I met more than 30 years ago, when I first came to meet Hoan’s foster mother, the legendary Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong.

In those days the Tu Do Hospital was a rundown 3rd world institutition of the worst kind, with extremely poor facilities.

A hopeless battle

Dr. Phuong was fighting what seemed to be a hopeless battle to save her patients. Many of them were young women brought in from the countryside with strangely abnormal foetus, developing in their uterus, often along with malevolent tumours killing the mother and the baby.

Some of the babies made it into this world. One of them, Hoang Kim from Tay Ninh, I have never been able to erase from my memory. Born without eyes, tears of pain from a kidney disorder were running from her empty eye sockets. Her screams  haunted me for years.

Dr. Phuong and her colleagues did not have much to offer except words of comfort to the young patients, most of them sharing beds. The privilege of a solitary bed was reserved for those, who had violent spasms of pain or only a short time left to live.

PhuongPatient

A dying patient in Tu Do hospital, 1984. Dr Phuong inserted. (Photo: Ole Johnny Sørensen).

We walked with Dr. Phuong in a stench of fear and death in wards with no aircondition and not a wind to clear up the air in there. She was like an Asian replica of Florence Nightingale walking from bed to bed, now and then stopping at length, quietly caressing the hand of a crying patient.

Next, she showed us her collection of ‘evidence’: Dozens of  foetus in big jars with the most unbelievable malformations.  Small monsters swimming in yellowish fluid. An unbearable sight of the kind which stays with you forever.

My beautiful picture

Dr. Phuong ‘s collection of evidence in 1984. (Photo: Ole Johnny Sørensen)

More than 30 years later, the Tu Do hospital has been completely renovated. The wards are air-conditioned, the beds and equipment are relatively new, and the medicine supply has improved greatly. But the suffering seems to be the same as before.

The impossible dream

Hoan is an exception to the general misery of the Agent Orange victims in Vietnam.

She seems to accept her predicament, never uttering a word of complaint. She is full of energy and as lively as any young Vietnamese woman with that thirst for knowledge, which is so common among the new generation of Vietnamese.

”I am studying English very hard. I have really used the dictionary, you brought me the last time. When I am done with my BA in English, I will apply for the medical university,” Hoan says, her eyes sparkling with anticipation of a dream to come true.

Later the same afternoon I am sitting in her foster mother’s living room.

“Hoan will never become a doctor.  Her health is not good at all, and with her handicaps no hospital would ever accept her, if she did manage to complete medical school,” Dr. Phuong states drily.

PhuongDOCTOR

Doctor Phuong has retired from the hospital and now a full time lobbyist for Vietnam’s Agent Orange victims.

Now in her seventies, dr. Phuong has retired from the hospital,  and she does look like a grandmother in her sofa with a stuffed tiger, for her own grandchildren to play with on their visits. But  Dr. Phuong is in fact very busy this afternoon, preparing her testimony at a congressional hearing in Washington DC.

She bears no resentment against Americans.

”We have many American friends these days. Doctors, veterans and their relatives, congress men and NGO activists. They support us a lot. I see no reason to blame the Americans. The responsibility for this disaster lies with a few senior decision makers, and most of them are gone a long time ago,”Phuong says.

Her words prompt the big WHY – what on earth made the US unleash this nightmare for generations to come – even victimising the American GI’s, who fought in Vietnam?

The answer lies in the early days of John F. Kennedy’s presidency.

Kennedy: Tell me how to win this war

It is 1961, and the situation is going from bad to worse in Vietnam. Increasingly alarming reports about Communist progress have reached the White House. The US protegé, South Vietnam’s autocratic President Diem has not achieved much besides turning his government into a family affair.

Diem’s basic disadvantage is being a devout catholic with ties to the former French colonial regime. He has no chance of getting popular support in a country, where 95% of the population are buddhist with a strong element of nationalism. Diem is seen as a puppet of foreign powers with ulterior motives.

Diem’s brother Nhu is in charge of the entire security apparatus, and he uses it without hesitance in suppressing any kind of  opposition to Diem’s rule. His wife ‘Madame Nhu’ acts as Vietnam’s First Lady to support the unmarried President.

When Buddhist monks start burning themselves in the streets of Saigon, Madame Nhu is interviewed  by US networks stating on camera that she does not care about ‘these monks barbecuing themselves’.

As suppression in the South becomes even harder,  the opposition spreads far beyond Diem’s communist foes.

MdNhu

President Diem’s government was a family affair, with his sister-in-law Madame Nhu playing the role as First Lady, seen here while inaugurating a training course for female self defence groups. Her husband, Nhu, controlled the security forces during President Diem’s rule. Diem and his brother were murdered during a military coup on 2 November 1963, a few weeks before President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

Kennedy has also seen reports from his advisors on the ground about the poor morale in the South Vietnamese army. Many officers appear to be notoriously corrupt, and their subordinates seem to be a very poor match for the determined Viet Cong guerrillas.

Some CIA analysts on the ground in Vietnam express their concern that South Vietnam might collapse. Kennedy needs to know what it takes to win the war in Vietnam and puts together a team of special advisors, headed by his brother Robert F. Kennedy and the highly regarded general, Maxwell Taylor, who is also the President’s top military advisor.

The team produces an extensive catalogue of proposals to turn the events in Vietnam. Among them is a plan to prevent the guerillas from hiding in South Vietnam’s dense tripple canopy forests and at the same time deny them food supply.

AOspraying

With president Kennedy’s approval Operation Ranchhand takes off in early 1962. During the next decade these C-123 planes carry out almost 20.000 spraying missions, delivering 72 million liters of Agent Orange, contaminated with extremely high levels of dioxin.

Operation Hades turn into Operation Ranchhand

The team highlights how the British successfully uncovered the hide-outs of the communist guerillas in Malaya with an extensive defoliation campaign in the 1950’ies.  Pentagon affiliated scientists are already involved in a classified research programme, code named ‘Operation Hades’,  a reference to the realm of the dead in Greek mythology.

In late 1961, president Kennedy approves the defoliation programme under the much less controversial code name ‘Operation Ranchhand’.  The four targets are a matter of record.

  • To defoliate the dense jungle areas where the guerilla bases are believed to be located in Southern and Central Vietnam;
  • To defoliate river banks and road sides to reduce the risk of ambush;
  • To defoliate the perimeters of the American bases to avoid Viet Cong commando attacks;
  • To destroy rice fields and other crops, where ever the farmers are believed to supply the enemy with food.

In Vietnam, the pesticides become known as Agent Orange, simply because the barrels are marked with an orange color code.

According to numerous statements from veterans, Agent Orange was considered a relatively harmless weed killer.

riverspray

Agent Orange riverside spraying from a US patrol boat in the Mekong Delta.

GI’s wearing Agent Orange canisters on their bare backs, spraying without face masks, were a common sight on the base perimeters.  Former pilots and ground personel have testified that they did not receive any kind of safety instructions in handling the pesticides.

“We often flew spraying missions at very low altitudes with open windows because of the intolerable heat, becoming totally drenched with the stuff. On the ground you could smell the Ranch Hands from a very long distance,” pilot Charles Hubbs stated to his lawyers in one of the early class action law suits against the producers of Agent Orange, primarily Dow Chemicals and Monsanto.

As the spraying missions accelerated with the war, so did reports about massive environmental destruction and acute poisoning cases in the target areas. At one point, a CBS war correspondent, Dan Rather was asked to look into the controversy.

Rather went to interview Ranch Hand commander Ralph Dresser, who volunteered to take a sip of Agent Orange straight from the barrel.

“I grant you the stuff tastes bad, but it is harmless to humans,” Dresser supposedly said to the baffled journalist.

Slide1

“I died in Vietnam without knowing it,” former pilot Paul Reutershan stated in one of his last interviews. His ordeal and death from liver cancer became a symbol of the US veterans in their struggle to be recognised as victims of Agent Orange.

As the war escalated, the spraying missions further intensified moving beyond Vietnam’s borders into Laos and Cambodia, following the so called Ho Chi Minh Trail – the military supply lines from the North to the South. The level of dioxin was also increased to optimise the efficiency of the spraying.

In 1971, Operation Ranch Hand was finally aborted after almost 20.000 spraying missions in Vietnam. The controversy in the US continued to grow with the increasing number of veterans who attributed very serious health effects to their exposure to Agent Orange.

“I died in Vietnam without knowing it,” former pilot Paul Reutershan said in one of his last interviews before dying from a rare type of liver cancer.

He became a symbol of the US veterans in their struggle to be recognised as victims of Agent Orange. Most recently, in 2014, flight crews that never set foot in Vietnam, also claim to have been exposed at dangerous levels, now claiming support for treatment and compensation for disabilities.

They have been serving for years in the old C-123 planes, which apparently never were cleaned properly after the spraying missions in Vietnam. Blood and tissue tests have reportedly confirmed traces of dioxin in the crews.

Fishnetwoman

Northern Thai Binh displays rural beauty, but the province is also believed to be the home for thousands of 2nd generation Agent Orange victims.

The boys from the North

The disastrous consequences of Agent Orange in Vietnam stretch far beyond the sprayed areas in the South. At first, it might be hard to imagine during the idyllic 100 km day trip from Hanoi to Thai Binh province.

It is indeed Postcard Vietnam –  a beautiful ride through endless rice fields, complete with pretty farm girls on bicycles, lazy water buffaloes, and expanded fishing nets drying and glowing like gold in the afternoon sun.

Thai Binh and the other Northern provinces were never sprayed during the war, but still the effects of Agent Orange appear to be devastating. Thai Binh is known to be the province which sent most soldiers to fight in the South. Thousands and thousands fought in the contaminated areas for years, many went to war as teenagers on both sides of the war.

While 2-3 million Vietnamese are believed to have been killed in the war, thousands returned to their families. Apparently, Agent Orange travelled home with them.

In the years after the war Vietnamese doctors noted a dramatic increase in rare cancers and other serious ailments among the returning soldiers. Then came an equally dramatic increase in miscarriages and uncanny birth defects. As of today, more than 5.000 Agent Orange victims are registered in Thai Binh. Similar numbers are claimed in Nam Dinh, Thai Nguyen and Hai Duong provinces.

Hang-006

Hang (35) lives her life in a small shed next to the family house in Thai Binh. Her parents seldom take her out. She suffers from chloracne, a painful skin disease and is severely retarded.

In a Thai Binh village, we encounter Hang (35), datter of a veteran from the war in the South. She is severely retarded and suffers from chloracne, an extremely painful skin disease, which makes her legs look like open wounds from her feet to the hip. Chloracne is a rare condition, but also very common among US veterans from the war.

Hang’s family keeps her in small shed most of the time next to their house.

“The neighbours do not like to see her. They see her as an omen of bad luck, they seem to be afraid that her sufferings can be passed on to them,” Hang´s mother says with tears running during most of the interview.

A few kilometers away, we encounter Gam (33).

She is lying on the ground growling like an animal –  retarded, blind and very dirty.

“Don’t come to close to her. She can be very agressive. She does not understand human language. We never let her in the house anymore. My husband is very week and afraid of her,” Gam’s mother says.

In the following days we meet the same kind of misery – disease, loneliness, poverty and very little support from the local community.

Slide1

Gam is living like a wild animal outside the family house. She can be very agressive, and her sick father is afraid of her.

 The time bomb in Da Nang

A visit to Da Nang in central Vietnam is no less disturbing.

Da Nang was home to the biggest US airbase during the war. Enormous amounts of Agent Orange were stored here for the spraying missions. Thousands of used barrels were left rusting here, with the remaining contents seaping into the ground.

In present day, environmental experts from Canadian Hatfield Consultants have documented dioxin levels of 365.000 ppt (parts per trillion) –  365 times the safety level in the US. This time bomb has been there next to a densely populated area for at least four decades.

After 10 years of preliminary investigations followed by negotiations between the US and Vietnam, a project has been initiated to remove 200.000 m3 of contaminated soil with an estimated cost of more than USD 40 million.

Hatfield consultants have also identified two other heavily contaminated areas, which served as supply bases for the Ranch Hand missions: The former Bien Hoa air base (262 times over the safety limit) and the former Phu Cat base (266 over the safety limit). In addition, some 20 other, presumably less serious ’dioxin hotspots’ await further investigation, if funding can be obtained.

So far, the US government has only granted funds to clean up the former base in Da Nang. It is labelled an environment project, and compensation to victims is not included.

Toanfamily-08

Toan (right) has a dream to become a graphics designer. He and his younger brother Tan get weaker and weaker due to the gradual disintegration of their bone structure.

According to the local chapter of VAVA (the national association for Agent Orange victims) the dioxin contamination is taking its toll. They suggest we visit Toan (18) and his younger brother, Tan.

The walls in their one room house are decorated with fading family photos and school achievement certificates, obtained by the two boys, before they became too weak to follow classes properly in the local school. Both of them suffer from an irreversible detoriation of their bone structures, which emerged a few years ago.

The youngest brother is the weakest one, now barely able to brush his teeth by himself. Toan’s mom tells us about her son’s hopeless dream to become a graphics designer.

Every morning she carries him out to her motorbike and brings him to school.

“He cannot sit for long, so they allow him to lie down during the lessons. The teachers have asked me, why I keep bringing him there. It’s what keeps him alive,” Toan’s mother says.

nhan-bo-03

Nhan is the size of a toddler, but his 10 years old. His dead twin sister has her place at the family altar.

In another house we meet a little boy, Nhan, sitting on the floor. He looks like he is in his first year, but we are told that he is 10 years old. A picture of a clone is on the family altar – his dead twin sister.

A few hours later, we visit Trinh, severely retarded and clutching a barbie doll with strangely deformed hands, with the looks of animal claws.  Her mom is distracted several times during the interview trying to take care of Trinh’s younger brother, paralysed from birth and continuously suffering from painful spasms.

Trinh-barbie-04

Trinh with her barbie doll.

Next, we are with Phung and her paralysed, retarded daughters, 18 and 15 years of age.

“What will happen to them, when my husband and I are gone. Who will take care of them,” Phung asks.

Her husband tells us that she has developed a severe depression over the years from exhaustion and fear of the future.

The poorest of the poor

There are more stories to tell – of even deeper misery – in the Central Highlands of Vietnam among the marginalised ethnic minorities.  The Hmong’s, the Bana’s, the Flower Thais and the Black Thais all  have one thing in common: For centuries they have been at odds with the Kinhs, the vast majority of Vietnam’s population.

This historic rivalry for land and ressources in Vietnam were exploited by French as well as US intelligence in the wars against the Vietnamese. Ethnic minorities served as very important recruitment pools for the the foreign war effort in Vietnam, and even in peace time there is a strong undercurrent of mutual distrust between the Kinh and the minorities.

The relationship is even more tense between the Kinh’s and the minorities, who converted to catholic church during French colonial rule.

christianEntrance

The ethnic minorities are the poorest of the poor in Vietnam.

Open ethnic conflicts are rare these days, but the differences manifest themselves in the poverty levels. Just an hours drive from the provincial capital of Kontum province in the Central Highlands, the roads turn into trails. Now, homes are primitive bamboo huts without water or electricity.

xedanggrandma-02

Xe Dang and her retarded, blind daughter lives together in a primitive bamboo hut.

In one of the huts, we meet Xe Dang, an old woman who struggles to take care of her blind and retarded daughter.

“You have come with the blessings of God,” she says with a toothless grin, when we hand over a couple of packs with small milk cartons and straws.

In a Bana minority village we are invited to visit Byus (9), who has spent his entire life in bed.  He has an enormously swollen head. His aunt are telling their story between sobs.

“Buy’s father has lost his eyesight, and my sister is the only one earning money in the family. She is out now collecting cow dung to sell it to the farmers.”

Byus-19

Buy’s aunt is taking care of him. His mother is collecting cow dung for selling to the farmers..

A propaganda ploy?

When I give lectures on Agent Orange, I am often asked: “Are you sure that you are not just promoting communist propaganda? Can we really believe these numbers? Some doctors have testified in court proceedings that there is no link between Agent Orange and these sick people.”

Surely, the Agent Orange issue has been used by Hanoi on numerous occasions during the decades, when the US were still seen as an enemy. It is also likely that numbers have been vastly exaggerated in politically biased reports – some have claimed the number of Agent Orange victims in Vietnam to be more than 4 million people.  And yes, several doctors have testified that no scientifically solid evidence has been provided so far of the link between Agent Orange and the human misery among the exposed.

The American Cancer Society has conducted several studies of claims by US veterans and concluded that the evidence is not there. Several court cases against the US Government and the manufacturers of Agent Orange have been dismissed in the US, Korea and Canada.

Hence, the sadness and frustration, which is reflected on websites like this one: http://www.agentorangequiltoftears.com/

The circumstantial evidence is of enormous proportions, starting with the very early alarm bells, coming from the scientist, professor Arthur W. Galston, who developed the dioxin contaminated pesticides in the first place. He voiced his strong concerns publicly on many occasions, after Operation Ranchhand took off. His warnings were ignored, and eventually he turned against the entire war effort in frustration.

Hundreds of indicative findings by doctors and scientists are pointing in the same direction, as Galston did 50 years ago.

In developed countries, the precautions against dioxin exposure of our own citizens clearly indicate that there are very serious reasons to be alarmed.

Today, it is also apparent that the US government and health authorities share the concerns related to Agent Orange, even though they refrain from stating it directly.

Otherwise, the Defence Department would not have established a limited medical aid programme for Vietnam veterans, who are believed to suffer from exposure to Agent Orange. The US government would not have accepted Agent Orange to be on the agenda at the presidential level in the ongoing dialogue between the US and Vietnam. And the new ambassador to Hanoi, Ted Osius would not have highlighted the US assistance to the clean-up in Da Nang in his message on the Embassy website on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of normal relations between the two former enemies.

It has taken decades to move the US to officially address just a few of the issues, related to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

In the meantime, concerned US Citizens have stepped in with massive support in Vietnam. Organisations like the Ford Foundation and East Meets West have done a tremendous effort to assist the victims in Vietnam. The Bill and Melinda Gates Fund have financed a state-of-the-art research laboratory in Hanoi. Several US veteran groups are doing successful aid projects at the village level.

You can find more info about them here:

http://makeagentorangehistory.org/agent-orange-resources/agent-orange-timeline/

Sadly, these initiatives are too limited to be of any real consequence for the thousands of people, still suffering in Vietnam. If you visit the villages in Thai Binh, Hai Duong, Nam Dinh, Kontum or elsewhere in Vietnam, it will surely break your heart.

As a northern veteran, Thang quietly told me:

“I fought for 10 years in the war. When peace came, I destroyed my own family. We have two handicapped children, who cannot take care of themselves. The world is just waiting for us to die.”

Ha-LamOanh-007

Thang: “The world is waiting for us to die.”

Thomas Bo Pedersen,

Hanoi, April 2015.

Et uddrag på dansk kan læses her:

http://www.b.dk/globalt/agent-orange-og-brevet-til-obama

THE ANNIVERSARY WE COULD DO WITHOUT

VietnamesescientistsonKampucheakillingfields1988

One of the killing fields outside Cambodia’s capital being cleaned up. 2-3 million people perished under the Khmer Rouge Regime 1975-1978. The Vietnamese army ousted Pol Pot in January 1979. (Photo: Ole Johnny Sørensen)

This week, 40 years ago, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge had settled in as the new rulers of Cambodia. The US-backed Lon Nol regime had fled, and King Sihanouk had been confined to his palace, loosing his beloved saxophone in the process. Then KR started to empty Phnom Penh and march the citizens at gunpoint to the countryside, killing hundreds of thousands as the revolution moved on.

When photographer Ole Johnny Sørensen and I arrived a decade later, a strange sight met us outside Phnom Penh. At a distance, it looked like they were watering cauliflower fields. As we came closer, it dawned on us that they very cleaning the remains of the victims of Khmer Rouge.

Johnny focused on his job, while I vomited behind the car. The capital itself still seemed like a city, which was way too big for its population.

Very few cars roamed th streets, some shops open here and there with household goods smuggled in from Vietnam and Thailand. A lone elephant at the Wat Phnom pagoda – and then dozens of one-legged mine victims begging for food. No hotels seemed to be open for business, we were put in the former governor palace – a huge concrete structure that seemed empty. Candle night dinners at night, because there was no power.

The so called Russian Market had lethal commodities for sale – guns, AK 47’s, even hand grenades. This was Cambodia a decade after Pol Pot’s holocaust. What then followed, I will dwell on in a later blog.

REFLECTIONS ON A GALA EVENING IN HANOI

image

The new US ambassador to Vietnam sees the former enemy as an important strategic ally in the face of Chinese regional ambitions.

NEW FRIENDSHIPS IN A TROUBLED REGION

Last night we had the pleasure of participating in a grand Gala Event at the pompous new Marriott Hotel in Hanoi, celebrating the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two former enemies.

It was a hyper prominent event, led by Vietnam’s deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh and the new US ambassador Ted Osius with an audience of 500, including ambassadors, high ranking Vietnamese officials and practically all CEO’s in town.

The speeches were more than cordial. The Deputy Prime Minister did not utter one word about another upcoming event: The 40th anniversary of the end of, what he would have called ‘The American War’, as you say in a country that have suffered so many different wars that it does not make sense to speak about ‘The Vietnam War’.

Instead, Pham Binh Minh devoted his remarks entirely to all the positive aspects of Vietnam’s growing relationship with the US. He dwelled on the fact that the US is now Vietnam’s biggest export market. He thanked the US for the ever increasing number of Vietnamese students allowed into US universities.

Pham Minh Binh expressed his hopes for US support to Vietnamese interests in the region – and not least in the current diplomatic entanglements regarding the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which could be one of the biggest trade agreements ever, if it materialises.

Ambassador Ted Osius was equally forthcoming in his speech, stressing Vietnam’s importance as an economic and strategic partner.  And of course, who would have expected anything else at a Gala event?

The elephant in the room

The interesting thing is that this recurrent commercial tuxedo party now takes place with such high level participation.  This year’s Gala Event can only be seen as a clear signal to the invisible elephant in the grand ballroom of the Marriott: An elephant of Chinese origin.

Gone are the days, when a US ambassador would take the floor in Hanoi, and justify his barrage of criticism  by telling Vietnamese officials that he represented ‘democracy at work’, like one of Ted Osius’ predecessors, ambassador Raymond Burghardt did little more than a decade ago at a conference at the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce.

Burghardt, a former junior diplomat at the US Embassy in wartime Saigon, was shot down in flames verbally by a Vietnamese official, who sarcastically thanked the  ambassador and the US for making sure that his country had learned to appreciate peace and independence.

Vietnam and the US are clearly moving closer together in the face of China’s increasingly ambitious regional policies. Last year’s controversy about the Chinese oil rig within, what Vietnam’s sees as its territory, is only the most visible example of the increased tension in the region.

“When I fought the American soldiers, I would never have imagined them to become our friends. But this is how I see the US today,” a high ranking member of Dang Cong San – Vietnam’s communist party – said last night.

This afternoon I spoke with another veteran, who spent most of his life working for the revolution as a commissar, building up a socialist administration in Southern Vietnam after the war.

“We were right in fighting the Americans during the war. But we took the wrong path, when trying to build a Soviet style economy after the war.  We would have been better off with the kind of socialism that some of the Nordic countries in Europe are famous for in Vietnam.

I still have some reasons to hate America for all the suffering during the war. But if the world needs a policeman, I want it to be America, not China,” the veteran said with a grin.

I am pretty sure he represents a very common view among the Vietnamese today.

THE ROAD BACK TO VIETNAM

On 30 April it is the 40th anniversary of the end of what is called ‘The American War’ in Vietnam. Is there a better way of celebrating this than taking note of the fact that more and more overseas Vietnamese have reconnected with their fatherland?

Some of us are old enough to remember the tragic exodus in 1970’s, when ‘boat people’ became a household word all over the world because of the flimsy overfilled boats with hundreds of thousands of people, who  risked their lives to get away from Vietnam. Many families drowned in the ocean or were killed by Pirates.

BoatPeople

The exodus from Vietnam in boats like this – a tragic aftermath of ‘The American war’.

Here is the story of one of the returnees, a young Vietnamese American journalist and her family:

An American Daughter Returns to Vietnam

By Oanh Ha, Bloomberg, 08 Apr., 2015

In 2010, three decades after we survived a harrowing boat escape from the communist regime in Vietnam, I broke the news to my father: I would be moving back there with his three grandchildren. He took a step toward me, unblinking. “You know they are my enemy, right?” he asked. “You know we risked our lives to flee Vietnam and now you are taking my grandchildren back there?” I had seen my father angry before, but I hadn’t seen hurt in his eyes.

Like many Vietnamese Americans, my father was critical of the communist government that seized control of our homeland in 1975. He had served in the opposing Republic of Vietnam’s Air Force as a mechanic. But growing up in southern California just miles from the “Little Saigon” community of immigrants in the 1980s, politics was never dinner conversation. My decision to return to my birthplace pushed my father to confront memories he’d buried since we fled in 1979.

Our generational clash isn’t unusual. Plenty of younger Vietnamese-Americans seek to re-connect with the motherland and make sense of their hyphenated lives, straddling two cultures that are sometimes incongruous.As a reporter, I wanted to bring the story of a modern Vietnam to an international audience — and older Vietnamese like my father.

Many Westerners, particularly in the U.S., still view Vietnam through the lens of war and aren’t aware of its vibrant population that embraces all things American. It’s also home to an entrepreneurial, fast-growing and globally-integrated economy. That’s sometimes tough to grasp for my dad’s generation, still carrying wounds from the war years.

My parents and grandparents saw such a bleak future under communist rule for our family that they risked our lives to leave. Unlike many other boats that sank, we had an experienced sailor at the helm — my grandfather. My dad and his brothers retrofitted a river boat. We registered with local authorities and paid two taels of gold (about $2,900 at today’s prices) each for supposed permission to leave. Three dozen of my relatives and 300 other passengers crammed onto a boat, the MH2899, designed for a third of that number. The overloading was caused by corrupt officials who placed extra passengers on board and delayed the departure as a storm brewed.

I was six at the time and what I do remember still evokes fear. Black waves crashed over the deck and soaked cowering passengers, who chanted and prayed to gods and ancestors. After the storms, Thai pirates attacked four times. I watched in silence as a middle-aged man wept after the pirates seized a secret compartment lined with gold. Concealed diamonds and gems oozed out of toothpaste tubes. During another attack, a woman dropped gold jewelry into my aluminum can of porridge. “Just skim the top,” she told me, as a machete-wielding pirate stormed the cabin.

Years later as a college student, I recounted the memory. My mom laughed. “That was me!” she said. It was her wedding jewelry. When we reached the refugee camp on Malaysia’s Bidong island, she traded her wedding necklace for the tarp-and-wood hut we lived in for a year. Between 1975 and 1995, almost 800,000 Vietnamese boat refugees sought asylum in other countries, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Countless others died at sea.

We ended up in Orange County, home to the largest population of offshore Vietnamese. My parents struggled to assimilate, delivering newspapers and sewing garments before operating a family business. We rarely talked about the war or the journey to America. My mom said it was too painful. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out about her half-sister, Nguyen Thi Giac, a teacher who left her family to join the Viet Cong guerrillas in the jungle as her brother fought for the South Vietnamese army. Giac was captured by the South Vietnamese during the war and gave birth to a son in prison.

OanhHa

Oanh Ha left Vietnam in refugee boat. Now she lives and works in Hanoi as the bureau chief of Bloomberg.

In the U.S., we achieved the classic immigrant dream. I became the first college graduate in our clan. My brother, Vu, served as a Marine officer in Iraq. My sister, Louise, briefly starred in a reality TV show — it doesn’t get more American than that. There was sadness and longing as the adults spoke about the homeland. As I grew older, I understood the irony my parents came to see.

 “I do have to thank the communists,” my dad said recently. “If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have left Vietnam and you children wouldn’t have the opportunities and success you now enjoy. We gained everything by leaving.”

The first time I returned to Vietnam in 1994, a mixture of guilt and gratitude gripped me. In the faces of young girls hawking postcards and the street vendors who walked from dawn to dusk, I saw mine. Only luck separated us. Ever since that trip, I felt Vietnam calling.

My dad visited us in Hanoi two years ago. He chatted to taxi drivers and vendors about their lives and circumstances. He’s come to accept this new Vietnam. “There’s no more animosity on my part, he said.

EFTER SEJREN

FYRRE ÅR EFTER VIETNAM-KRIGENS SLUTNING STÅR LANDET OVERFOR NYE ENORME UDFORDRINGER

baotang-01

40 år efter Saigon-regimets sammenbrud, markerer Hanoi fortsat sejren massivt med monumenter som denne skrotbunke af nedskudte amerikanske fly.

Den 30. April er det 40 år siden, at den første tank i rækken af nordvietnamesiske larvefødder tog fejl af bykortet over Saigon. Den sovjetisk byggede T54 tank fra den 203. brigade skrumlede videre i den gale retning på vejen mod den sydvietnamesiske præsident ’Big’ Minh’s palads.

Minh selv var blevet indsat en uge forinden, efter den egentlige præsident Nguyen Van Thieu var flygtet over hals og hoved til London – ifølge forlydender med 14 tons guld om bord i flyet.

Så i stedet blev det tank nr. 2, der som den første bragede gennem præsident-paladsets porte. Om bord var en nordvietnamesisk senior-journalist, oberst Bui Tin fra Hærens dagblad. Han blev som den højest rangerende officer skubbet frem i forreste række for at modtage præsidentens kapitulation.

”Jeg vil gerne overdrage Dem magten,” sagde præsidenten til Bui Tin, der bistert bed ham af: ”Det kan De ikke, De kan ikke overdrage noget, som De ikke har,” lød svaret.

Bui Tin selv var dybt bevæget bag den barske mine. Han var draget i krig som purung soldat og deltog i det sidste afgørende slag mod franskmændene i 1954 i Dien Bien Phu-dalen.  For ham var Saigon ikke faldet – den sydvietnamesiske hovedstad var befriet efter 25 år i krig for Bui  Tin’s vedkommende.

Det var med en klukkende latter, at Bui Tin fortalte os historien i Hanoi i 1985, mens han endnu var krigshelt og blandt den håndfuld fra Hanois inderkreds, der talte med vestlige journalister. Bui Tin havde også et par kornede fotos fra det berømte intermezzo i præsidentpaladset, og senere blev selve ordvekslingen da også bekræftet af den sydvietnamesiske præsidents tidligere adjudant, der også var til stede i præsidentens arbejdsværelse.

BuiTin

“De kan ikke overdrage noget, som De ikke længere har.” Sydvietnams sidste præsident Minh (tv) fik klar besked af Bui Tin i præsidentpaladset den 30. april 1975.

Vi mødte den tidligere adjudant  nogle uger senere i Saigon, hvor han på Folkekomiteens foranledning stillede op som et synligt bevis på, at man viste overbærenhed overfor det tidligere regimes topfolk. Han var sluppet med at tilbringe nogle år på den hårde skolebænk i en af genopdragelses-lejrene, hvor mange af Saigon-regimets embedsmænd var havnet, fordi de ikke havde nået at flygte, inden Hanoi tog magten i hele landet.

Fra helt til forræder

Bui Tins status som krigshelt ændrede sig brat til forræder, da han et par år senere kastede sig ud i et voldsomt opgør med kommunistpartiets ledelse i bogen ’Following Uncle Ho’. Hans påstand var, at partiledelsen under partisekretær Le Duan havde forrådt revolutionens udgangspunkt, ja Onkel Ho selv.

Siden da har Bui Tin levet i eksil i Paris. Når hans gamle fædreland har noget at fejre, er Bui Tin kendt for at dukke op i et af de store internationale vestlige medier med et svidende angreb på Hanoi’s nuværende magthavere. Skulle Bui Tin fare i blækhuset igen, vil det næppe skabe mange krusninger på vandet.

Kun meget få vietnamesere aner, hvem han er. I dag er det kun et mindretal af de 95 millioner vietnamesere, der er gamle nok til at huske det vi kalder Vietnam-krigen. Magthaverne i Hanoi synes at sidde sikrere i sadlen end nogensinde før.

De vietnamesiske eksil-organisationer er stort set ophørt med at eksistere, bortset fra nogle die-hard grupperinger i ’Little Saigon’ (Garden Grove) i det sydlige Californien og i Paris. Selv topfolkene fra det tidigere sydvietnamesiske regime rejser i vore dage uden problemer til Saigon for at fejre det traditionsrige vietnamesiske nytår med slægtninge.

Der er ikke megen klangbund tilbage for de eksilerede, antikommunistiske aktivister at hente i selve Vietnam, selvom forsøgene stadig bliver gjort, ofte gennem kontakt til frustrerede vietnamesiske bloggere her i Vietnam. De får sjældent skrevet mange linjer, før de bliver standset og stillet for en dommer.

I vore dage er der heller ingen hjælp at hente hos de vestlige regeringer, der tidligere støttede eksil-grupperingerne med både penge, logistik og endda våben, når der ellers var nogen, der var naive nok til at kaste sig ud i Rambo-aktioner ind over den vietnamesiske grænse.

EastSea

Den røde linje viser, hvordan Kina definerer sine hav-rettigheder til stor utilfredshed ikke bare i Vietnam, men også hos Kinas øvrige små naboer i regionen.

USA er ikke længere blot Vietnams største eksportmarked, men også en uhyre vigtig strategisk allieret i Vietnams forsøg på at holde Den Store Nabo mod nord, Kina, stangen i de skærpede stridigheder om havrettighederne i ’Øst-havet’, som Vietnam kalder Det Sydkinesiske Hav.

I 2014 leverede USA endog inspektions-skibe til Vietnam som gavebistand – tankevækkende i betragtning af, at det faktisk var Hanois påståede angreb på amerikanske flådefartøjer i Tonkin-bugten, der blev brugt som forklaring på landsættelsen i 1965 af de første amerikanske tropper i Da Nang.

ChinaWar

Amerikanske officerer bliver modtaget i Hanoi med fuldt honnør og under drabelige overskrifter i Vietnamesiske medier om en mulig krig med Kina.

Vietnam ifølge Hjortlund

Som min gode ven Preben Hjortlund altid siger med sit nordjyske lune, der stadig er intakt efter næsten 25 år i Vietnam: ”Da jeg kom hertil, kunne Vietnam ikke gøre noget rigtigt i Vestens øjne. Nu kan de ikke gøre noget forkert!”

En herværende vestlig ambassadør er dog ikke helt enig i den betragtning.

“Der foregår skam stadig en kritisk dialog med vietnameserne om bl.a. menneskerettigheds-situationen i Vietnam,”siger han.

Vietnam er forlængst sluppet ud af rollen som paria-stat og betragtes nu som en på alle måder agtværdig partner i det internationale samfund, og ikke mindst som et godt investeringsland og et løfterigt marked for alverdens virksomheder.

Så det vietnamesiske regime – og de 95 millioner vietnamesere – har faktisk en hel del at fejre her i 40-året for Vietnam-krigens slutning. Først og fremmest en gevaldig social og økonomisk fremgang, der har løftet millioner af mennesker ud af den dybeste fattigdom.

Intet andet udviklingsland har som Vietnam formået at reduceret antallet af absolut fattige i FNs definition fra 80% til under 10% – først og fremmest ved egen kraft. Vietnams evne til at til at tiltrække udenlandske investeringer synes umiddelbart ganske imponerende i lyset af den benhårde konkurrence om at tiltrække investorer i det asiatiske vækst-drøn.

De hastigt stigende lønomkostninger – også i Vietnam – skræmmer ikke investorerne helt væk, fordi Vietnam i dag også kan konkurrere på andre investerings-parametre som kvalitet og effektivitet. Mens Japan i dag er den største investor, er USA  i dag Vietnams største eksprtmarked med det samlede EU som en tæt nr. 2.

Viet_dan_feryy

Dan-Viet 1-færgen, en af de 16 færger som Danida har finansieret i Mekong-deltaet. Nu afvikler Danmark og mange andre donorer sine bistandsprogrammer, fordi Vietnam med sine økonomiske vækstrater ikke længere har brug for udviklingsbistand.

Trade not aid

Efter 15 år med massiv udviklingsbistand, er de udenlandske donorer i fuld gang med at afvikle deres programmer – fordi Vietnam kan selv på næsten alle områder. ”Trade – not aid” er ikke en kliché i Vietnam – det er selve dagsordenen. Det afspejler sig også i det dansk-vietnamesiske forhold, hvor hvor to årtiers Danida-strategier er lagt endeligt på hylden til fordel for en ny sammenhængende dansk linje, der giver første-prioritet til kommercielt og kulturelt samarbejde.

Tidligere tiders omfattende danske  bistandsprogrammer til en halv milliard kroner om året, er nu reduceret til klima-området. Der er tale om en næsten utrolig udvikling – i hvert fald for os, der oplevede Vietnam i de første årtier efter krigen, hvor det så ud som Hanoi var i fuld gang med at tabe freden.

oldmanreading

Ba Dinh pladsen i det centrale Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh ligger fortsat i mausolæet i baggrunden – betalt og designet af Sovjet i de år, hvor Vietnam var tæt allieret med Sovjet og næsten totalt isoleret fra den vestlige verden.

”Amerikanere uden dollars”

En flyvetur fra Hanoi til Moskva i 1985 står stadig som et lyslevende symbol for mig. Jeg var gået om bord i en nedslidt Aeroflot-maskine, som hostede sig op over den Røde Flods delta sammen nogle hundrede radmagre vietnamesiske gæstearbejdere i plasticsandaler på vej mod Sovjetblokkens stålværker og kulminer som billig arbejdskraft.

Her og der i maskinen klemte nogle store russiske brød sig ned i sæderne på vej hjem til en hårdt tiltrængt orlov fra sliddet som sjakbejser på den gigantiske Thang Long bro og Hoa Binh kraftværket – to monumentale demonstrationsprojekter, der skulle vise broder-solidariteten i den socialistiske lejr.

Det var tydeligt for enhver, at der ikke var mange venlige følelser mellem broderfolkene – heller ikke på dette meget personlige plan i et lille, overfyldt fly. I virkelighedens verden var frustrationerne mange og gensidige. Dengang i 10-året for krigens afslutning var udviklingsprocessen aldrig rigtigt kommet i gang.

rice-03

Ris – både før og nu rygraden i Vietnam’s økonomi.

De østeuropæiske venner var som andre før dem forbandede over vietnamesernes evindelige insisteren på selv at træffe de afgørende beslutninger uden indblanding. Vietnameserne på deres side var også skuffede. Godt nok fik titusinder af vietnamesere sig nogle på den tid brugbare uddannelser på tekniske skoler og universiteter i Moskva, Østberlin, Prag og Budapest.

Men vietnameserne så også østblokken tage sig godt betalt for den broderlige bistand ikke bare med billig arbejdskraft, men også med råvarer, ris og alt, hvad det forarmede Vietnam ellers kunne byde til gengæld. Da russerne så samtidig krævede flåde-rettigheder på den gamle amerikanske base i Cam Ranh Bay, ramte det Vietnam der, hvor det gjorde mest ondt.

Frustrationerne blev krystalliseret i et sviende øgenavn til de sovjetiske venner: ”Nguoi my khong co do la” – ”Amerikanere uden dollars”. ”Hvordan skal de nogensinde få et land ud af det her,” tænkte jeg i flyvemaskinen, mens vi krydsede henover Laos, endnu et sønderbombet land i regionen efter USA’s meningsløse krig. Oven på den militære fiasko havde USA stor succes med at videreføre krigen med diplomatiske og økonomiske midler.

Vietnam betalte en høj pris for den militære tilstedeværelse i Cambodia – straffen for opgøret med Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge var en total vestlig blokade, som ramte hårdt, meget hårdt. Nogle kamin-passiarer i ugerne forinden med Vietnams legendariske premierminister Pham Van Dong og udenrigsminister Nguyen Co Thach havde kun bidraget lidt til min forståelse med deres umådeligt venlige overbærenhed overfor en vestlig journalist, der stillede alle de forkerte spørgsmål. Jeg på min side fandt det ufatteligt, at de vietnamesiske militære sejrherrer havde så lidt begreb om at bygge et samfund i fred op.

CutEditForeignMinisterNguyenCoThach,TBP

Den legendariske vietnamesiske udenrigsminister Nguyen Co Thach i 1984: “USA viderefører krigen mod os med politiske og økonomiske midler efter at have tabt på slagmarken. Og Kina viser igen sit sande ansigt.”

Det er egentlig også tankevækkende, at det i dag er udenrigsminister Co Thach’s egen søn Pham Binh Minh, der sidder i faderens stol og repræsenterer Vietnams pragmatiske diplomatiske balanceakt i den nye verdensorden.

Så sent som den 18. april deltog han som vicepremierminister i det amerikanske handelskammer’s AMCHAM gala-middag i anledning af 20-året for etableringen af diplomatiske forbindelser mellem Washington og Hanoi. Minh afleverede en særdeles imødekommende tale, hvor han fremhævede den vitale økonomiske og strategiske betydning, som USA i dag har for Vietnam.

Den amerikanske ambassadør Ted Osius kvitterede med en tale helt uden hentydninger til amerikanske forbehold i samarbejdet med den tidligere fjende. I stedet udtrykte han helt konkrete forventninger om øget samhandel og flere amerikanske investeringer i Vietnam.  Der faldt også nogle klokke-klare ord om den strategiske betydning, USA tillægger Vietnam i lyset af Kina’s stadigt mere offensive regionale politik.

Miraklet i Vietnam

Efter dette lange historiske svinkeærinde stiller vi straks om til det nye buldrende Vietnam, der med fuld ret har slået omverdenen med beundring. Siden Vietnam med afsæt i Doi Moi-processen sadlede om og gradvist slap de dengang 75 millioner vietnamesere løs i en slags markeds-økonomi, er landet som forvandlet. Vækstrater på 6-7% år ud og år ind, kun overgået af den store nabo mod Nord.

Millioner af nye arbejdspladser er skabt i den private sektor, og de udenlandske investorer er rykket ind i stort tal. Ved årtusindskiftet var de udenlandske investeringer på under 2 mia. USD. I 2009 satte de en foreløbig rekord med 66.7 mia. USD i investerings-tilsagn.

I de senere år er det også væltet hertil med magtens mænd og kvinder, der alle er kommet for at se det vietnamesiske mirakel: Statschefer fra alle lande af betydning, topchefer fra verdens største koncerner, Hollywood stjerner, rock’n roll-ikoner, sportsstjerner – listen er meget lang.

GatesVN

Bill Gates er blot én af Vietnams mange prominente gæster i disse år.

Pressefrihed med lynlås

Selv ærkekonservative tænketanke som amerikanske Heritage Foundation giver Vietnam meget høje karakterer for ’business freedom’ – nu på højde med verdensgennemsnittet og langt foran Kina. Selv om Vietnam fortsat er en klassisk kommunistisk etparti-stat, er det ubestrideligt, at parlamentet har fået en reel rolle i den politiske proces. Ministre – inklusive premierminister Nguyen Tan  Dung – bliver jævnligt grillet af de ’folkevalgte’. Den vietnamesiske presse sætter i stigende grad fokus på korruption og magtmisbrug.

Vietnamesiske journalister siger nu med et grin: ”Tidligere var vores læber syet sammen med ståltråd – nu har vi fået en lynlås i stedet, så systemet kan lukke for os igen, hvis vi går for vidt.” Så ja – meget er forandret og det meste til det meget bedre i de over 30 år, som jeg har kendt Vietnam.

Også jeg bøjer mig i respekt for dette hårdt prøvede land, og ikke mindst for vietnameserne selv for deres kraftpræstation. De har om nogen fortjent den fremtid, som mange generationer af deres forfædre kæmpede og døde for uden at efterlade andet end nye uafhængigheds-krige til deres børn og børnebørn.

Det store MEN

Og nu kommer så det meget store MEN – som er sagt ud fra en helt grundlæggende sympati med vietnameserne. I hele Vietnams udviklingsproces gennem de sidste årtier har svagheds-tegnene været tydelige. Og der er også blevet talt om det i årevis: Den manglende konsistens i den social-økonomisk livsvigtige reformproces, den udsigtsløse klamren sig til de store tabsgivende statsejede virksomheder, manglende udvikling af nøgle-sektorer som uddannelse og sundhed, den systemiske korruption, de tikkende miljø-bomber under både vand, land og by – senest er Hanoi kommet på den tvivlsomme liste over Verdens 10 mest luftforurenede byer.

PIX_1437

Hanois største sø Ho Tay (Vestsøen) er stærkt forurenet – en del af prisen for Vietnams voldsomme økonomiske vækst.

Det bliver heller ikke bedre af, at den vietnamesiske økonomiske elite slår sig løs på et surrealistisk højt og meget synligt niveau: En søndag formiddag overhørte jeg i Hanoi Club en slående udveksling af indkøbs-tips, hvor to vietnamesiske kvinder diskuterede shopping-mulighederne.

Den ene fremviste en rødt indfarvet krokodilleskinds-taske, køb på udsalg for DKK 100.000 (ja hundrede tusind) hos Serrangano i Ly Thai To-gaden, den anden havde udskiftet sit out-datede Rolex ur med en ny model til dobbelte. Imens hundsede de utålmodigt med den svedende servitrice, der formentlig tjener omkring DKK 400 om måneden.

Hanois mest udsøgte restaurant Beau Lieu på det gamle koloni-hotel Metropole har vine på kortet til DKK 35.000 (Ja fem-og-tredive-tusind) flasken. Diamant-besatte Vertu-mobiltelefoner bliver solgt i Hotel Melias butiksarkade for over en halv million kroner stykket. De vietnamesiske dollar-millionærer kæmper en forgæves kamp for at få udgifterne til at slå til.

image1

Rolls Royce har åbnet salgskontor i Hanoi og har over 100 kunder på venteliste. Danske Bang & Olufsen er også repræsenteret i butikken med det nye Beovision Avant TV, der her kan købes for DKK 300.000 for 85″ versionen.

Senest har Rolls Royce åbnet en salgsafdeling i Hanoi. Her troner en forgyldt en af slagsen sig lige indenfor vinduerne. Den er ikke til salg, men importeret til formanden selv. Hvis man kan nøjes med en sort RR i den ’lille’ Ghost-version i stedet, skal man væbne sig med tålmodighed. I skrivende stund er der over 100 på venteliste til biler, der koster fra fem millioner kroner og opefter.

Til dem som måtte ane smålig misundelse i denne beretning bør det tilføjes, at excesserne og den manglende styring af samfundsøkonomien samlet har udløst et uhyggeligt dræn i Vietnams valutareserver og i perioder store underskud på handelsbalancen.

Vinashin skandalen

Rolls Royce’rne, urene og vinene er trods alt for småpenge at regne, hvis man ser på, hvordan de store statsvirksomheder lænser landet for ressourcer. Skandalen omkring skibsværfts-koncernen VINASHIN er det mest groteske eksempel. Ledelsen har på ganske få år skabt en kortfristet gæld på næsten 30 mia. DKK, og efter flere års undersøgelser er det fortsat ganske uklart, hvor pengene er blevet af.

Koncernledelsen er fornylig blevet stillet til ansvar med fængselsdomme på 20 år til VINASHIN-formand Pham Thanh Binh og knap så hårde straffe til hans kumpaner. Men det er en ringe trøst for landet, hvis kreditværdighed er blevet nedgraderet som en direkte følge af VINASHIN-kollapset. Og VINASHIN er blot ét eksempel. Rækken af skandaleramte statsvirksomheder vokser støt.

Marinedelpix 050

VINASHIN formand Pham Thanh Binh i sine velmagtsdage, mens han viser en dansk marine-delegation rundt på Bach Dang skibsværftet i Hai Phong. Han afsoner nu en dom på 20 års fængsel for ‘økonomiske forbrydelser’, som det hed i dommen.

Det vejer selvsagt tungt den anden vej, at myndighederne med nogen forsinkelse nu er begyndt at skride dramatisk ind. Vinashin-opgøret har fået sin parallel indenfor vietnamesisk skibsfart – Vinalines – hvor formanden er blevet dømt til døden for omfattende korruption.

Hans bror står til livstid efter at have forsøgt at smugle ham til USA. Stifteren af en af Vietnams største banker, Asia Commercial Bank, Nguyen Duc Kien har fået 30 års fængsel for mandatsvig. Den ordførende direktør for Ocean Bank, Ha Van Tham og en stribe andre ledende bankfolk  er varetægtsfængslet, mens omfattende anklageskrifter er under udarbejdelse. Den tidligere chef-inspektør for det statslige anti-korruptions-kontor, Tran Van Truyen, er blevet klædt af i fuld offentlighed og tvunget til at tilbagelevere en håndfuld offentlige ejendomme, som han og familien havde ranet til sig.

OceanBank

Ocean Bank’s CEO er bare en enkelt af de ledende bank-direktører, der pt er varetægtsfængslet for mandatsvig.

Formanden for det nationale energiselskab EVN, Dao Van Hung, er blevet fyret på gråt papir – efter EVN under hans ledelse har formøblet USD 2 mia. i såkaldte non core investments – i.e. ejendomsspekulation. Og sådan kan man blive ved. Vietnamesisk presse bidrager næsten dagligt med nye eksempler, ikke mindst online-udgaverne af de Ho Chi Minh City-baserede aviser Than Nhien og Tuoi Tre fører an med nye afsløringer. Også Planlægnings- og Investeringsministeriet (MPI) går til makronerne via sit officielle talerør Vietnam Investment Review.

Vincomnightsendcover

Det nye Vincom Center i Saigon dominerer total bybilledet. Et af de mange mega-projekter i det moderne Vietnam. I forgrunden ses det gamle rådhus, som stammer tilbage fra kolonitiden.

Meget tyder på, at der omsider er sat en egentlig kampagne i gang for at dæmme op for det hæmningsløse spild af knappe ressourcer og den systemiske korruption, der ofte er forbundet hermed. Det er på høje tid. I de senere år er det blevet smerteligt tydeligt, at det store flertal af landets befolkning efterhånden betaler en meget høj pris for magthavernes synder – så høj at partisekretær Nguyễn Phú Trọng offentligt har advaret imod, at korruptionen er en tikkende bombe under partiets troværdighed.

Norge trak stikket

Det dystre billede gør også indtryk på de udenlandske investorer, som Vietnam har så hårdt brug for. Det er godt nok kun hver femte vietnameser, der er ansat i en udenlandsk ejet virksomhed, men de udenlandske virksomheder tegner sig faktisk for 60% af landets eksport, så Vietnam har kun dårligt råd til at skuffe udenlandske investorer.

Blandt dem der har trukket stikket, er det norske statsejede energiselskab SN power, som i december 2014 lukkede sit Vietnam-kontor i frustration over investerings-vilkårene efter mere end tre års resultatløse forhandlinger om norske milliardinvesteringer i vandkraft.

Danske op- og nedture

Også danske virksomheder har brogede erfaringer.  Generelt har der været betydelig succes med sourcing af produktion i bred forstand til Vietnam.

Det gælder f.eks. møbelvirksomhederne Scancom og Tropic Dane, smykkevirksomheden Jule Sandlau og arbejdstøjs-producenten Mascot, som jeg selv arbejder for. Kombinationen af dygtig vietnamesisk arbejdskraft, moderne maskinpark og ledelses-systemer kan give rigtigt gode resultater, men det er ikke nogen given ting. Aalborg Industries valgte således at lukke og slukke for deres kedelfabrik i Hai Phong, nogle få år efter at deres nye fabrik var taget i brug.

VaekstStrategi

Den danske regering har lavet denne vækstmarkedsstrategi for Vietnam for at understøtte bl.a. det kommercielle samarbejde. Adskillige danske virksomheder har oplevet store vanskeligheder med Vietnam som et marked, hvorimod det er gået væsentligt bedre for de virksomheder, der har satset på at producere i Vietnam.

Danske virksomheder, som satser på det vietnamesiske marked, har også meget blandede erfaringer. F.L. Smidth havde i mere end tre årtier betydelig succes med at sælge store produktions-anlæg i skarp konkurrence med tyske og kinesiske leverandører.

Men nu er markedet for nye anlæg mættet, og det er langt vanskeligere at gøre en god forretning på grundlag af serviceaftaler og dyre miljøfilltre, uanset at der er hårdt brug for dem. ARLA har drejet nøglen om i Vietnam med store frustrationer efter et kostbart forsøg på at trænge ind på det vietnamesiske marked.

Entreprenørvirksomhederne Per Aarsleff og MT Højgaard trak sig efter nogle kostbare satsninger indenfor vandforsyning, kloakering, rensningsanlæg og brobyggeri. Ingeniørfirmaet Grontmij-Carl Bro gav op efter mere end 10 års forsøg på at skabe forretning for konsulent-ydelser. Selv Danmarks største koncerner som Carlsberg og A.P. Møller gruppen har haft store vanskeligheder i Vietnam.

I Carlsberg har skiftende koncern-direktører underskrevet hensigtserklæringer over næsten 20 år med vietnamesiske bryggerier om at bane vej for større investeringer og dermed indflydelse til Carlsberg.  Men processen kommer ikke rigtigt ud af stedet, fordi vietnameserne måske nok er stærkt interesserede i Carlsbergs moderne teknologi, men ikke vil aflevere bestemmende indflydelse til en udenlandsk investor.

Carlsberg har haft langt større succes med den model i nabolandene Laos og Cambodia. Der sælges ikke meget Carlsberg øl, men opkøbet af de lokale øl-mærker og distributions-aftaler med bl.a. Pepsi er blevet en guldgrube af de helt store for den danske bryggeri-koncern.

APM terminals har haft en smertefuld oplevelse til mange hundrede millioner kroner med koncernens havne-terminal i Cai Mep, primært fordi partneren Vinalines ikke har overholdt aftalerne om at levere meget væsentlige dele  af forretningsgrundlaget, herunder at få lukket de gamle utidssvarende terminaler, som Cai Mep efter planen skulle have afløst med moderne kraner og en langt bedre placering ved Saigon-flodens udmunding.

Den nye terminal vil formentlig blive en fantastisk forretning – men først den dag hvor godsmængderne er tilstrækkeligt store. Andre danske virksomheder ser mere positivt på tingene. NOVO er blandt de  nyere investorer, der satser meget på Vietnam. Novo ser også de skarpe vietnamesiske medarbejdere som en meget væsentlig, ny rekrutteringsbase.

På uddannelsesområdet har en stribe danske uddannelses-institutioner fået blod på tanden, efter Niels Brock med en vis mængde dødsforagt har været pionerer i et samarbejde med Vietnams Foreign Trade University. Danske/europæiske virksomheder skeler nok også til den succes, som store asiatiske investorer har haft i Vietnam.

Samsung stormer frem

Det hører selvfølgelig også med i billedet, at andre investorer er mere end tilfredse.Koreanske Samsung tegner sig nu for mere end 11% af Vietnams samlede eksport fra koncernens fabriks-kompleks i Bac Ninh, tæt ved Hanoi. Det går så godt, at Samsung har endnu to fabrikker på vej – en under opførelse i Thai Nguyen provinsen og en på tegnebrættet tæt ved Ho Chi Minh Byen. Projekter til 15 milliarder kroner – stykket.

Japanerne er også i gang med en ny bølge af investeringer i både nord og syd. Japan er derfor også blevet langt den største investor i Vietnam – og iøvrigt også den største yder af bilateral udviklingsbistand. Den franske direktør for det regionale Airbus selskab fortæller med stolthed, at Vietnam Airlines som de første i verden har skrevet kontrakt om leverancer af selskabets nye generation af mere energivenlige fly.

Dette understøtter Vietnams erklærede drøm at blive Asiens næste hightech-nation ved at tiltrække de store udenlandske koncerner, som har de ressourcer, Vietnam ikke selv har. Men den vej bliver lang. Mere end to tredjedele af de udenlandske investeringer i Vietnam er fortsat i de lowtech brancher, der som de første rykkede ind, fordi Vietnam havde én ting at byde på: Billig arbejdskraft.

PIX_4432

Coca-Cola har satset massivt på Vietnam med både produktion og storstilet afsætning. Efter en årrække med store underskud har Coca Cola nu fået en skattesag på halsen i Vietnam, fordi koncernen er mistænkt for at fuske med de interne afregningspriser i koncernen. De vietnamesiske skattemyndigheder har valgt at procedere sagen i medierne uden at fremlægge nogen dokumentation for mistanken.

For at fortsætte sin udviklingsproces har Vietnam et næsten desperat behov for at modernisere alle sine sektorer, og det vil kræve mega investeringer, hvis Vietnam skal blive i stand til at erobre en mere rimelig andel af værdi-kæden i moderne produktion.

Dertil skal der på det politiske niveau skabes nogle ordentlige rammebetingelser for at styre denne udvikling. Det sidste bliver i sig selv en kæmpe opgave for regering og myndigheder. Det er ikke bare et spørgsmål om at få lavet disse lovkomplekser, de lokale myndigheder får ofte og med rette meget lave karakterer for at implementere de allerede vedtagne reformer.

Investorerne står ikke længere i helt så lang en kø for at opfylde Vietnams drøm. Kampen for at fastholde og tiltrække nye investorer bliver hårdere og hårdere, og de mere udviklede økonomier i Asien kaster alle deres ressourcer ind i kampen.  Uanset at Vietnam ikke bærer hele skylden selv for at sakke bag ud på det felt,  så skal landet slås endog meget hårdt i de kommende år  i skarp konkurrence med Asiens mere udviklede økonomier for at tiltrække investeringer. Fishing-01 Alene i verden

På en måde kan man sige, at Vietnam i dag står næsten lige så alene med gigant-udfordringerne, som de gjorde i 1975 – denne gang ikke på grund af politisk isolation eller manglende erfaringer med at opbygge et samfund i fred eller krigens enorme ødelæggelser. Ensomheden skyldes nu, at der under de nuværende globale forhold næppe bliver tale om håndsrækninger af større omfang.

Ganske vist vil der stadig være en 8-10 mia. USD om året fra Verdensbanken, ADB og de bilaterale donorer. Det vil utvivlsomt også være en kæmpe vitamin-indsprøjtning til Vietnams økonomi, når Frihandelsaftalen med EU falder på plads, forventeligt allerede i år. Vietnam står også til at få stor nytte af den kommende Transpacific Partnership aftale (TPP) sammen med USA, Japan og de andre store vækst-økonomier i Asien.

Men i alt væsentligt bliver det vietnameserne selv, der skal løse opgaven – sådan som Ho Chi Minh skal have sagt dengang, nogle ledende partikammerater forsøgte at overtale ham til at sige ja tak til massiv kinesisk bistand for at smide fransk kolonialisme på porten. Og for at gøre det endnu mere dystert her til sidst: En afgørende forskel på dengang-og-nu er så også, at Vietnam i dag er fuldt eksponeret til verdensøkonomien og alle dens brutale elementer via sin internationale integration. Derfor kan Vietnam meget vel komme til at opleve et stigende antal udefra kommende økonomiske problemer skylle ind over landet.

DungObama

Premierminster Nguyen Tan Dung ses ofte i selskab med verdens mægtigste mænd. Han er favorit til at overtage posten som partisekretær i 2016. Dung’s datter er iøvrigt gift med en vietnamesisk-amerikansk venture-kapitalist.

Så der er ingen vej uden om for det Vietnam, som i de kommende uger skal have lov at fejre 40-året for Sejren. I begyndelsen af 2016 skal partikongressen vælge ny ledelse. I skrivende stund skal et tyst opgør om magten i fremtidens Vietnam være i fuld gang.

 

quandoiposter

“Vilje til at kæmpe – vilje til at vinde,” hedder det på denne plakat fra Nha Trang i det centrale Vietnam. Plakater som denne præger gadebilledet i alle vietnamesiske byer, også i vore dage.