Interview: 'The People Have Lost Their Trust'
Vietnamese fishermen protest loss of their livelihood in Quang Binh province, July 7, 2016.
Photo sent by an RFA listener
On July 7, thousands of Vietnamese took to the streets in the central coastal province of Quang Binh to press the government to help fishermen who lost their livelihoods in a mass fish die-off in April. Police quickly intervened in the protest march by Catholic parishioners in the town of Ba Don, which came a week after Taiwan’s Formosa Ha Tin steel mill admitted that toxic chemicals discharged by their plant were responsible for the disaster. Here, parish priest Hoang Anh Ngoi speaks to RFA about the protest and what should happen next.
RFA: Why did your parishioners protest? What do they want?
Ngoi: They are upset because they haven’t been able to go to sea since the mass fish deaths in April. On top of this, a lot of fish in some of the river farms have died during the last four days, and they can’t sell their fish in the markets. In some families, husbands and wives are crying because they’ve lost 100 million VND [$ U.S. 4,000] or from 70 to 80 million VND. In the country, the loss of 100 million VND is a lot. It is equivalent to their whole life’s earnings.
Hundreds of fish farms are losing their fish, and they are very upset. Formosa is said to be paying a compensation of $ U.S. 500 million, but the people think this is not enough to save their lives, let alone the lives of people in all four coastal provinces. What do we have for our future? The government won’t be able to pay for our hospital fees, schooling, or daily expenses year after year.
The people have a lot to worry about. Unfortunately, they couldn’t protest peacefully, and this led to scuffles.
RFA: Who started the fight, and what will happen now?
Ngoi: Both sides were responsible, both the police and the protesters. I was worried about the consequences, so I went there to try to persuade them to be peaceful. I told them that even if they wanted to take to the streets, they should be nonviolent. But they couldn’t restrain themselves.
RFA: Does the government listen to the people?
Ngoi: They asked the protesters to go the people’s committee office in the village, but the people said they had no confidence in any meeting with the government, so they didn’t go. The authorities then told them to go to the church, but the protesters said they no longer believe the government’s promises.
RFA: The government has promised to help the people affected by the disaster. Do people think there is any chance they can help to stabilize their lives?
Ngoi: I don’t know how they can help. So far, people have received only a few kilograms of rice, and they already finished that a long time ago. Now they just want to work to earn their own money. They don’t want to wait for rice from the government.
I heard that at the beginning, the government gave each affected family five million VND, but we haven’t seen that yet. People have wanted to meet with the authorities ever since the fish deaths happened, because what they see on TV doesn’t satisfy them. They have really wanted to meet with authorities in the village, district, and province to ask about solutions for the future, but the authorities wouldn’t meet with them, and that is why the people have lost trust in them.
RFA: On July 7, the fishermen of Canh Duong village in Quang Trach District had a talk with their authorities and presented seven points that needed to be addressed. Do you think this could happen in your parish?
Ngoi: If any authorities met with me now, I would tell them they need to talk to the people. Dialogue can help them to understand the difficulties people will be facing in the near and far future. I don’t understand why they won’t meet with the people. I proposed these talks a long time ago. They need to talk to the people to find solutions for the future.The Canh Duong people have done that. I don’t know what the future holds for them, but at least they got something done. It would be a big mistake if the local government can’t do the same.
Translated by Viet Ha.