Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Since the slaughter of the communist workers and fighters in 1977, two years after the revolutionary victory, the United States and its imperialist allies have constantly been flexing their muscle in the region. The freshly victorious Vietnamese People’s Liberation Army freed Cambodia, from the murderous Pol Potists, in 1979 and the United States took upon itself the task of destroying any non-capitalist influence in Cambodia.
Britain and the U.S. began training the remnant ultra-Stalinist Khmer Rouge, which had murdered thousands of innocents, in methods of land mine placement and anti-personal explosives used to maim or kill an unsuspecting passerby. To this very day the jungles in old Khmer Rouge zones are still unsafe to enter. Thousands of children and farmers have lost limbs and lives due to U.S. aggression through one of its puppet contacts. The imperialist powers trained these killers with the purpose that they would once again strike out at the Vietnamese-allied government which was rebuilt from the surviving Communists that had fled to Vietnam in 1977.
Vietnam pulled out its Liberation Army in 1989 due in part to pressure from the U.S., Britain, and their allied nations through the U.N., and also in large part due to lack of funding and a need to rebuild their own country. In the eleven years since Cambodia’s liberation, the Vietnamese Army protected a very weak and destroyed nation from its former brutalizers who were receiving weapons and training from the very nations Vietnam had defeated. By 1990, the Vietnamese-built socialist government fell and most of its members disappeared during the ensuing faction fighting, which had been building since 1990 and climaxed in 1992 with the arrival of the UN.
Chosen to represent the “free world”, the United Nations sent a large military force to help guide Cambodia down the path of democracy. Once the ballots had been cast and the elections were labeled “free and fair”, the two ruling parties, which were formed out of the core elite rich and elite educated, refused to accept a split vote that gave equal power to each party. Seeing the tensions build up, the United Nations bailed out of Cambodia like sailors will bail out of a burning oil-rig, showing how hollow their care for the Cambodian people really was. In their rapid exit, the U.N. left behind a great increase in the prostitution trade, and rapidly emerging cases of HIV and AIDS, which since has risen to an almost epidemic scale. They also left huge warehouses of imported luxury vehicles to be had if one (of the wealthy) decided they needed another car.
Leaving behind a legacy of crimes against the Cambodian people, most tend to forget that with the elections of 1992, the Khmer Rouge signed themselves into non-existence politically, due in large part to Imperialist pressure to give up a fight they had been funding and arming until the socialist government was killed off in 1990. Although factions of the Khmer Rouge continued fighting in areas under their control until the small civil war of 1997 between the two elite government parties, they were never a threat to the post-socialist, U.S. backed, two-party regime.
Cambodia was highly unstable from 1992 until 1997, due mostly to the fact that both ruling parties had their own military force of near equal strength. With two armies on the constant verge of killing each other, a civil war was constantly imminent. Because of power struggles within the parliament, the head of the Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP) party, who is now dictator, saw an opportunity to militarily control the entire country without an opposition whatsoever. This all come to a climax in July of 1997 with the launching of a massive imprisonment of the opposition elite’s army generals. These arrests and the imprisonment of opposition party members brought about fighting that then erupted into a full scale conflict. The CPP used this to its advantage against anyone they saw as an enemy. Once the opposition ruling party realized a full scale military campaign against them had begun, clashes across the country enveloped the towns and cities leaving the majority of the people in the country-side clueless as to what was happening. The swiftness of the attack by the CPP and the fact that it seized a major armory outside the capitol gave the Opposition elite (Funcinpec) only a small chance of military survival. So the remaining soldiers fled into the jungles where they ran and fought until the CPP made peace in the last days of 1997 and re-opened the Parliament to a now shattered former ruling elite (Funcinpec). Three days was all it took for the cities to firmly fall into CPP hands but fighting continued on into late 1997.
The mastermind behind the 1997 conflict and head of the CPP, with his new monopolization on power and strong relations with the United States, began to establish his grip on Cambodia with economic help given to him from his policy of open doors for all corporations. He then reinforced his political domination through the killings or purging of those the CPP found to be a threat, or simply independent in thought.
Free-range corporate exploitation through companies like Coca-Cola, Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch, FUBU, Old Navy, Levi’s, Nike, Nestle and Texaco, instantly won the U.S. government to the side of Cambodia’s new blood soaked regime and gave them new ground to sink fascist claws into and tear unstoppable profit from. U.S. support further reduced and currently is reducing any democratic pressure internally and has brought Funcinpec next to no support in the international community.
Complete control over media and a steady usage of racial propaganda (blaming problems on the Thai and Vietnamese), along with stabilization of a country that has been unstable for 50 years has numbed the middle-class city people into being unable to see the suppression and exploitation they live with everyday. Currently the most easily recognizable product of this country’s domination by capitalism is that the elite and their children live a life of luxury beyond any imagination. However, even with blatant abuses of power, such as the killing of a proletarian worker on motorcycle by a drunken minister’s son, the media prevents it from being known by the masses. Those that do see the abuses are bullied into submission or murdered for speaking out. Early 2004, the leader of the Cambodian Free Trade Union of Workers, Chea Vichea, was brutally murdered after speaking out against the incredible corruption and misuse of power that is the very life blood of the current government. Since the killing of this Union leader, many different Union leaders and workers have been imprisoned or have “disappeared”. Most of the garment factories including those for the top American clothing chains (Gap, Fubu, etc…) will fire employees if it is found out they’ve been involved in union work.
Freedom of information is controlled as much as possible, but complete suppression of any non-government political action is constant. The 1997 grenade attacks on a group of protestors outside the National Assembly building shows this regime’s hatred of dissent and any question of their authority. No hesitation is taken, it seems, when peasant and farmers picket outside government offices because of land grabs by the wealthy and upper class, to remove them in either a violent way or simply by making them “disappear”. Where can thousands of homeless people go and not be noticed? Cambodia’s history with both the DK (Khmer Rouge) and the Monarchy before them shows a willingness to dig mass graves and fill them with those deemed enemies or a hindrance to development. The majority of people, more so in the cities but also in the countryside, live in fear of what they can and cannot say to one another. This fear is choking the youth in the cities into becoming pawns of the regime, instead of rising up to fight the injustice they see everyday. The most revolutionary element here is the generation of former guerilla fighters and socialist workers from the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979-1990) but fear still rules supreme.
All power in one regime of brutality means all freedom is subject to approval.
LUKE YOUNG is 19 years old, a US citizen who has lived most of his life in Cambodia, where his parents moved in 1992 after a decade of working with Khmer refugees in the US. He is an activist as well as working to rescue Marxist literature in Khmer for use by the Cambodian people. He has traveled throughout Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia. He can be reached at: email@example.com