Press Freedom

Recently Reporters without Borders ranked Cambodia at #144 of 180 countries evaluated in their survey of press freedom throughout the world. That was a drop of one place since the last ranking.

May 4, 2020: This was the prime minister’s contention in his acknowledgment of World Press Freedom Day.
April 9, 2020: Sovann Rithy, the editor-in-chief of TVFB, an online news outlet, was arrested for quoting a public statement of the prime minister. He was charged with incitement “to cause chaos and harm social security.” TVFB’s license was also revoked.

An Insecure Man Always Comparing…

Say What?

“If we hadn’t reversed the failed economic policies of the previous administration, the world would not now be witnessing this great economic success.”
— Trump

6.6 million
— number of new jobs created in first 36 months of Trump administration

8.1 million
— number of new jobs created in last 36 months of Obama administration

From Doonesbury in the Washington Post

Hope…

Donald Trump won the presidency by fewer than 80,000 votes, spread out across 3 states. But more than 7 million new voters have turned 18 since that election. Make sure your friends and family are registered and get out to vote. (Numbers from Blue Future.)

Slow going…

At the end of the year, many organizations, government offices, and NGOs reported their activities for 2019. CMAC (the Cambodian Mine Action Centre) reported that they had cleared more than 36,000 mines and UXOs in the year just ended. (UXO=Unexploded Ordnance). The front-page article above explained that 67 square kilometers of land had been de-mined. It then restated the government’s commitment to completely clear the remaining mine-contaminated 2,100 sq km by 2025! Having cleared only 67 sq km in 2019 and 72 sq km in 2018, that seems like an impossible goal! (As a footnote to this situation, remember that these mines were put down 35-45 years ago! Mines are insidious and rightfully banned by most of the world. The US is one of the few nations that has refused to sign on to the ban-landmine treaty.)

The Chinese are coming…

There was an article in the international press today about US governments taking measures to prevent farmland in the United States from being owned and controlled by foreign governments and entities. The US is probably taking those steps because of China’s aggressive policy of buying not just the crops from other countries but their natural resources and the land itself.

Cambodia is experience a devastating invasion by China and Chinese nationals. Every day there are articles in the papers about land values increasing beyond the reach of locals; neighborhoods and whole towns being changed by the influx of Chinese business people and tourists; the rates of crime going up because of Chinese gangs and criminal activities; etc.

This is all backed up by personal stories of the people we encounter in our mission work, people who have been negatively affected and displaced by the Chinese.

Notice how every sign now has Chinese characters. It has become so common and so blatant that the Cambodian government has now ruled that all signs, first of all, must HAVE Khmer lettering (some were only in Chinese), and secondly, that the Khmer letters must be approximately twice the size of the Chinese characters.

This is a view from the hilltop where the Catholic church center is located in Sihanoukville. In previous years this view was of trees. Now they are gone. Basically all of the buildings visible here have sprung up since our retreat a year ago.

In going to Sihanoukville for the priests retreat, the Chinese presence and influence was most obvious: • On the bus ride to Sihanoukville, the passengers across the aisle were speaking Mandarin. • We have too many priests for the rooms at the church center so in previous years the overflow stayed at the Salesian Priests training hotel twenty minutes away. Because of the increased traffic and congestion from construction, it now takes an hour to get to that site so our priests stayed in hotels–new and probably Chinese-owned–near the center. • The Salesians had a restaurant and gelato shop in central Sihanoukville. This year the rent was raised from $400 a month to almost $4,000 as the Chinese buy up everything in sight. The Salesians closed their shops where they had trained local youth. • The local people have been moved far outside the city, away from their jobs, as the Chinese buy up apartments and neighborhoods and raise the rents. • During the retreat I went to buy a Coke at a shop near the church. The shop is new and no one in the shop spoke English or Khmer, only Mandarin Chinese. • A local English newspaper is now producing a Chinese-language insert. • Construction is occurring everywhere and causing shortages of water and electricity. • The construction doesn’t benefit the locals. The construction companies are Chinese and they bring in their own workers. All the salaries, etc., go back to China. And the list goes on and on.

China now owns Cambodia and the government doesn’t complain because China gives them $600,000,000 a year no strings attached. (You can guess which pockets that goes into.) In return Cambodia supports China in international disputes, such as concerning the islands in the South China Sea.

It’s not climate change…

For the past week Cambodia has been experiencing major power cuts, more than the usual shortages. Actually the past four or five years in Phnom Penh have been relatively good after the Cambodian government erected power transmission lines and started buying electricity from Vietnam. It was good enough that at DDP we got rid of our generator because we weren’t using it any more.

All of a sudden, though, the government instituted six-hour rolling blackouts, starting after breakfast and ending at lunch time, or starting at lunch time and going to supper time. The following day the schedule switches so a morning blackout today means an afternoon blackout tomorrow.

The government has been quick to blame it on climate change. 60% of Cambodia’s electricity is hydropower and now at the end of the dry season there is little water in the reservoirs. Yes, the lack of rain has made the problem worse but the problem is caused by the government, not by climate change.

Look at the map. Thailand is our neighbor to the west. Laos is to the north. Vietnam is to the east. We’re all part of the same little peninsula. We have much of the same terrain, the same weather. But Thailand has electricity. Laos has electricity. Vietnam has electricity. What’s the difference? The government.

The governments in the other countries know how to plan and implement. They see people moving to the cities. They see cities growing higher and higher with skyscrapers demanding more electricity. They see the lifestyle increasing, especially the demand for air conditioning. And they plan for it.

The government of Cambodia is incompetent in many ways and this is an obvious example. The prime minister loves to let everyone know that he is the longest serving leader in Southeast Asia, more than three decades. These electricity problems arose since he took power. Guess who should take responsibility for the sad situation we find ourselves in now?

Vote to Love and Protect Our Neighbors!

Jim Wallis of Sojourners is a prophet for our time. Here he speaks to the midterm elections:

“The horrifying, traumatic, and tragic deadly violence against Jews in Pittsburgh and African Americans in Kentucky last week, and the attempted assassinations of national political leaders and private citizens who have been critics of President Trump’s vitriol, have been clarifying.  [These] elections are nothing less than a referendum on white nationalism in the United States….

President Donald Trump is deliberately and unashamedly using a political strategy of fear and hate — that can and has turned to violence. Without racial and hateful words of presidential political rhetoric with its anti-immigrant and refugee attacks, the Jews who are gone today might still be with us and their families.

Our faith is offended by these assaults that contradict the biblical commands to love and protect our neighbors. Our conscience is seared by the lies and strategies of hateful politics that will lead to more and more violence in this country and put the soul of our nation in jeopardy. Words matter and hateful words do lead to violence. Our commitment to our brothers and sisters under attack will lead us to pray, stand, act, and vote against the politics of fear and hate, because of our faith and patriotism.”