Sunday, April 15, 2007

Rep. Loretta Sanchez under attack

The official media in Vietnam has been publishing several articles lately attacking Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who earlier this month had attempted to meet with the wives of dissidents while in Hanoi. Sanchez, a Democrat from Orange County, California, first came into office about ten years ago with a narrow defeat over Republican Bob Dornan. In subsequent elections she has won by wider votes in this district heavily populated by Vietnamese-Americans, and this may be due in large part to her strong advocacy for human rights and the right of dissent in Vietnam. Because of its human rights record she opposed admitting Vietnam into the World Trade Organization last November; and unfortunately, the current political crackdown has followed Vietnam's admission into the WTO. She had visited Vietnam two times before her latest visit, but was also denied visas two other times, in 2004 and 2006.

Her visit earlier this month was as a member of a delegation from the House Armed Services Committee. As I note in my April 7 entry on this incident, Ambassador Marine told Voice of America that he regularly invites the female relatives of jailed or detained dissidents to tea, and informs the Vietnamese government of the invitation. This time, however, perhaps because of the presence of Congresswoman Sanchez in the planned meeting, police did not allow the wives to attend; two managed to make it as far as the U.S. embassy, but were then surrounded by police, and Marine told them to go home in order to avoid escalation of the conflict with police. In subsequent meetings with Vietnam officials and in conversations with the press, both Ambassador Marine and Congresswoman Sanchez have strongly protested this incident. A U.S. State Department spokesperson said of this incident:

"We find this action by Vietnamese authorities to be deeply troubling. The secretary and our embassy in Hanoi have raised our concerns over these developments with the government of Vietnam.''

There have been no apologies from Vietnamese officials, however, instead only a campaign of media attack against Sanchez, making it appear that she was the instigator of this meeting with the wives of "extremists", and that she in turn was instigated by Viet Tan, an overseas anti-communist organization described as terrorist by the Vietnamese press.

Some sample headlines from Vietnam News Agency: "Legislator: Sanchez motivated by personal political gain" (VNA April 14); "US Congresswoman Sanchez flouts US Constitution" (VNA April 13); "Terrorist group works out plan for Sanchez's visit" (VNA April 8).

Ton Nu Thi Ninh, Vice Chairwoman of the National Assembly's Committee for External Relations, suggested Sanchez should listen to the opinions of all her constituents, not just the "loud extremists", but only follow the "progressive" views:

"There are times when voters are conservative and unprogressive, if that's the case then their elected representatives should choose to be their leaders not their followers."

Ninh said that the real purpose of Sanchez's recent visit to Vietnam was "to get in contact with relatives of criminal elements of society" in order to create pressure on the government.

VietnamNet Bridge published a letter from two Vietnamese-American residents of Orange County, who seemed to be making an appeal for racist hate mail to be sent to Sanchez:

"Let’s raise our voice to show Sanchez that the community of Vietnamese Americans in the Orange County is not silly. We are able to replace her by young and bright faces. Let’s raise our voice by sending emails to Sanchez’s office through, calling to 202-225-2965 or sending letters to 1230 Longworth HOB. Washington D.C. 20515.

"Our direct voice is the strength of community. Let’s express our opinions to this loudmouthed but ineffective Mexican-origin congresswoman."

Vietnam News Agency claimed:

"But 'Viet Tan' was still successful in persuading Congresswoman Sanchez to put pressure on the U.S Ambassador Michael Marine for a meeting with relatives of several extremists in the country who had been arrested, such as Pham Hong Son, Nguyen Vu Binh, Le Thi Cong Nhan, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Quoc Quan. They even intended to transfer 4,000 USD, with Sanchez’s help, to hire lawyers for Le Quoc Quan, Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thi Cong Nhan and Tran Thuy Trang."

The evidence of Sanchez's links to the Viet Tan group seems pretty flimsy, but in any case the media description of dissidents as "extremists" when their only crime is to advocate a more democratic society, and finding it outrageous that Sanchez would apparently try to hire lawyers for the detained dissidents, is indicative of a sadly hardline toward dissent presently being pursued by the political leadership of Vietnam.

Sources: VNA/VietnamNet Bridge, April 8, April 12, April 14; Nhan Dan, April 14; Orange County Register, April 6, April 5, April 10.


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