Sunday, March 17, 2013

The great Cambodian giveaway

This elderly woman in Phnom Penh, Cambodia may appear to be supplicating the cop she’s grabbing. In fact, he was part of a squad that violently attacked residents protesting forcible evictions from the Boeung Kak Lake community & she is attempting to thwart him. Elderly have been a visible part of this resistance since the conflict with real estate developers & the Cambodian government began in 2008.

Boeung Kak Lake is the urban epicenter of what is called “the great Cambodian giveaway,” a rampage of land grabbing by foreign corporations to make way for logging, mining, agribusiness plantations in the countryside & for hotels, casinos, resorts, boating clubs, golf courses, gated communities, upscale shopping malls in the cities. All this is sanctioned by the Cambodian government--who remake or ignore laws to facilitate the giveaway--under the auspices of economic development. It is of course, part of the IMF & World Bank “structural adjustment program” (SAP) for Cambodia.

Boeung Kak Lake is former swampland (& one of Phnom Penh’s chief aquifers) settled by squatters & refugees in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. Some 30,000 people now live around the lake, including 4,000 families who live right on the lake. Under neoliberal plunder this area, once considered worthless & prone to flooding & typhoid, is now prime real estate for development. So without environmental studies, without community or public consultation, & in violation of Cambodian law forbidding the sale of public land, the corrupt government struck a secret deal with  developers which entails what has been described as “the largest relocation of people in Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge emptied the cities.” One human rights group estimates that developers are getting land worth US $2 billion for around $79 million--all without public bidding or compensation to residents who claim title. Thousands of residents have been forced to relocate to remote areas which lack public services (like electricity & sanitation) or any hope of employment. It’s the established IMF-World Bank pattern of plunder which is employed especially in Africa & Latin America, & is accelerating in Asia. It is of course the primary cause of homelessness, massive immigration, child labor.

Over 400,000 Cambodians have been displaced by land grabs in the countryside since 2003 & 30,000 in Phnom Penh alone, according to the Cambodian League for the Promotion & Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO). Using military & police force, the Cambodian government has burnt out & bulldozed fields & forests; forcibly appropriated entire towns; come down particularly hard on remote ethnic populations; confiscated livestock; destroyed homes & removed whole populations; used extreme violence & arrested & killed resisters. Human rights crimes are the norm. Over 5 million acres of land (2 million hectares) have been forcibly taken from subsistence farmers & concessioned to foreign corporations for plunder.

Residents of the Boeung Kak Lake community along with human rights activists are putting up a ferocious battle against the government & developers & have sustained  unspeakable violence & beatings at the hands of riot cops. Last year, 16 women activists were arrested & convicted for leading a peaceful protest & one community leader was framed up & sentenced (last December) to 3 years in jail for allegedly beating up a thief. This woman is at a protest to demand an appeal & the release of Yorm Bopha, the woman railroaded into jail--which was again attacked by riot cops.

Meanwhile legions of foreign corporations are lining up to plunder Cambodia, including Monsanto, Dow, Cargill, Boeing, Caterpillar, Chevron, Coca-Cola, GE, Google, & others. Only the chi ching of the cash register resonates with these boys & not the demands of human rights. We need to add our voices & resistance to the struggle of the Cambodians--as well as the peoples of Africa, Latin America, & other Asian countries. That “injury to one is an injury to all” thing isn’t just a ceremonial mantra; it’s a political mandate.

(Photo by Samrang Pring/Reuters)

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