This post is indebted to Huynh Ngoc Chenh’s Vietnamese language blog. Other sources will be linked.
Update: Part one features a translations of Nguyen Anh Tuan analysis of the protest. Part two is a description of the day’s events culled from a number of news agencies, blogs, and facebook profiles. Part three features a look at the state news agency and pro-state facebook response to the demonstration.
Part one: Nguyen Anh Tuan “Forget Formosa, worry about the capitol”
“Less than 36 hours after the government announced the plans for compensation, this morning saw close to 10,000 indignant people from Ky Anh surround the Formosa Ha Tinh industrial area.
Police and military- just as in the other protests, at first violently repressed the protesters. However when they saw that the number of participants was much too large, they broke ranks and fled. Many soldiers stripped their uniforms off in order to escape being discovered, they more than understood that in the eyes of the people they were protecting Formosa- the criminals that directly caused the devastation of the people.
Throughout this whole time, more than a dozen times, I warned that a protest like this, or even bigger, was going to happen. Because, in all the mistakes the government has made in dealing with this situation, they made three vital errors:
- They prevented civil society organizations from participating in the process to remedy the consequences of the disaster. There is no government in the world strong enough to discover and remedy all the problems of the victims in a disaster. Only the thousands of different civil society groups, tucked into each of the small communities in a disaster area, addressing the needs of the different groups: fisherman, women, students, merchants, the youth.. Only then can you help blow of the steam of aggravation built up in society. But the government prevented the officially registered NGOs from helping the victims. They used the security forces to arrest, beat, and threaten the self organized civil society groups in the disaster area. If the government wishes to keep all of the disaster remediation to itself, then it must accept these protests, it can’t be otherwise.
- The second mistake that put the government in a perilous position was their propaganda operations on VTV, state news, and the pages of various undercover internet propagandists (dự luân viên lit. public opinion employees). Their strategy was to offend the spiritual leader of the religious peoples in the disaster area: Bishop Nguyen Thai Hop.
- The straw that broke the camel’s back of the local people’s indignation was precisely the reparation plan that the government just announced. According to this plan, the levels of compensation are not only low but only last six months, not even taking notice of how the people should live afterwards. This is no different from selling out the people’s future for a meagre sum taken from the dividends of the Formosa corporation so they can remain.
If the government doesn’t give the people a future, then they have to find one themselves, through closing down Formosa at all costs.
If the government doesn’t help the people find justice, then they have to find their own justice, through the legal war that they are waging, or moreover by so damaging the company that they have to shut down themselves.
Finally, if government doesn’t protect the dignity of the people, then the people will have to stand up and take their dignity for themselves, by way of showing that they are able to do anything and go to any extreme.
Therefore, if there is anything left to say to the government, it is: “You ought to abandon Formosa and begin worrying about the capitol”
— Nguyen Anh Tuan
Part two: The Events
According to Saigon Broadcasting Network, at around 8:20 am more than 5,000 people had gathered in front of the Formosa factory gates from the Dong Yen, Tay Yen, Quy Hoa, and Du Loc parishes of Ky Anh township. Lead by Father Tran Dinh Lai, protestors carried banners demanding that “Formosa get out”, “We demand the indictment of Formosa and their clique”, “We the people need clean water, clean fish, and clear air”, “We demand that the government stand with the people”, and “Why are the police protecting Formosa?”
This drone footage shows the beginning of the protest, as news spread the size of the crowd increases by a factor of ten
Son Van Le’s facebook claims over 10,000 people, also noting that “the whole diocese is there”. Following the progression of events on his page, its appears the Catholic involvement continues to be crucial, with nuns and priests in attendence.
According to Mạc Lâm from Radio Free Asia, “Just after 10am, a few people climbed over the gate. A couple fights broke out, causing the security and riot police to retreat deep into the Formosa complex. At the main gates, both the security forces and riot police retreated into the complex after the crowd grew to around 8 thousand people. Some of the people climbed atop the roof of the security shed and waved flags demanding that Formosa leave Vietnam. The loud speakers continuously reminded us “We aren’t going in, we will only repeat our slogans with our demands. If we go inside we will encounter difficulties in our peaceful struggle.”
Nevertheless videos show that some protesters made it inside and gave chase to the police.
Possibly in response to police batons [above], protesters overran the walls of the main gate [below].
After overcoming the wall, the crowd chases the fleeing police while hurling rocks.
Again according to SBN at 11:30 the people at the main gates left, although many remained at the other gates.
Part 3: Pro-government reaction
The pro-state reaction to the protests has been, predictable, another iteration of the tried and true strategy of blaming domestic issues on the gullibility of the common people in the face of a foreign treachery. Comrade Commissar may be the first prominent page to share the photograph of demonstrators scaling the wall while pointing out the prominence of Catholic flags and questioning whether their “God teaches his followers to bring the enemy into the house?” The profile rhetorically answers its own question, saying “No, because god loves his children and doesn’t want them to kill each other. To borrow the words of a traitor, ‘believe in god but don’t believe what the representatives of god say. Religion is religion but the fatherland first.” A clumsy reference to Nguyen Van Thieu’s oft repeated admonition about the the duplicity of communists, coupled to a clearly erroneous perception of the teaching of the Catholic Church, is combined with assertions of preemptive protester violence [below], in order to discredit the grievances of demonstrators.
This line of reasoning was echoed in the Viet Tan Do facebook page, who shared the photos of father Dang Huu Nam apparently leading the protests. Viet Tan Do asks, “Why the hell are they letting him be so extravagant? He’s relying on the name of god to overthrow the regime, he’s instigating a riot dirtying the name of Jesus. God never taught us to protest, god didn’t tell us to cause disturbances. […] I hope that American style democracy is applied here.” Linking to this video of American police beating women to emphasise American hypocrisy. A commenter in another group shared a picture [below] of the priest alongside two young men wearing fish bone shirts, implying that they are participants in the “People want live fish” meme, which is itself a play on an acronym for “Mother fuckcommunism” [DMCS]. A group associated with foreign ‘reactionaries’.
Finally, state media seems to have been prepared ahead of time, the website Ha Tinh 24 hour news publishing a story titled “Shattering a plot from the dangerous elements trying to take advantage of the Formosa tragedy to cause rioting”. Not many details are provided beyond the title. There was a plan, it was stopped. The people saw through the evil plot and knew better than to cause disorder in their locale.
This follows the prior pattern of blaming the urban fish protests on Viet Tan (the reform party), an overseas organization considered a terrorist group by the Vietnamese government.