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Relations With Vietnam

July 24, 1987

"It's Time for U.S. to Go Back to Vietnam--Diplomatically" by Rep. Esteban E. Torres (D-La Puente) and Prof. John H. Esterline (Editorial Pages, July 1) takes a position that is both immoral and contrary to the interests of the U.S. and Southeast Asia. The idea that American aid will wean Vietnam away from Moscow is an assumption unsupported by historical precedent. For decades the U.S. has followed a similar policy in Eastern Europe to no avail. The most graphic example is Poland which has received over $3 billion in U.S. aid since 1947. In part because of U.S. aid, Poland today is one of the Soviet Union's most tightly controlled satellites.

The proposal for the establishment of trade relations with Hanoi is hypocritical when it is noted that in 1986 Torres voted to impose an almost total trade embargo against South Africa for alleged human-rights violations. If the U.S. should embargo trade with South Africa for alleged human-rights violations by the government of the Republic of South Africa, then the U.S. should definitely maintain its current ban on direct trade with Vietnam. Hanoi's human-rights record stands today as one of the world's worst.

In 1984 the Vietnamese League of Human Rights in Paris estimated the total number of political prisoners in Vietnamese concentration camps and prisons at 500,000. The daily ration of food in these labor camps is a mere 500 grams of rice. Political prisoners are often beaten with rifle butts and sticks.

Politically dangerous citizens not sent to the prison and labor camps are sent to New Economic Zones, desolate tracts of wasteland where they are required to dig canals, clear jungle, build roads and farm crops in unfertile soil. Disease is rampant, medical treatment non-existent and 70% of all food grown is confiscated by the government. New Economic Zones have been accurately described by Vietnamese author Nguyen Van Canh as concentration camps without fences. Experts estimate that the Vietnamese government has forcefully relocated more than 770,000 Vietnamese in the New Economic Zones since 1981.

In Vietnam today all media is government controlled, travel is restricted, religion is universally oppressed and food is rationed at 35 pounds of food a month. That these conditions make life in Vietnam unbearable is easily attested by the more than 1 million Vietnamese who have risked their lives to flee their homeland since 1975.

OTTO POHL

Mission Viejo

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