The unjust case of Ms. Luu Thanh Chau’s family in Can Tho

W.Minh Tuan

In 1986, I was sent by the editorial board of Dai Doan Ket newspaper to work in Can Tho for about 3 months. I took the work permit, press card to the building name a number 1 Ly Thai To, next to the Hoan Kiem lake, to buy a plane ticket. This is the first time in my life that I have been on an airplane. Quite suspenseful.

At that time, the ticket office was still located at the head of Le Thai To Street, right next to Hoan Kiem Lake. I heard that during the French colonial rule of our country, this was the headquarters of Khai Tri Tien Duc Association (l’Association pour la Formation Intellectuelle et Morale des Annamites) created by famous intellectualists such as Pham Quynh, Than Trong Hue, and Hoang Trong Phu. Now there is no more Khai Tri to teach anything for people, only money to buy plane tickets, intellectuals is for later, after money. Old Marx, Engels, and Lenin were terribly wrong when they said that the capitalists had died following pragmatic materialism. Now I see that our communists in Việt Nam now have ten thousand times more practical material than the dead capitalists.

The ticket office is crowded, everyone has work papers, everyone has priority papers, so my journalistic work paper is a mear rusty nail. I Just have to queue as everyone.

I found the airline staff at that time really majestic, everyone had to ask and pray next to them, airline staffs were no different from the superior rice sales staffs in the subsidy period.

Finally, waiting for the end of the day, it was also my turn to buy a plane ticket. I took the ticket out of the door and felt as happy as Tet-a new year, although sweat poured out like a bath, I did not see the hardships of a day of war fighting for airticket.

Then the day to go to Noi Bai airport, take an air bus from 1 Quang Trung, also along Hoan Kiem lake, have to get up early in the morning, at about 6 am to be there, because the plane took off at 8 am.

For the first time in my life, I got on a plane, sat in a comfortable chair, and ate an airplane portion, and found everything strange, I was like a poor peasant first time going to a city, terrible dullish person.

When I saw Mr. Tay-a foreigner sitting nearby, reading an English newspaper, I did not understand any English at that time, and felt even more stupid, incompetent, and terribly backward.

I don’t know when we Việt Nam people will be equal to the West.

After 2 hours flied, I was in Tan Son Nhat airport. From airplane to the Tan Son Nhat airport building, you had to walk from the plane to the airport terminal, because at that time there was no airport bus to pick you up like now. The airport tarmac at the airfield was as hot as a frying pan, the sunshine in Saigon is terrible hot. I saw a guy carrying a red TV, so I helped him, I carried one side, he carried the other.

Looking closely at him, I realized that he was a famous movie actor of Saigon at that time-Thuong Tin actor. Thuong Tin said he was invited to the Soviet Union to attend some cultural events, and now he’s back, he bought a Soviet TV as a gift.

I helped him carry the TV to the airport door, he told me that he will drive me to the headquarters of Dai Doan Ket newspaper on Vo Thi Sau street in Saigon.

I was so lucky.

Seeing a white car approaching, there were 2 beautiful, young girls driving this car. Thuong Tin hugged both of them, kissed both of them, and then sat in the driver’s seat, I sat in the back with a girl, the other girl was prettier sat next to him. Then I was taken to the newspaper office, relaxed, relieved, without having to take a cyclo, or a taxi.

Saying goodbye to Thuong Tin and the two girls, I still feel dazed for a few minutes because I’m jealous of Thuong Tin actor, how come there are so many lovers for him, and then how and when can I even have my own car, when I will I be like him?

Thuong Tin actor explained that the car was from the pre-liberation period, before 1975, and after the liberation, there was only this Soviet red TV. He smiled for parting, his protruding tooth was horribly handsome. I went back to my room, looked at myself in the mirror fore long time, did not see any crooked teeth sticking out like him, terribly bored.

During that first trip to the South in 1986, I was assigned by the Editorial Board of Dai Doan Ket newspaper to go to Can Tho, -West capital-or Tay Do city to write articles for 3 months. At that time, I, a 26-year-old young reporter, was born and raised in the heart of the socialist North in Hanoi, full of enthusiasm, dreaming of working to serve the country.

But when I came to Can Tho that year, for the first time, I was exposed to a heartbreaking story that greatly influenced my thinking about the times and profession, about journalism.

That was the story of Luu Thanh Chau’s family.

In Can Tho, I went to work with the state inspection agency of Can Tho province.

I told the reception person that I wanted to meet the leader of the Provincial Inspector.

I was led into the office of the Deputy Chief Inspector of Can Tho province.

A barefoot man ran out to meet me, smiling, showing a few remaining teeth. It was Mr. Deputy Chief Inspector of Can Tho province, a very cheerful, kind and enthusiastic person.

He smiled and explained to me that when he was still in the socialist North, in Hanoi, during Việt Nam war, 1954-1975, he was a police officer at the Ministry of Public Security, eating and drinking during the hard subsidy period, so his teeth kept leaving him one by one. So now it’s just very few teeth like that revolutionary consistant stay with him.

When I asked him about the unjust lawsuits filed in Can Tho province, he advised me to find out the case of Ms. Luu Thanh Chau’s family, living in Can Tho city.

The deputy chief inspector said that Chau’s father was unjustly detained, and died shortly after his release. He said there was nothing the local inspection agency could do.

“-You are a journalist in the central government in Hanoi, maybe you can shed light on this unjust case”, he encouraged me.

In Vietnam, we have many legal agencies to deal with unjust, negative social cases, such as Communist Party inspection agencies, government inspection agencies, inspection agencies of ministries, branches, and legal agencies like in other countries, such as police, procecution, and courts.

But although in Vietnam we have many agencies to deal with such unjust and negative social issues, there are many unresolved cases of people’s complaints, and people’s complaints leters were being pushed around from one agency to another.

Once upon a time, there was a Mr. Bao Cong who solved many unjust cases of the people. Today, there are many Mr. Bao Cong at all levels and branches, but have not solved many unjust cases of the people.

Therefore, journalist Thai Duy of our Dai Doan Ket newspaper once wrote about a Hau Giang mother who told commune government officials after the liberation of April 30, 1975 as follows:

“If I knew you guys are like now, I wouldn’t have dug tunnels to raise you during war.”

But it’s too late, mom, they guys are leaders now, what else can you do, mom.

The deputy chief inspector of Can Tho province walked me barefoot to the door, no longer smiling, but with a pensive face, said to me, “Please you try to clarify this case, it’s unjust case up to the sky. ”

One afternoon, I went to Ms. Chau’s house, located in a small alley, near Cai Khe bridge. From here, it is not far to go to the military headquarters of Can Tho province. Someone told me that the military headquarters of Can Tho province before 1975 liberation was the headquarters of the 4th Corps Command of the old Saigon government. In 1975, General Nguyen Khoa Nam, commander of the 4th Army Corps, a talented and virtuous general of the old Saigon government, committed suicide before the liberation troops entered. But that was 11 years ago, during the war. Now, I’m looking for the truth about an unjust case of the people of Can Tho, whose perpetrator is one of the people in the liberation army that took over Can Tho in 1975.

A ramshackle gate made of bamboo leads to a small courtyard. I opened the gate by myself and entered the courtyard. An old woman ran out and asked me what was my matters. I said that I am a journalist, coming from Hanoi, I want to come and hear the unjust story of her family. She quickly invited me into the house, and called her daughter out to meet me.

A young girl stepped out, petite figure, stern face.

I introduced myself as a journalist from Hanoi, and said that I was introduced to her family by the Deputy Chief Inspector of Can Tho province.

Ms. Chau immediately invited me to sit down and have a drink, and started telling her family story.

At first, Ms. Chau spoke quite timidly and cautiously. I guess Chau still has to see what kind of person I am. Then the story slowly unfolded.

During the war, Chau’s father owned a boat carrying vegetables and fruits in the Hau River area. And like thousands and thousands of other Vietnamese patriots, he also secret supplied to the liberation army and the communists. On his boat, underneath the piles of vegetables, were medicines, sugar, milk, rice, and supplies for the “liberators”.

He and his family risked their lives many times to deliver supplies to the liberation army. After the war ended, in 1978 began the process of bourgeois reform, all private businesses in the South were abolished, forced to be put into cooperatives, to do collective business.

Chau’s father did not agree to join the cooperative, because he found it very unreasonable. He is the owner of the boat, loves and cares for the boat it like a child, now he will become a member, working and  earning a salary, and his “child boat” will be managed by someone else.

He couldn’t accept that nonsense.

The market management team of Can Tho city and the police arrested him because he was “against the policy of renovating private capital” of the Party and the state. He was imprisoned for almost a year without trial, and when he was released, he fell ill and died a few months after being released from prison.

In 1986, when I went to Can Tho and met Ms. Luu Thanh Chau, her father was already dead. Ms. Chau told me that before her father’s death, her father still told her and other children “not to hate the communist party, because this is not a bad thing done by the communist party, but just a bad thing done by some bad elements of a communist party only, just someone in the party.”

It is rare to find anyone with such a sincere and kind heart as him. He told Chau that because he was afraid that Chau would avenge his father. Ms. Chau is a very good martial artist. In the past, once, to prevent the police from arresting her father, Chau kicked several police officers to fell into the Hau River. In the story about her father, Chau stopped many times because of choking, tears kept pouring out.

I listened silently, and sometimes I couldn’t hold back my tears too. What she regrets the most is why the Việt Nam communist government has the heart to treat her family so cruelly and unfair, why the communist government can change its mind so quickly. Just recently, a few years ago, when the Việt Nam war wasn’t over yet, how was the relationship between her family and the officials of the liberation army so good, so full of warm humanity. But now, after the war is over, communist cadres are ready to arrest her father, ready to bring her whole family to a dead end, no longer having a livelihood. But what is wrong with her father? The old Saigon government did not  destroy her family’s livelihood like the current government. Ms. Chau said she could not understand why the so-called “liberators” would do very unliberated acts like this.

Ms. Chau made a petition for her father to send it to all places, from local to central in Hanoi, but no one resolved.

The inspection agency of Can Tho province tried to collect some documents initially, but then had to stop, not to do any more.

After hearing all of Ms. Chau’s story, I began to look for documents and witnesses to prove that story.

I borrowed a bicycle to go see the witnesses. Sometimes Ms. Chau also comes with me. I feel like my investigation is starting to get noticed as well. Sometimes, when Chau was with me, I see Chau wearing a bandana. I find it very strange, because it is very hot in the summer in Can Tho.

I asked her why she wore a scarf, and Chau smiled and replied, “to protect you”. Chau explained that if she ware this towel, she could beat about 4 people without much difficulty.

At the same time in Can Tho, I became acquainted with a former officer of the old Saigon government. He used to go to military school in the US, in the Philippines, in Malaysia. It was one of the highly trained officers of the old Saigon government. This was the first person from the “other side” that I met in my life. He was a tall, muscular man with a very gentle face. After the war ended in 1975, he was sent to re-education for 6 years. After his release, he worked for a private business. This facility employs quite a few workers. There was no Company Law at that time, so hiring many workers was prohibited.

At first this officer was very shy to meet me. But gradually we became close. At that time, I had just gone to collect evidence and documents about the incident of Ms. Chau’s family, and occasionally met the this Saigon officer to talk. In a conversation, he said roughly, if there is no free enterprise, how can the country develop? At that time, I did not fully understand what he meant. I was taught, with my university education in Hanoi, about socialist economics, that free competition leads to cyclical crises, to imperialism, and to destruction of capitalism, as predicted by Lenin!!!

At that time, I and most other Vietnamese people still thought that business freedom was bad, it is only individualism, lack of humanity, that some people would get rich, but the whole society would get poorer.

Now I see that the officer’s words are true. Indeed, socialism and communism have a very good goal, which is to build a just and philanthropic society, where everyone has the opportunity to build a happy life. Communism is really an agency serving the people.

However, the solutions proposed by communism to achieve that goal are wrong, because those solutions have eliminated competition, individual interests, and control mechanisms for monopoly of the one-party state, thus eliminating all development drivers of society, and unable to effectively prevent corruption in the monopolistic state apparatus.

That simple truth, most Vietnamese people do not understand until now. During the Vietnam War, most people didn’t understand this simple true.

During the war, most of the Vietnamese people were ready to go to war with the naive belief that socialism and communism were the paradise of human society, more dignified, and more beautiful than capitalist society”. But heartbreaking stories like that of Chau’s family showed a different ending. And hundreds of thousands of other heartbreaking and unjust stories have been and are happening in Vietnam, which the Vietnamese press has been publishing every day, telling about the heroic and tragic fates of Vietnamese people in the  South during the war and after the war, showed outcomes that differed from the stated goals of communism and socialism.

I once asked that Saigon officer why he didn’t run away, escape in 1975. He looked at me intently for a moment as if to find out if there was any hidden meaning behind my question. Then he replied:

You know, I’m a soldier. I cannot run away. I can be caught, or killed, but I cannot run away. The soldiers in my unit didn’t run away either. They were all sent to re-education schools like me.”

From that time, in 1986, when I still didn’t understand the Vietnam war very well, I felt that if the old Saigon government had more brave people like this officer, and like his unit, they must not have lost the battle.

As for the officer, after returning from educations school, he did not escape too. The reason that the officer remained in Vietnam was because he wanted to do something to contribute to the development of the country. “The War is over,” he said. He said the polity may be different, but the Vietnamese people are one. But when he met me, he was very depressed. 6 years of “studying” did not discourage him with restrictive and wrong policies, inhibiting all legitimate human freedoms, and inhibiting all development.

He said:

-“The whole society is being held back by a repressive legal system. And it seems that people in the old Saigon government like us can’t have a place in today’s society. If only the communist government would not force us to study for too long, if only I went to study for 3 years and then came back, and then gave me the freedom to do business and like before 1975 liberation, don’t do reform at all. If that’s the case, there won’t be many people escape the country to be boat people.”

Saying this, he was silent for a while. I also remained silent, not interrupting his train of thought. He pondered for a long time, trying to suppress the pent-up emotions in his heart. Then he continued:

“You know, most of the soldiers in my unit, after returning from training and re-education camps, have already escaped. They could not stand the harsh life after the war. Many people died at sea. They don’t die on the battlefield. Do not die in the re-education camps. They died at sea in search of freedom.”

I keep silent. At that time, I was too young to fully understand what he said. But there was one thing I have dimly understood that the price of freedom is perhaps the most expensive.

I went to Hanoi, and my investigative report on the market management team of Can Tho city, the culprit causing many injustices in Can Tho, including the family of Ms. Luu Thanh Chau, was posted, caused great resonance throughout the country, especially in Can Tho. The injustice of Chau’s father has been clarified by the public, a few officials involved have been disciplined. Ms. Chau wrote a letter to me in Hanoi, telling me that she went to buy all the issues of Dai Doan Ket newspaper with articles about the Can Tho market management team in Can Tho, to distribute to relatives and friend.

Her family is very excited. At least the family’s honor was preserved. But the dead cannot come back to life. And the river transport profession by boat of Ms. Chau’s family could not be regained. The economy of a family with nearly ten mouths to eat almost collapsed. Since then, more than 20 years have passed, I have not seen Ms. Chau again, do not know how her life and her family are. I also don’t know how the Saigon officer’s life is now, whether he escaped or still remained in Vietnam. I really do not know.

When I first joined Dai Doan Ket newspaper, I remember reading an article in Dai Doan Ket newspaper, there was a passage about a mother in the Haugiang Mekong Delta. In the article, this Haugiang Southern mother told a number of local cadres who were harassing people as follows:

“If I had known that you all would be like this now, I would not have dug a secret tunnel to raise you in the past.”

At that time, I did not understand the reality of life very well, so I did not fully understand why that Haugiang Southern mother said that. But after the story of Ms. Chau’s family, I began to understand the true feelings of many people after the 1975 liberation of the South.

In Vietnam, the market management agency is an agency under the trade sector, now is belong to the Ministry of industry-trade, but has the power to arrest, search, and confiscate goods, with very vague functions, overlapping with those of the agency such as tax authorities, police.

I don’t understand why this agency still exists in Vietnam until now. There is no such thing as a market regulator in the world. During the subsidy period, there was only the state economy, there was no private economy, there was no free market, the market management agency was necessary for the socialist state to control market.

But now that Vietnam has an initial market economy and initial freedom of business, should this agency called “market control” exist? In fact, this agency has committed many crimes against the people, of which Chau’s father is just an example. Until now, this agency still exists and continues to harass people, as bad as the traffic police.

Now the country has Doi Moi for more than 30 years, socio-economic has developed rapidly. But the real estate sharks are robbing people’s land, or buying cheap state land, investing in building apartments and hotels at high prices, making money on the revolutionary achievements of the whole nation. It is not a socialist-oriented market economy model.

That is the market economy of Interest Groups.

Simple and honest business boat owners like Luu Thanh Chau’s family who did business before liberation are now oppressed by Interest Groups and do not have the same freedom of business as before 1975 liberation. //

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