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CHAPTER V

POLITICAL AND ENOCONIC BOOM

"We were born thanks to our parents
But we owe our living to our native land
While enjoying our land and its produce
It is our duty to defend our Country
If we want our race to survive.
Let us contribute to save our Country
When it is in distress
And make it strong and prosperous
Let us try to liberate our Country
When it is dominated by foreigners.
We are safe only when our Country
Is strong and wealthy"

                            Huynh Phu So

The influence of the Hoa Hao on Central Government prior to 1966 had been a result of their military power and their ability to control the people and the countryside . Post-Diem governments were quick to appreciate the sects efforts against the NLF in the countryside and in their ability to execute pacification programs that in other areas of the country could not have been attempted . They had hoped that other local power structures such as the Catholic Bishoprics and the Cao Di, could be capitalized on to build a unified denfense against the NLF . This proved impossible because there was no central government apparatus to develop and direct intermediate organizations or with any ability to control programs at the village level .

In this environment of tacit support from the Central Government the Hoa Hao political organization propered and expanded . The Viet Nam Social Democratic Party originally founded by Huynh Phu So was able to elect and seat twelve representatives out of one hundred and seventeen authorized nation-wide at the 1966 Constituent Assembly election in Saigon . In the 1967 National Assembly election the Social Democratic Party acquired two seats in the Senate and fourteen in the House of Representatives . In the 1971 National Assemble election the Hoa Hao Party captured three Senatorial seats and twenty-one seats in the Lower House .

This period also saw the opening of a Hoa Hao office in Saigon . This office called the Central Executive Council was opened to provide public information on the Hoa Hao and as a lobby in National Assembly . This office composed of all the elected Senators and Representatives and those high officials who by 1970 had been appointed to important government jobs, formed an impressive and powerful group when they acted in unison for a specific cause . This, alas, was not often the case . As often happens in political organizations that are formed to fight a common enemy or threat, when the crises passes and relative peace is established, the strong personalities that were so necessary during the formation of the group often fight against each other for power or for lack of a common enemy . That is precisely what happened to the Hoa Hao .

The original Social Democratic Party formed by Huynh Phu So split after the death of So and just prior to the war against the Hoa Hao Army . (figure 7) . The split, incidently was a long military lines with the original Social Democratic Party formed around General Lam Thanh Nguyen of Chau Doc and the Democratic Socialists Party around General Nguyen Giac Ngo of Cho Moi . Since these names tend to be confusing they were, and still are, referred to by the flags they carry . The original party carries a flag with three yellow stars on it, thus the Three Star Party, and the splincter group carries one with the traditional Buddhist Swastika on it and is known as the Swastika Party . In addition to these official parties, Lower House Prepresentatives Le Quang Liem has for the past two years been attempting to form a separate political organization made up of dissidents from the Three Star and the Swastika Parties . His strength is still tentative but with his personal power he cannot be discounted as a contender .

The presence of two political parties in the Hoa Hao is, in it self, misleading for the real power of the Hoa Hao is represented in the religious organization . The man most powerful in the Hoa Hao today would have to be Mr. Luong Trong Tuong who is head of the Central Executive Council of the Phat Giao Hoa Hao . His power, however, is not unchallenged and strong contenders for religious head can be found in the Central Executive Committee of the Phat Giao Hoa Hao better known as the Nguyen Duy Hinh Faction (Hinh is dead but the groups still carries his name) or the un-named splinter group that may be formed out of the Liem political machine . It is not unexpected that the Hoa Hao religious organization exercises very strong control on the political apparatus, after all, that's the way Huynh Phu So planned it in the first place . The veterans organizations consist of Hoa Hao Army Veterans and they support the political party that they were formed from .

The strong competition between the religious and political factions has in the past led to some rather direct and sometimes fatal action on members of opposing factions . It almost seems to the casual observer that these factions are trying to form separate sects from the whole without regard for the good or effectiveness of the whole . This unfortunately, could be true and could in the long run lead to a disintegration of the Hoa Hao and a loss of their considerable influence for peace in Viet Nam .

This seems to be recognized by the church leadership and in 1972 and 1973 strong attempts were made to reconcile differences and reorganize the church political apparatus . These attempts were only partially successful primary due the disruptive influence of Le Quang Liem and his attempts to form his own political party .

The following are illustrations of the antagonism between the factions or at least some of the leaders of these factions :

Item : In the 1971 Lower House election in AnGiang Province one of the leading supporters of the Hinh faction was found dead in Thot Not . Classed as an accident but local populace say he was murdered .

Item : In 1972 a Village Chief from the Tuong faction found dead in Cho Moi . Some say he was mudered .

Item : In 1972 Congressman Le Quang Liem who is attempting to form a separate Hoa Hao political party took over the Saigon office of the Hoa Hao by force using machine guns and grenades .

Item : In 1972 Congressman Le Quang Liem was shot four times by and M-16 rifle from a jeep that followed him for several miles . Liem, who lived, said he could identify the assailants and did but only as Cat, Tiger, ect. No one could ever apprehend for this but it was generally accepted that the assault was ordered by the Tuong faction . Not too long after this Tuong's son, who was an army captain, deserted and was last reported in France .

Item : Senator Le Phuoc Sang was publically accused of stealing more than eight million piasters ($20,000) designated for the construction of Hoa Hao University in An Giang Province . The accusation was made at an opening meeting of Hoa Hao leaders where the purpose of the meeting was to initiate re-unification proceedings to bring the Hoa Hao factions back together .

These are but a few examples to illustrate that all is not entirely smooth within the Hoa Hao ranks . The interesting thing is their degree of flexibility toward each other when the situation demands itand their near fanatical unity when threatened from an outside source . An excellent example is their opposition to North Vietnamese and NLF entry into Hoa Hao controlled areas . In 1969 a Viet Cong battalion attempted to cross AnGiang Province, rather than skirt it, on their way to the U-Minh Forrest . They penetrated no more than 25 kilometers into the province and according to captured prisoners only fifty of the original five hundred were able to get out of the Province . The rest were killed on captured . During the fight there were no regular army units only local militia . Four years later (there were no unit attacks in the interim) a North Vietnamese battalion tried to take one of the remote villages in the Province . They were driven off with heavy losses in two days . Again, primarily by the employment of local militia .

On the political side an article published in the Saigon newspaper Can Chu Moi on 28 August 1972 and reportedly written by a Catholic Priest, a Cao Dai leader and a Buddhist Monk, accused a district chief in An Giang Province of corruption . In the article it mentioned that the district chief was a former follower of the "bandit" Le Quang Vinh (Ba Cut) . In reaction to this article the Hoa Hao called a general meeting of church and political leaders to denounce this article . The source of their anger was not that the newspaper had accused the district chief of corruption, but that it had called Ba Cut a bandit . On the 10th of September, 1972, 2,000 of the key sect leaders assembled and after two hour discussion voted to demonstrate against the newspaper and file a law suit against them .

These example provide some insight into the political and military drive and ambition of the Hoa Hao leaders . If they can successfully overcome their internal dissension they will be in even stronger contention for influence on the national scene .


ECONOMIC

Almost without exception bookds and documents on Viet Nam have reported the agricultural and economic power of the Mekong Delta and the Hoa Hao Province. Even the writings of the Master Buddha of Tay An stressed the wealth of the land and the importance of farming for economic independence . Earlier year, after the defeat of the Chinese, the Tran and Nguyen Dynasties recognizing the vast potential wealth in the Delta, defeated the Kingdom of Champa and the Khmers to colonize the area and reap its wealth . The Hoa Hao due to their unique level of security were able to develop the lands economic potential more than less pacified neighboring provinces and in so doing not only became more wealthy but satisfied the teachings of the Master Buddha of Tay An and Huynh Phu So .

This unique combination of security and economic development led President Johnson and Ky at the 1966 Honolulu Conference to select An Giang as the priority Province for national development . An Giang was to be developed as a model province for the nation and used to test various economic development concepts before implementing them elsewhere . It also mean that An Giang would be the recipient of large amounts of money, equipment, and expertise which required detailed plans to realize the full benefits of these programs .

Obviously the An Giang Priority Program (AGPP) as it is named was a mixed blessing . On the one hand it offered the peole a chance to tremendously increase their wealth, but on the other it meant an increase in Central Government and U.S. presence, and in effect, a changed way of life . The AGPP was a complex program but broken down into its basic elements it consisted of the following development goals :

Institute a Rural Credit Program .
Introduce a crop diversification program and increased rice production .
Construction of livestock and agriculture processing plants .
Provide services for the citizens such as electricity and communications .
Improve medical and sanitary conditions .
Construct a good primary and secondary road system .
Increase animal production .

Generally the program went amazingly well . In the six years since the program actually started (1967) the standard of living in An Giang Province has risen at a surprising rate, consumer goods and luxuries are easy to get and generally within the budget capacity of most families who on the whole enjoy an excellent standard of living . The most striking thing about flying into the capital city of Long Xuyen, or even over the remostest of AnGiang's Hamlets, is the sea of television antennas that meet the eye . If television is a measure of economic progress or high standard of living, An Giang Priority Program was a complete success .

Space does not permit a complete listing of the accomplishments of the AGPP (nor its more notable failures), but a few are appropriate to provide some idea of the scope of the project and the millions of U.S. dollars in aid poured into An Giang .

Rural Credit : The Rural Credit Program was designed to provided working capital for individuals, farmers groups and co-operative to finance new farm, livestock, or processing plant ventures . The program plan called for the establishment of one Agricultural Development Bank (ADB) to finance the larger projects and to provide capital for several Rural Development Banks (RDB) . The RDBs are started with 50% of their capital coming from the ADB and 50% from the local depositors . The RDBs make loans to farmers and merchants groups to finance yearly projects with a lesser value than those financed by the ADB . An Giang had the first ADB and RDB opened in South Viet Nam and will open a RDB in their last district in 1974 .

Crop Diversification : The basic crop of An Giang Province was a local variety of rice call Red Floating . In addition to being red, it was named for having the capacity to keep its head above the water during the flood season . It can grow 10 centimeters in a twenty-four hour period and has been known to reach a height of seven-teen feet and still producing a good rice crop . There are three main disadvantages of Red Floating Rice : (1) It takes seven months to grow . (2) it only produces 1.5 metric tons of rice per hectare . (3) It doesn't taste very good . New strains of the so-called miracle rice developed at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos, Philippines and first introduced into South Viet Nam in 1967 can produce a crop in four months with an average yield of four metric tons per hectare and the newer strains are exceptionally tasty. Other crops such as sorghum, soy beans, corn, vegetables, and fruits are being grown in the province and providing a major source of income .

Processing Plants : Plants to process feed grain, butcher beef, pork, and poultry, and produce fertilizer are beginning to show profits at the present time . Many of them got off to a shaky start due to poor management techniques but most of them appear to be economically healthy at the present time .

Medical Facilities : Outside the major population centers, An Giang Province had the best medical facilities in the country . They, however, could only be classed as totally inadequate . Through a very fine medical improvement program the Province and District hospitals have been upgraded with new facilities, techniques, and personnel, and the local aid stations and maternity hospitals have shown a like improvements .

Animal Production : Increased production of cattle,hogs, chickens, and ducks has made meat more readily available to the local population . In addition, new production techniques have given the province the capacity to export to other areas large quantities of live animals for slaughter . Unfortunately, failures in the animal slaughtering industry have forced a slow down in the marketing system but this situation may be overcome in the near future .

There are many other examples where the AGPP has led to a much more active and productive economy but lest one think that all transpired without problems, one should also look at some of the failures :

White Elephants : A very fine automated beef slaughtering plant was built prior to receiving the needed machinery to make it work . The major piece of machine when it arrived was twenty-seven feet longer than the building.

A meat plant was built down-wind of a compost plant . The smell and smoke made beef production and packaging impossible .

Production at a feed grain mill was cancelled when corn from the U.S. arriving under imports program reached Viet Nam at grain harvest time in the Delta . Therefore, there was no market for the local grain and most of it was lost .

These are but a few of the problems encountered in executing a program as diverse and expensive and the An Giang Priority Program . In comparing these losses with the overall goals and accomplishments of the program, however, they are not of great important . What is important is the vitality of the economy, the apparent wealth of the Province, the hard surface roads, the beautiful schools (even a University), the commerce and trade being conducted, the electrical power plants, and distribution systems in operation, the amount of money deposited in the banks, and the present and planned expansion of economic programs in cooperation with neighboring Provinces .


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