Sunday, October 24, 2010

Finally Some Sense on Laos

Most people outside the Sacramento region don't know much about the trial of less than a score of Hmong Americans and a couple of would-be anti-Communist crusaders who may or may not have plotted to work with a scraggly band of Hmong in Laos to mount a campaign to overthrow the Laotian government. It's been a big deal here, as Sacramento has a large Hmong community and some of those on trial are prominent in that community here.

The "plot", if we can dignify the comedy of errors described in court documents as something sufficiently organized to be a plot, was difficult to understand from the beginning. It's not uncommon for refugees from other countries to decide that they're going to raise an army and liberate the home country. Anti-Castro Cubans do this on a regular basis. But the government doesn't generally try to entrap them and put them on trial. The FBI goes to the ringleaders, takes the weaponry away and tells them to cool it. End of story.

With the Hmong "plot" though, the government sent an undercover agent to try to sell them all sorts of weaponry and provide mercenaries to enable the group to take over the Laotian government. Uh-huh. And while the plotters were pathetic, it doesn't appear that they did much more than talk until the undercover agent showed up, and since they weren't likely to get the Stinger missiles anyway, the government could easily have used the Cuban Plan to send the plotters back to their regular lives. But nooo. The Bush Administration decided to arrest and prosecute the plotters as terrorists. Oh, please.

However, in building opposition to the prosecution, the Hmong American community raised the "resistance" of somewhere between 200 and 1,000 Hmong who are still -- 40 years after the United States recognized the government of Laos -- living in the jungles there, subsisting on whatever they can find, and launching occasional raids on hapless Laotian villages to augment their diets. In the process they sometimes kill the villagers, which endears them to neither the government nor the villagers.

Enter some local politicians, notably Dave Jones, who will hopefully become California's Insurance Commissioner after next month's election. Now the issue is not whether the US should prosecute every silly little "plot" worked up by the anti-blank refugees, but morphs into a campaign to protect the Hmong remaining in Laotian jungles. At the time I suggested that we should work with the Laotian government to deal with the situation -- get the remaining Hmong out of the jungle and resettle them in Laos or in the United States. I didn't think that Assemblymember Jones was being particularly helpful, and that it might make the Laotian government even angrier with us than they already are.

And they have good reason to be angry. In addition to prosecuting a war against the Pathet Lao that was wrong and immoral, we mined a large portion of the country and have refused to give them more than token assistance in clearing the mines from the Plain of Jars. And what aid we do give them we treat as a big, big favor. But good things can come from the worst stupidities, and people with more influence than I also saw that we could bring the remaining Hmong "resistance" out of the jungle and resettle them. An attempt was made to open negotiations last year, but the Hmong sent Vang Pao, who had commanded the anti-Communist Hmong during the war, as the negotiator. So not a good idea.

But how hard would it be to find a negotiator who had the trust and respect of both sides to settle this problem? I suspect that the US really doesn't care that much, and doesn't want the political fallout from having to take in more refugees from Southeast Asia. To which I can only say that we should be willing to take responsibility for what we did in Laos, be accountable, and accept the consequences. Just like mothers on welfare.

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