Brief Summary: It isn’t getting better, and nobody’s paying attention. I’m reminded of a silly conversation I was privy to at a conference on Buddhism in Cambodia. The conference was almost exclusively in Khmer and was for the Khmer. As it should be. But I was shocked when a group of students who clearly thought themselves radical and modern, suggested that the answer to the country’s poverty was to disrobe the country’s 60,000 monks and force them to work.
Huh? So, instead of a massive problem with unemployment already, you’re going to take 60,000 men who have lower than normal calorie needs (they don’t eat after noon, for the most part, but neither do most of them suffer from brutal hunger), and put them out on the already glutted labor market? Or were they talking about forced labor programs?
Whatever. What nobody seems to be talking about is what is going to happen when this country, whose population is higher now than at any point in its past, and whose land is less evenly distributed than at any point in its past, and where the increasing landlessness is not being matched by an increase in wage-labor jobs (unlike England during the enclosure movement, to again cite the classic example), completes this massive rush. What’s going to happen?
The owners of these factories are not Cambodians, or even Khmer for the most part. They often don’t speak the language, or any local language. They have no commitment to Cambodia, and the minute they get a better labor+environment deal elsewhere, they’re moving. There is NO OTHER INDUSTRIALIZATION in this country aside from the garment industry. Really. Okay, there are a few companies doing this and that, but no ‘sector’ that can be identified, and certainly nothing to replace the loss of garment factory jobs, which already suck ass.
I’m at a loss, and frankly getting angry that these questions, which are so crucial for the lives of real people in the region, are not being widely discussed.
Here are some pieces to check out:
And you don’t really think this following headline is unconnected, do you?
It’s fascinating to me that every once in a while, Hun Sen says something that is both ‘controversial’ and analytically true. For instance, when I was still in Cambodia, he ruffled a few (almost exclusively foreign) feathers with his statement that the Khmer Rouge were a revolutionary force created by Sihanouk’s oppression and class warfare. This was ‘controversial’ only to those aforementioned foreigners and their comprador classmates, who are intent on rewriting the entire history of anti-capitalist struggle by subsuming it entirely under the binary of Pro-US=Pro-Capitalist=Good vs Anti-US=Anti-Capitalist=Evil. That is to say, a historical approach to the Khmer Rouge which acknowledges their history, rise AND state terror is not acceptable, even though it’s the subject of endless and sophisticated debates by some of the most important historians of Cambodia.
In the cases above, Hun Sen has warned about the activities of his own cronies. Such moments remind me that the majority of Cambodians I know liked Hun Sen until about 1997 (the coup de force), and then felt he quickly became a tyrant. Their explanation for the change is precisely the same as mine: as he became more entangled in the networks of casino capitalism and the emerging patron-clientalism, his desire to ‘do good’ became increasingly untenable and weak against his desire to ‘profit,’ and especially against the needs of his network to destroy resistance.
And then of course there’s the ongoing de-commonization and grabbing of land in Ratanakiri.
And here, Hun Sen starts to make more specific threats against land-grabbers, coming closer to identifying them as a class (generals and military) and reminding people that the Khmer Rouge were disempowered (by HS, he claims). Bloodshed will be the result of unrestrained land-grabbing, claims the PM.
and another set of recent articles in the blog post that will not die: