In First Visit To Cambodia By Mayor of Long Beach (City With America's Largest Population Of Cambodian Refugees), Mayor Garcia Didn't Raise Democracy/Human Rts, Promoted Trade & Cultural Exchanges, His Chief of Staff Says It Was Consistent With Advice From U.S. Embassy
|(Feb 14, 2019, 9:05 a.m.) -- LBREPORT.com has learned that on the first visit to Cambodia by the Mayor of Long Beach -- home to America's largest population of refugees from Cambodia's murderous former Khmer Rouge ("killing fields") and current repressive regime -- Mayor Robert Garcia didn't raise issues of democracy or human rights and instead promoted trade with the Port of Long Beach and "sister city" exchanges and the like.
In response to questions by LBREPORT.com, Mayor Garcia's Chief of Staff, Mark Taylor, indicated this was consistent with advice provided by the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. Chief of Staff Mr. Taylor also provided details (below) on with whom the Mayor met and the subject matter of those meetings during the trade-promoting visit by the Port of Long Beach. The Port delegation, which included Harbor Commission Vice President Lowenthal [accompanied by spouse Evan Braude] and Commissioner Lou Ann Bynum, also made stops in Singapore and Vietnam. Port of LB Media Relations Mgr. Lee Peterson tells LBREPORT.com that the point of the Port's overseas business development trips is to have face-to-face meetings with officials, customers and fellow ports.
Mayoral Chief of Staff Taylor said that while in Cambodia, the Mayor's delegation met with "the head of the Municipality of Phnom Penh, members of the Phnom Penh Sister City group, officials from the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation and the Ministry of the Environment. We also toured and met with the leadership of the Phnom Penh Port. The context for all of the meetings was to strengthen and increase economic and cultural ties between Long Beach and Cambodia through trade and our Sister City partnership."
Chief of Staff Taylor said Mayor Garcia "met with Congressman Lowenthal before leaving to inform him of the visit" and says the [Harbor Commission Vice President Bonnie Lowenthal also went on the trip.] "The US Embassy in Phnom Penh assisted in planning the trip and we met with US Embassy staff during our visit to be briefed on the US mission in Cambodia. Embassy staff supported our visit and asked us to continue working with them in our efforts moving forward. We discussed how our visit advanced the US mission by increasing person to person ties between residents of Long Beach and Phnom Penh and increasing economic ties as well," Mr. Taylor said.
[Scroll down for further.]
Was the Mayor involved in any trade/Port related discussions during his Cambodia visit and with whom? "Yes. The Mayor participated in all of the Port meetings in Cambodia including meetings with officials from the Municipality of Phnom Penh, members of the Phnom Penh Sister City group, the King of Cambodia, officials from the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation and the Ministry of the Environment. We also toured and met with the leadership of the Phnom Penh Port. The only formal agreement signed was the Sister City Partnership."
At any point(s) during his visit, did Mayor Garcia raise issues of the Cambodian government?s actions regarding democracy or human rights, and if so what did he say and to whom and with what responses if any? "US Embassy staff advised the delegation to focus on trade and economic development and refrain from foreign policy discussions. They asked us to not go beyond issues of trade, our Sister City partnership, and cultural exchange."
In 2018, Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D, Long Beach-west OC) joined in co-sponsoring the "Cambodia Democracy Act of 2018 [authored by a Florida Republican] that would require the President to apply sanctions on "each senior official of the government, military, or security forces of Cambodia that the President determines has directly and substantially undermined democracy in Cambodia" or have "committed or directed serious human rights violations associated with undermining democracy in Cambodia" and "entities owned or controlled by senior officials of the government, military, or security forces of Cambodia." The sanctions would "block and prohibit all transactions in property and interests in property" of those persons of such property and interests that are in the U.S., come within the U.S. or are within the possession or control of a U.S. person and direct the Secretary of State to continue U.S. declared policy of Dec. 6, 2017 and restrict entry into the U.,S. "of persons involved in undermining democracy in Cambodia,
In a release at time, Congressman Lowenthal stated: "These sanctions are the price Hun Sen and his regime must pay for their assault on the freedom of the Cambodian people. (The bill passed the House without serious discussion and died without action in the Republican-majority Senate.)
Congressman Lowenthal is now co-sponsoring the "Cambodia Democracy Act of 2019," HR 526 [authored by the same Florida Republican] which is substantially similar to last year's bill that failed to progress in the Republican-majority Senate. In its "Findings" section, HR 526 recites:
Congress finds the following:
At our request, Mayoral Chief of Staff Taylor provided a copy of a "Memorandum of Understanding" signed on January 28, 2019 in Phnom-Penh by Mayor Garcia. It recites in pertinent part that both cities "are ready to conduct friendly exchanges and cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual benefits" in fields such as "economics, trade, culture, education, agriculture, tourism, health and personnel, science and technology so as to promote common development for shared prosperity." It also states that the two cities "agree to facilitate the exchanges of visits of their respective representatives." To view the MOU in full, click here.
[LBREPORT.com publisher's comment: Under LB's voter-enacted City Charter, LB's Mayor doesn't have independent policy setting authority or executive level authority to bind the City to contractual agreements. LB city policy is decided by the City Council which didn't publicly discuss beforehand what Mayor Garcia did and hasn't voted to approve it now.]
As previously reported (first again by LBREPORT.com), some long-time LB Cambodian-American community advocates have voiced concerns that the actions of the Mayor and Port may have sent the wrong message to Cambodia's repressive regime. On Monday night (Feb. 11), they held a community roundtable meeting (that drew roughly 15 people on short notice) and was conducted by Tippana Tith, who invited each of the attendees to voice his/her views (calling it the American way to proceed.) LBREPORT.com, present at the meeting, heard via summarized translation from Khmer various degrees of puzzlement, questions, concerns. dismay and displeasure about what took place. Why did the Mayor and Port do this, several attendees wanted to know. How is what the Port and Mayor did consistent with what Congressman Lowenthal has been saying and doing, others asked? Some said the Mayor is doing a good job for the City but didn't understand what's taking place in Cambodia and the nature of its repressive regime. Others speculated that the Mayor did know but that money is more important to the Port and the City. Still others speculated that the Mayor was given bad advice by others in LB's Cambodian-American community.
After everyone was heard, the meeting's attendees agreed that a letter should be sent to the Mayor (text to be composed after the meeting) seeking to meet with him. Depending on the Mayor's response, the group can decide on its next actions, Mr. Tith indicated.
The Cambodian regime gave considerable media attention to what LB's Mayor said and LB's Port officials did:
In a speech carried on Cambodian state television, Cambodia's King, Norodom Sihamoni, said "In the history of our country, our nation has never before had the honor of having a formal designation of Cambodia Town, culture, and business district in a foreign country...We're grateful to you Mr. Mayor and to you, Mr. chairman [of Cambodia Town] for your very loyal gesture."
Feb. 15, 11:20 a.m. Detailed text added specifying the sanctions to be applied in 2018 and 2019 legislation.
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