Long-Time LB Cambodian-American Community Advocates Meet, Voice Concerns That Port's Trade-Promoting Trip And Mayor Garcia's Words/Actions May Have Sent Wrong Message To Cambodia's Repressive Regime On Democracy/Human Rights UPDATED: Mon. night Town Hall meeting announced
UPDATED: Mon. night Town Hall meeting announced
|(Feb 10, 2019. 3:30 p.m., updated 10:10 p.m.) -- LBREPORT.com has learned that Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia's recent Port of LB trade-promotional trip that included the first-ever visit by a LB Mayor to Cambodia has raised concerns among some in LB's Cambodian-American community that the Mayor's statements and actions may have conveyed to that repressive regime that the City of Long Beach puts Port trade and corporate profits ahead of freedom, democracy and human rights. Thus far, the concerns have been mainly muted, but perhaps not for long.
Earlier today (Sun. Feb. 10), a number of veteran Cambodian-American community advocates -- individuals with decades-long ties to LB's Cambodian-American community -- met to discuss the matter, which they view as extremely important. Prior to meeting among themselves, they shared with LBREPORT.com concerns that the LB trade promotion visit was ill-timed, coming just as the European Union asked EU national governments to approve economic sanctions on Cambodia's regime in view of its human rights record. The Long Beach trade-promoting delegation included Harbor Commissioners Bonnie Lowenthal and Lou Anne Bynum and Port of LB Executive Director Mario Cordero. That, plus Mayor Garcia's words and actions (below) have fueled their concerns.
Long Beach is home to the largest community in the United States of residents who fled Cambodia's former Khmer Rouge Communist regime that seized power after U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam and waged a political genocide (the "Killing Fields") that murdered millions of Cambodians from 1975-79. The independent non-governmental non-profit group Human Rights Watch, summarizes current conditions in Cambodia as follows:
The ruling Cambodian People's Party maintains power through violence, politically motivated prosecutions, repressive laws, and corruption. Prime Minister Hun Sen, in power since 1985, oversees one-party rule in the National Assembly since government-controlled courts dissolved the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, detained opposition leader Kem Sokha, and banned more than 100 opposition members from politics in the lead up to sham elections in July 2018. The government has also intensified its crackdown on independent media, local human rights defenders, and land rights activists. Rights to free expression and peaceful assembly are sharply curtailed, and there is no accountability for serious abuses.
The individuals from LB-s Cambodian-American community who gathered on Sunday morning to discuss the Mayor's actions and the related trade trip didn't mince words, didn't seek anonymity and invited us to remain as they discussed the matter. We declined and prefer to identify them when they reach agreed response .which we will add here if/when received.)
[UPDATE] The group decided to hold a Town Hall meeting on the issue on Monday, Feb. 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Dream Center, 2416 E. 11th St. -- so that Khmer citizens can voice their opinion on the issue. "Everyone is welcome," emailed Tippana Tith, who will lead the meeting, organized by "Khmers Democracy of Long Beach." [end UPDATE]
[Scroll down for further.]
Mayor Garcia has sought to portray his trip to Cambodia as basically benign, the first visit by the Mayor of Long Beach as a "good will" measure from a city with America's largest community of Cambodian refugees. Mayor Garcia publicly stated reason for visiting Cambodia was to renew Long Beach's "sister-city" relationship with Phnom Penh (dating back to 1993). The Long Beach-Phnom Penh "sister cities" Facebook page quoted Garcia as telling reporters at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh that his visit was "to ensure that trade is strengthened and that we have a great cultural exchange," adding "So we're proud to be here and we just love everybody in Long Beach and we love Cambodia and the Cambodian community."
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."
Thus far, Mayor Garcia's visit has drawn mixed (or in some cases muted) reviews in LB's Cambodian-American community.
Charles Song, among the leaders of Equity for Cambodians [and a recent endorser of the state Senate candidacy of 1st dist. Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez] wrote on his Facebook page on January 29: "Although I don't agree with the many issues including the human right issue in Cambodia, I deeply believe that Mayor Robert Garcia's done the right thing by going to Cambodia to begin building an economic relationship between the City of Long Beach and Cambodia. I hope the current government continues to build a stronger relationship with the U.S. I congratulate and thank him for visiting Cambodia."
Vanndearlyn Vong, a partisan Democrat who scored the highest number of votes (with a solid, well-organized turnout from LB's Cambodian-American community) in seeking to serve among delegates to the Dem Party's upcoming state convention, offered a non-committal commented on her Facebook page: "Glad to see our mayor and local officials recognize our community and consider our future prospects!"
That drew the following response from a community-member: "I don't agree his appearance with the representative of the Royal Government of Cambodia with record of human rights violation [but I applaud Mayor for his engagements with Cambodia." To this, Ms. Vong replied, "A great and important point to bring up. From what I understand, people aren't very happy, but that's another discussion."
That drew further comments or non-comments: "I refrain from making any comment at this time. Mayor Garcia made an official visit to Phnom Penh" and another "THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH: Very nice! But what is beneficial out come for our L.B. Cambodia citizens? ,or was this a vacation with photo opp? Just asking!" Ms. Vong replied, "I think the most tangible benefit for us is to know that our mayor (and other officials) care about the community enough to visit Cambodia. Regarding the photo op- it's not my question to answer."
Others were more outspoken nearly three years ago. On April 9, 2016, roughly 150 people (LBPD estimate) held a loud but otherwise peaceful demonstration outside a Central LB restaurant, protesting the visit to Long Beach of Hun Manet, a West Point educated Lieutenant in the Cambodian Army and the son of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Controversy swirled over Hun Manet's scheduled appearance in LB's then-upcoming Cambodian New Year parade; some in LB's Cambodian-American community viewed his presence as a positive development and a show of national pride, but others were simply incensed. Faced with the polarizing and passionate views on both sides, Hun Sen bowed out.
As previously noted by LBREPORT.com, LB's Cambodian-American community is undergoing a political awakening, propelled in part by efforts by Equity for Cambodians that gained placement by the City Council, with Mayor Garcia's support, of a redistricting reform measure (Charter Amendment DDD) on a November 2018 special election ballot where (with three other City Hall sought Charter Amendments) LB voters approved it. Under DDD, starting with 2022 elections, newly drawn Council districts may end City Hall's chronic gerrymandering of LB's Cambodian-American community that for years diluted its collective voting power.
A key moment in that effort came in June 2018 when Equity for Cambodians publicly opposed DDD text initially offered by Mayor Garcia and didn't flinch at publicly criticizing it. In response, Mayor Garcia gave the group's representatives a seat at the table to redraft the measure.
Equity for Cambodians then helped mobilized Cambodian-American community support for DDD...and the group's leaders (including Charles Song and Laura Som) urged the Cambodian-American communtiy to also vote for Measures AAA-CCC (including BBB, ooposed by LB's Reform Coalition) sought by Mayor Garcia and Council incumbents.
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