Five News Stories to Know for October

Published October 31, 2016 in Episode 59

After months of coping with the fallout from the fish crisis, October brought no good news to the central region of Việt Nam. Meanwhile, the national debt continues to grow, and so does government repression of dissidents. Here's what you need to know this month:

Number 1: Deadly floods swamp central Việt Nam. Is a hydropower plant to blame?

Beginning on October 13, torrential storms in the central region triggered flooding that has killed at least 31 people, and submerged tens of thousands of homes. According to disaster officials, Quảng Bình Province was the hardest hit. Hà Tĩnh Province was also heavily impacted.

To make matters worse, officials at the Hố Hồ Hydropower plant in Hà Tĩnh inexplicably opened a dam to relieve overflowing of its reservoirs. Within minutes, local homes were inundated.

Nguyễn Văn Trường, a lumberjack in Hương Khê District, in Hà Tĩnh province, says he came home to nothing but a pile of concrete.

“They opened the Hố Hô dam too much. My house was pulled away. The concrete part smashed, the wooden part, the village officials took it apart and took it away. Inside, our things were all swept away. I work far away. When I got home, there was just a pile of concrete left. Nothing else. The crop is all gone. Swept away by the flood.”

After a preliminary investigation, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Hoàng Quốc Vương last Saturday confirmed that the Hố Hồ Hydropower plant had violated water resource law and mismanaged operation of the reservoir.

Number 2: Victims of Formosa amp up action to seek legal redress

More than 10,000 people protested in front of the Formosa Steel Plant in Hà Tĩnh province, in an unprecedented show of peaceful action. They demanded authorities to close down the Formosa factory and provide fair compensation for the fishermen who have lost their jobs over the steel mill's toxic wastewater discharge.

Protesters chanted, “Formosa Cút Ra Khỏi Việt Nam” -- Formosa, get out of Việt Nam.

Victims and their families are also taking legal action. But on October 5th, the People's Court of Kỳ Anh dismissed the more than 500 lawsuits that were filed against the Formosa Plastics Group on the days leading up to the protest.

Just over a week later, thousands of parishioners in Nghệ An Province attempted to go to the courthouse to file new lawsuits. Authorities blocked roads. Streets were strewn with nails in an attempt to keep people away, witnesses told Radio Free Asia. Taxi drivers reported that they were being harassed to prevent rides to the courthouse.

The Vietnamese government has yet to distribute compensation and damages paid by Formosa.

Number 3: Prominent blogger arrested, prominent pro-democracy organization deemed a terrorist group.

One of Việt Nam’s most well-known bloggers, Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, is in jail. The 37-year-old who goes by the pen name “Mother Mushroom” was arrested on October 10. She is being charged with violating Article 88 of the penal code: “conducting propaganda against the state.”

  State tv channel ANTV reports on the arrest of Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh. (Photo: Screengrab)

State tv channel ANTV reports on the arrest of Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh. (Photo: Screengrab)

The Khánh Hòa police website cited a report by Quỳnh which documented cases in which civilians have died under police custody as proof of “hostility towards the security police.”  

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Security designated pro-democracy party Việt Tan a terrorist group.

Việt Tân calls the move a fear tactic. In a statement, the organization says, “To justify its human rights abuses, Hanoi has often portrayed critics as engaging in terrorism, subversion and social unrest.”

Loa is a project of Việt Tân.

Number 4: Việt Nam’s public debt is growing faster than its GDP.

Việt Nam is the poster child for economic growth in the region, its GDP growing more than 6 percent this year.  But its public debt is growing even faster -- in fact, three times faster.

According to the National Assembly Finance and Budget Commission, Việt Nam public debt currently sits at 2.6 trillion VND or about $116 billion dollars. The World Bank forecasts that Việt Nam’s public debt will climb to nearly 64 percent of its gross domestic product this year.

Việt Nam has a population of 93 million. In a VN Exress article, economist Đỗ Thiên Anh Tuấn pointed out that each citizen's share of the debt is about $1,300, about 62 percent of the average Vietnamese citizen’s annual income.

The aging population in Việt Nam -- those who are over 60 years old-- is increasing, and the economy will lose key members of the labor force. With that in mind, government goals to lower the budget deficit may be hard to achieve.

Number 5: Vietnamese sailors held hostage by Somali pirates are freed after nearly five years

Three Vietnamese sailors held by Somali pirates are free at last. The hostages are part of a 26 member crew of a Taiwanese fishing vessel. They were held by Somali pirates for nearly five years, one of the longest in Somali piracy history.

AFP footage shows three Vietnamese sailors being welcomed home by their weeping relatives at Nội Bài airport last week. One of the fathers of the sailors told the AP that he had not heard from his son for three years. He had been praying for his son's return, and likened the pirates to terrorists.

According to CNN, these sailors were often referred to as "forgotten hostages" because few were working on their release. Pirates hold hostages to extort money in exchange for freedom. The fishing vessel did not belong to a wealthy company and did not have money for? ransom. AP reports that there is an unverified claim that $1.5 million was paid for the sailors' release

And that’s your October New Roundup! Make sure to stay on top of the news in Việt Nam. But just in case you don’t, we've got you covered at the end of the month.