Cambodia Essay

This essay has a total of 3952 words and 21 pages.

Cambodia



The Impact of the Past on the Present

Cambodia, then, like so many other nations in the developing world, is an agricultural
country, and, in terms of the cash incomes of its people, desperately poor.

In the past, Cambodia was able to earn foreign exchange to pay for imported goods by
selling agricultural surpluses-of rice and corn, for example-or plant crops, such as
pepper, rubber, and cotton. Its normal patterns of trade were broken up in the wars of
the 1970's. When the fighting died down, Cambodian trade became lively again, but more
informal, which benefited many individual traders but deprived the government of money it
needed to pay for essential services, like electricity, schools, water, and highways.
There was some question at the end of the 1980's if Cambodia would ever be able to trade
its way back into the kind of prosperity that it had enjoyed in earlier times.

Of course, the word "prosperity" is a relative one. Even in the peaceful 1960's, Cambodia
was one of the poorest countries in eastern Asia, at least in terms of individual income.
It is hard for even a relatively poor Westerner to imagine just how poor-in terms of cash,
choices about the future, and possessions-a Cambodian farmer or unskilled laborer has
always been, or what an annual income of less than the equivalent of two hundred dollars
means in terms of the everyday life of farmers and their families. In nearly all
Cambodian families, everyone works hard to grow the food and earn the money needed to
survive. Even so, by international standards most Cambodians are very poor.

Being poor in Cambodia means eating less than a pound of meat a month, and a family's
earning less than six hundred dollars from a rice crop that has occupied most of its
labor, intensively, for the equivalent of three months. For most Cambodians, there is a
little question of new clothes, gadgets, or vacations. The money from the rice crop has
to last the farming family for an entire year, unless the husband leaves home to find
another job-as a laborer in Phnom Penh, for example-or the wife manages to supplement
their income by selling fruit, cloth, or cigarettes in the local market. Most Cambodians
live below the poverty line and struggle hard to find enough food for themselves and their
children. The difficulties are intensified because in the late 1980's a large proportion
of the rural population-statistics are not precise, but perhaps as many as one in
four-consists of families headed by women widowed in the wars of the 1970's and 1980's.

Women have always worked hard as or harder than men in agricultural tasks, but usually
alongside them, and today Cambodia suffers from a shortage of able-bodied men. Tens of
thousands of other men are drawn away from productive work by service in the army and in
labor battalions along the Thai-Cambodian frontier.

In some ways, of course, it's easier to be poor in Cambodia than the West. First, there
is the warm weather. Houses are not expensive to build, heating isn't needed, as people
don't wear heavy clothes. In the second place, rice is cheap to buy, and for much of the
year supplementary foods-fish, fruit, and vegetables-are easy to grow, catch, or barter.
Third, the country is not yet overcrowded, at least in the east and the northwest, and
there is still unoccupied fertile land that can be brought under cultivation.

If it is difficult for Cambodians to freeze or starve to death, it would be wrong for us
to think of Cambodia as a tropical paradise. A Cambodian farmer, a widow living in Phnom
Penh, or a day laborer usually has no savings or any valuable property. The state has
almost no way to help them. In an emergency-an accident, a sudden illness, or a
fire-death is much closer for such people than it would be for most North American, and
the possibilities of their raising money, or receiving proper medical care, are much more
remote. Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians live on the edge of survival, eking a bare
living form the soil or from poorly paid casual labor. Most men and women in Phnom Penh
have two or even three competing jobs. They are uncertain about the future and what it
will bring for their children. This uncertainty, of course, has increased with the
fighting and disorder of recent years.

In material terms, Cambodia, even with its agricultural resources and its potential for
development, will probably always be very poor in comparison to countries like Japan,
Canada, and the United States, or even to nearby countries like Thailand and Malaysia. It
has two riches, however, that make it very interesting to study. These are its people and
its history.

Government

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy. King Sihanouk is head of state, and two prime
ministers head the government. The prime ministers attend to daily tasks of government,
and the king is deeply involved in matters such as dealing with the Khmer Rouge. The
Nationalist Assembly has 120 members. Further changes in the structure of government are
expected as part of the process of political transition and in order to resolve the
conflict with the Khmer Rouge.


The 20th Century

Present-day Cambodia was colonized by France in the 1860s and remained under French
control (except during Japanese occupation during World War II) until 1953, when it was
granted independence. During the postindependence period, Prince Norodom Sihanouk was the
dominant figure in Cambodian politics, until he was deposed in 1970 by General Lon Nol,
who was backed by the United States. When the U.S. withdrew from Southeast Asia in 1975,
the Khmer Rouge, a Communist faction headed by Pol Pot, took control of the country and
began a violent, forced restructuring aimed at returning the country to an agrarian
communal society. Sihanouk was reinstalled as the nominal head of state, but he resigned
in 1976, During the Khmer Rouge's four-year rule, more than 1 million Cambodians and
ethnic minorities were killed or died of starvation and disease. The educated and
business classes were all but eliminated. The economy was destroyed.

In response to the Khmer Rouge's slaughter of Vietnamese living in Cambodia and repeated
attacks on villages in Vietnamese territory, Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978.
Pol Pot fled, and a government loyal to Vietnam was installed with Heng Samrin as
president. Hun Sen was later named a prime minister. For the next ten years Vietnamese
troops attempted to defeat anti-government guerrilla forces. In 1989 Vietnam, tired of
the struggle, withdrew from Cambodia. The United Nations had refused to recognized the
Hun Sen government. Instead, a coalition of three guerrilla groups (Khmer Rouge, Khmer
People's National Liberation Front, and supporters of Prince Sihanouk) was recognized as a
government in exile (as the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea). Although
tentative peace talks between the government and the three guerrilla groups had begun in
1988, little progress was made until 1990, when the United States and other nations
withdrew their support for guerrilla coalition. In August 1990 all four parties agreed to
adopt a UN plan that created a Supreme National Council (SNC) as an interim government.
The UN sent troops and other personnel to take over the country's administration and
organize national elections. Prince Sihanouk returned to Cambodia as head


Cambodia's gulf coast, or the Gulf of Thailand. Cambodia lies totally in the tropics.
There are no negative conflicts now, as Cambodians enjoy a sunny day of swimming and
surfing.

of the SNC and was immediately accepted by most Cambodians as the only person capable of
establishing peace. The UN began registering voters in 1992 for elections in May 1993.
Violence between the government, Sihanouk's supporters, and the Khmer Rouge frequently
threatened to halt the peace process. The Khmer eventually refused to participate in the
electoral process.

Nevertheless, elections took place in May and were peaceful, free, and fair. However,
when Hun Sen's government realized it was losing to the Royalist opposition

(loyal to Sihanouk), it threatened to reject the results. Sihanouk, who was not a formal
candidate or party leader, stepped in to create a coalition government. After several
attempts, he worked out an agreement in June 1993 that created a co-presidency between his
son, Prince Ranariddh, and Hun Sen. The newly elected National Assembly approved a new
constitution that provided for Sihanouk's return to power as King of Cambodia. He was
crowned in September 1993. After ratifying the new constitution, he named the crown
prince, Norodom Ranariddh, as first prime minister and Hun Sen became second prime
minister. This continued the compromise agreement worked out in June.

The political situation remains uncertain-in 1994, government and Khmer Rouge troops were
involved in a series of battles over rebel-held territory, and talks held in June between
the two sides broke down within a short time. The return of King Sihanouk has raised
people's hopes of peace and a better life. However, uncertainly remains while Pol Pot
lives and the Khmer Rouge continues to fight. Legacies of the war, such as, the thousands
of Khmer refugees who continue to languish in Thai border camps, and the ever-present
danger of land mines which the Khmer Rouge continue to use, further hinder national
renewal.

Cambodia's Today

There are over seven million ways of writing about Cambodia today. Each Cambodian's
experiences are authentic, and slightly different from those of anyone else. One problem
for a writer is to discover common themes among the voices.

Another is that so much of the country is inaccessible to outsiders, because of the civil
war or because overland communication is so poor. It is almost impossible to generalize
about rural life, even though over 80 percent of Cambodia's people live in the
countryside.

A third problem is that "Cambodia" in 1990 includes not only the country itself, but the
320,000 Cambodians along the Thai border and 250,000 more who have resettled overseas. A
widow in Phnom Penh, for example, would describe "Cambodia today" differently from a
farmer in western Kompong Speu, a trader in the "Site 8" refugee camp in Thailand (one of
many) or a teenager in Long Beach, California, where almost 40,000 Cambodians have settled
since 1980.

Keeping these difficulties in mind, some important themes emerge from Cambodia's recent
history, and affect the ways that Cambodians face in the future.

The Fear of Pol Pot
One is the fear that Pol Pot will reemerge and reenact the horrors of 1975-1979. Memories
of uncontrolled violence and total domination have driven man Cambodians into mental
illness, and all survivors are fearful of Democratic Kampuchea. "War is a horrifying
prospect for Cambodians", one of them said in September 1989. "I don't think they could
survive another one, physically or mentally. "Three years earlier, a Western psychiatrist
reported, after several months among Cambodian refugees, that more than half of those he
worked with suffered from sleeplessness, nightmares, poor appetites, and estrangement from
other people. Similar symptoms have been reported from Cambodians inside the countryside
the country and overseas.

The People's Republic of Kampuchea and the State of Cambodia tried to channel this fear
and resentment into an annual "Day of Hatred", celebrated in May, in which the crimes of
Pol Pot were recalled, in ceremonies conducted at village cemeteries, Tuol Sleng, and
other sites of violence under Democratic Kampuchea.

Poverty












Farm workers in Khet Kampong Chhnang prepare to thresh rice after harvesting from the fields.
A second theme is that nearly all Cambodians are still extremely poor. Only a few
thousand of them inside the country have access to electricity and running water. All but
a few thousand have a difficult time finding enough food for themselves and their
families, schooling for their children, and proper medical attention. Twelve out of every
one hundred babies born in Cambodia in 1989 died before their first birthdays. A major
cause of these deaths was their mothers' malnutrition. Children who survived infancy were
often undernourished. A U.N study in 1984 estimated that 30 percent of Cambodia's
children were underfed. Hundreds of thousands of children are orphans or have only one
surviving parent. The crisis of poverty, affecting children and adults alike, makes
lone-term planning difficult, or impossible.

Because of insecurity and a shortage of revenue, the State of Cambodia has been unable to
keep Cambodia's roads, bridges, and railway system in good repair. Trips that before 1970
took less than an hour from Phnom Penh by car, on well-paved roads, now take over three
hours, on roads from which the paving has almost disappeared.

Rapid Social Change
A third theme is that for many Cambodians, as for millions of other people elsewhere in
the 1990's, everything is changing so rapidly that their past experience gives little
guidance for their lives. The possibility of the return of Democratic Kampuchea and the
erosion of traditional values have made many Cambodians uncertain. This is particularly
true for those who live abroad. People who traveled for twenty years on foot, in ox-carts,
or in an occasional rickety bus now live alongside freeways where tens of thousands of
cars, trucks, and buses roar past them everyday. Accustomed to villages, they live in
urban slums or run-down suburban areas. When they venture from home, for work or
shopping, their new environment, its inhabitants, and its weather are unfamiliar, even
menacing.

The freedom enjoyed by young people in the West is also distressing to many older refugees
Continues for 11 more pages >>




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