The U.S. seems to have a penchant for imposing embargoes in Indochina. Fourteen years
ago when Vietnamese troops ousted the genocidal Khmer Rouge from their reign of terror
in Cambodia, the United States responded by imposing an aid and trade embargo on
Cambodia's Vietnamese- installed government. Despite the fact that Vietnam's borders
had been attacked and their retaliation resulted in the cessation of three years
of auto-genocide, the U.S. viewed the move as an illegal invasion and occupation
of a sovereign country, punishable by embargo.
Ironically, as the new democratically elected government enters into tenuous negotiations
in finding a role for the pirriah Khmer Rouge, it too faces the threat of a U.S.
embargo as Washington has declared its unwillingness recognize a government which
provides a role for the Khmer Rouge. Given American's track record on the Khmer Rouge,
this is an untimely policy reversal.
Until July 1991, the U.S. supported the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea
which included the factions of Prince Sihanouk, Son Sann, and the Khmer Rouge. Millions
of dollars were funneled to the "non-communist resistance" serving to perpetuate
armed conflict, plunging Cambodia and its people into further devastation. In Washington,
multitudinous Congressional committees concluded that it was wiser to keep the Khmer
Rouge "inside the tent."
In June 1992, the Khmer Rouge made clear their intentions to take themselves out
of the carefully and externally crafted peace process by refusing to comply with
Phase II of the Paris Peace Accords they had signed eight months prior. Still there
was no move to remove them officially from the "process." Nor was there
such action taken following the cold-blooded slaughter of ethnic Vietnamese.
And still, threat of embargo looming, the United States has not clearly indicated
that it would support the indictment of Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of "crimes
Embargos are rarely effective even if there is a tangible, attainable objective.
Often, embargoes punish the many rather than the few at whom they are directed.
Both Vietnam and Cambodia are prime examples of this scenario.
Imposing an embargo on Cambodia now is an unconscionable exertion of political imperialism
for two reasons. First, Cambodia and Cambodians desperately need assistance now.
War, the embargo, and the "brain drain" have left Cambodia and Cambodians
in utter devastation. Twenty per cent of all Cambodian children die before their
fifth birthday; there is a dearth of trained professionals in all fields, particularly
in healthcare and education; the infrastructure in Cambodia is virtually non-existent.
In order for Cambodia to meet the lowest standards of survival, not to mention development,
assistance must be forthcoming.
Second, the new government's attempts at reconciliation with the Khmer Rouge were
mandated by the voters who elected them.
As an international polling station officer, I had the opportunity to chat informally
with voters, who, when asked why they had walked up to 15 kilometers to vote under
the threat of violent attacks, uniformly answered "for peace".
Further, in discussing the somewhat unexpected victory of FUNCINPEC with a Cambodian
colleague, he expressed that the Cambodia People's Party's loss can be attributed
in large part to their campaign slogan of being the only party which could and would
fight the Khmer Rouge.
After two decades of incessant conflict, Cambodians want reconciliation and are willing
to see the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh if that means the guns will finally fall silent.
The imposition of an embargo would therefore be a slap in the face to the Cambodian
people who so desperately want peace that they were willing to face violence at the
polls to get their message across.
While the State Department's new-found revulsion of the Khmer Rouge is duly noted,
it is too late. Now, it is time to respect the democratically expressed wishes of
the people which are being implemented by their government. The U.S. pledged that
it would recognize and support the results of the free and fair election. It must
do so and let the aid flow now! The Cambodians waited long enough.
- Betty Hopkins, Outraged American