Unrest continues to simmer in Vietnam over the $500 million deal Hanoi made with a Taiwanese company as compensation for a chemical spill at the Formosa steel mill that devastated the country’s central coast.
On Wednesday, about 2,000 fisherman from the Quang Binh province gathered at the Xuan Hoa hamlet’s cultural house to protest the government’s slow payout.
“People are upset because the government has not paid compensation to the people,” Catholic priest Mai Xuan Ai told RFA. “People are not satisfied with the government’s decision, so they took to the streets.”
The Catholic Church has led the effort to force the Vietnamese government to fairly compensate the people affected by the spill, and the protestors were largely Catholics from the Vinh diocese’s 3,500-person Xuan Hoa parish.
The Catholic Church has also spearheaded the legal response to the Formosa disaster, helping local people file hundreds of lawsuits even as the Vietnam’s one-party communist state closely controls and monitors the Catholic community, the second largest religious group in the country.
In June, the Formosa Plastics Group acknowledged that it was responsible for the release of toxic chemicals from its $110 million steel plant located at the deep-water port in the Ha Tinh Procince.
The April spill killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four central provinces.
Vietnam's government said in a report to the National Assembly in July that the disaster had harmed the livelihoods of more than 200,000 people, including 41,000 fishermen.
Formosa pledged to pay $500 million to clean it up and compensate people affected by the spill, but the government has faced protests over the amount of the settlement and the slow pace of the payouts.
During Wednesday’s protest, demonstrators brought banners that read: “Damaging the Environment is a Crime; Formosa Has to Compensate Properly and Formosa Leaves Vietnam.”
While public protests are rare in Vietnam, the Formosa spill has enraged public opinion and resulted in demonstrations, despite the government’s attempts to silence its critics.
Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but there have been dozens of arrests for activities related to the spill amid a general tightening of the reigns by the government.
In November Amnesty International said the arrests “represent an upturn in the use of the criminal justice system in a crackdown against human rights defenders and activists engaged in advocacy relating to the disaster which has included intimidation and harassment, and wide scale surveillance of activists.”
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.