Hillary Clinton was recently asked about the leftover bombs that the U.S. dropped on Laos. The heart of her reply:
“This is a humanitarian disaster that we created, and we need to put more money in and work much faster to try to clean it up so we don’t have more deaths and injuries.”
Deaths and injuries by UXO accidents are now ‘minimal’ (under 100/year). In perspective death by motorcycle is twenty times more likely. And in Laos, the chance of death at birth remains the highest in East Asia.
While being blown up by a bomb dropped in a war that was over long before you were born is no fun, it is not suggested that the US is deliberately punishing Lao. There is another reason for not clearing UXO.
It’s only a few years since Laos became acceptable to the US (only last year, after the longest wait in history, was Laos’ application to join WTO accepted ~ by comparison Burma and Cambodia breezed in). During the many years since the change in regime, the US has forbidden US investment in Laos (leaving the field de facto to China). It has with varying aggression supported the Vang Pao counter-revolutionaries in their attacks within Laos, failing to condemn bombing campaigns in the capital and the shooting up of local buses in the countryside. During all these years it served US policy for up to a third of Laos to be too dangerous to exploit, even by basic farming, because of the widespread carpet of active cluster bombs. Any enterprise (copper mining/hydro-power/coffee) that entered such areas had to spend a lot of money to clear the bombs first. Naturally, they cleared only those areas they were using. Thus, a large part of Laos has remained unexploited because of the bombs, retarding development. The US is responsible for far more than a few dozen children and adults getting injured by bombies each year, it is responsible for decades of poverty that translate into thousands of deaths at childbirth and maintenance of Least Developed Country status past a point where Laos, with a full country to exploit and normal trade relations, could already be in the middle-income group of countries.
Right. I agree completely. I would also add is that it’s not very often that we hear a US presidential candidate speak about Laos this way (or at all). It’s a small step, and one that is very late in the game.
Actually, by coincidence, I just saw today that next year Obama will be the first President to ever visit Laos. The fact that it took this long is a shame, but with hope some more progress will be made about confronting the US responsibility in cleaning up more of the UXO mess.