Liberty Commentary

The Global Land Grab

by William N. Grigg

In Vietnam, Peter Doan Van Vuon, a farmer who fought back when police came to confiscate his farm, is widely regarded as a hero. His neighbors have actually considered building a statue in his honor. In the United States, he would almost certainly be dead.
The strike team that assaulted Vuon’s 40-hectare fish farm in Hai Phong on January 5 did demolish the family’s modest two-story home, forcing them to live in a makeshift shelter fashioned from a tarp. On previous performance it’s reasonable to say that their counterparts in the employ of the Regime in Washington would have made sure to incinerate the family as well.
The raiders – roughly 100 police and soldiers — didn’t expect resistance when they arrived to evict the 49-year-old Vuon and his family and seize the property. Vuon’s wife, Ngyuen, had just returned from dropping off the kids at school when the strike team arrived. Rather than submitting meekly to the invaders, the Vuon family fought back, using improvised pellet guns and land mines. Nobody was killed or seriously injured, but the armored assailants – six of whom suffered trivial wounds – were forced to retreat.
In the United States, Vuon — assuming that he survived the fire-bombing that appears to be the Regime’s preferred tactical endgame in standoffs of this kind — would have been execrated as a would-be “cop killer.” Although he and several relatives were arrested, the state-run media in Communist Vietnam “have openly sympathized with him in investigative reports,” notes the AP. “Their dispatches have alleged that Hai Phong officials lied about details of the eviction. They also have said the family was cheated in 1993 when they were given a lease of only 14 years instead of what should have been 20 years.”
More remarkable still is the fact that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung intervened to investigate the matter. After the inquiry concluded that local authorities broke the law by attempting to confiscate Vuon’s land, he ordered that the officials responsible for the destruction of the family’s home be suspended and investigated for possible criminal prosecution.
In Vietnam, the government claims ownership of all land while issuing long-term land grants to farmers. In 1993, Vuon used his life savings to buy and reclaim a small tract of swampland, eventually establishing a small but profitable fish farm.
In 2009, the Hai Phong city government suddenly “discovered” that Vuon’s land grant had expired and announced its intention to confiscate the property without compensation in order to sell it to land developers. When Vuon filed a lawsuit against the seizure, the court promised to let them keep the land if he dropped the case. This was a ruse: After Vuon dropped the suit, the city government initiated seizure proceedings. Deprived of any legal means to protect their property, Vuon and his family began making preparations to defend their land by force.
The Vuon family’s new home.
From the perspective of their rulers, Vuon and his family were engaged in a seditious conspiracy, particularly when it’s understood that they are not only capitalists but devout Catholics.
At a time when Vietnam’s economy is afflicted with the highest inflation rate in Asia and confrontations between small farmers and government officials are increasingly common, Vuon’s armed defiance is a spark that could ignite a widespread conflagration. However, rather than simply extinguishing Vuon outright, Communist government of Vietnam has actually examined his grievances on their merits.
It is impossible to believe that any affiliate or subdivision of the U.S. Government would be so conciliatory.
Similar developments are taking place in mainland China, which like Vietnam is ruled by a one-party State that is Marxist in its professed ideology but corporatist in practice.
Gu Kul, who used to own and operate an automotive parts business in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has been victimized by China’s predatory corporate elite. A few years ago, local urban planners, seeking to enhance their revenue stream, ordered the seizure of Gu’s 13-acre commercial property. In short order, a fleet of bulldozers arrived, protected by a small army of police and hired thugs.
“I had to look on as bulldozers demolished my property,” Gu recounted to Der Spiegel. Not satisfied with the trivial, paltry compensation for the destruction of a profitable and growing business and the theft of his property, Gu filed a legal challenge under recently enacted national legislation that supposedly limits seizures by local governments.
In short order, Gu found himself being constantly trailed by black-clad mercenaries in blacked-out SUVs. Their intentions were as transparent as their mirrored sunglasses were opaque. While Gu has managed to avoid capture, more than a few others have been kidnapped, tortured, and killed for objecting to the ongoing land grab – and the revolt is propagating itself across rural China.
Yang Youde used to own a thriving cotton farm in Yuhan. In 2009, local commissars, coveting the fertile land and well-stocked trout streams, announced their intention to seize the property. After Yang filed a legal petition to protest the planned confiscation, police descended on his home and hauled him away to a “black jail” where he was beaten and tortured. “They strung me up by my hands and put out cigarettes on my skin,” he recalled in an interview with the Telegraphof London.
Yang survived his time in police custody; Xue Jingbo of Wukan, a fishing village of 10,000, wasn’t so fortunate. During late 2011, a revolt erupted in the village over land confiscation, and Xue was designated to negotiate on behalf of the population. Instead of listening to the village’s complaints, the local government ordered Xue’s arrest. While in police custody, Xue died very quickly of what officials insisted were “natural causes.” His body was never returned to his family.
Rather than mourning, the locals organized. Thousands of protesters gathered in the village square to demand an investigation of Xue’s death and an end to the corrupt practice of seizing land for the benefit of politically connected corporate interests. Anticipating that the local government would demand reinforcements, the population erected roadblocks and other barricades at the village entrances. Using cellphones and social media, protesters contacted the BBC and other international media sources seeking to publicize the village’s plight and Xue’s murder.
After news of the protests reached a global audience last December, China’s Public Security Bureau – that nation’s equivalent of the American FBI or Russian KGB – shut down media access to Wukan and closed off most internet links to the village.
The local government, alarmed by the extent and intensity of the protests, was actually forced to flee for two weeks. Upon their return the city officials promised to halt the ongoing land grab and investigate allegations of official corruption – for whatever a promise of that kind may be worth.
Unfortunately, rather than simply withdrawing their consent to be ruled, the people of Wukan agreed to a series of “democratic reforms,” including the appointment of a protester as a local commissar. Their exemplary defiance may have a healthier impact that the useless concessions they received.
In early February, more than 5,000 people took to the streets of East and West Pahne Villages in Zhejiang Province to protest land seizures by local officials. The villagers became aware of the seizures only after construction began on some of the stolen land.
“Officials from the village sold land,” explained local resident Lu Yeqin. “This land originally belonged to the villagers. After it was sold, the [villagers] were not given any money for it. The villagers are upset, and after all, this land was passed down through their family business. They rely on the land for their livelihood, but now it has been sold.”
As happened in Wukan, local Communist Party officials took flight, regrouping in secret locations to await instructions from Beijing. Many village activists are likewise seeking intervention by the central government in the mistaken hope that this will protect them from the corruption of local functionaries.
Tragically, they don’t understand that the land grabs are a result of central government intervention: In the teeth of a catastrophic economic downturn,China’s rulers – like their counterparts in Vietnam — are frantically seizing land and adding to the commercial and residential real estate glut in the hope of boosting the GDP.

“A large portion of China’s estimated 100,000 or so public protests each year are driven by rage over compulsory evictions,” notes the Telegraph. This is the sort of thing that would never happen in the United States, of course – except for the fact that it happens all the time.
As the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, Chinese subjects who refuse to surrender their homes to the land-grabbers “are known as `nail households,’ since their homes are sometimes left stranded in the middle of busy construction sites. More often, however, they are driven away by paid thugs.”
That description summons memories of  New London, Connecticut resident Lauren Canario, who was kidnapped by rented thugs – that is, officers of the New London police department — for refusing to vacate property that had been stolen through eminent domain on behalf of a federally subsidized “public/private partnership” (that is, fascist entity) called the New London Development Corporation (NLDC).
Lauren was not a trespasser; she was visiting the property with the permission of its owner. However, the NDLC had decided to steal the land and give it to the Pfizer Corporation, and this act of vulgar larceny received the benediction of the Supreme CourtLauren was arrested, imprisoned for months, and — in a touch that would have earned the admiration of Soviet or Chinese commissars — repeatedly subjected to psychological evaluation.
The “nail households” were hammered down, the Pfizer plant was quickly erected, and the expected kickbacks were delivered. Shortly thereafter the economy collapsed and Pfizer decided to shut down the facility and move its employees elsewhere, leaving behind a rotting and useless building that had been constructed on stolen land.
This case is a mere snapshot of an ongoing national crime wave. Former real estate developer Don Corace writes in his recent book Government Pirates: The Assault on Private Property Rights and How We Can Fight It: “Arrogant and corrupt city and county officials — with near limitless legal budgets … continue to align themselves with well-heeled developers, political cronies, and major corporations to prey on the politically less powerful and disenfranchised, particularly minority communities.”
Eminent domain “abuse” (a term that refers to the predictable exercise of an innately illegitimate power) is just one of many ways that property can be blatantly stolen through political means: “Through local zoning and the regulation of wetlands and endangered species, governments take property without compensating owners and also extort land and money in return for approvals.”
This is, of course, exactly the same racket being run by local commissars in the People’s Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It is interesting, and somewhat unsettling, that people to whom private property may be a relatively new and exotic concept seem to have a better understanding of what is happening than do their counterparts here in the putative Land of the Free – and that they display more intrepidity in fighting for their freedom than can be found here in the purported Home of the Brave.