Cablegate: Hcmc Catholic Archdiocese Pushes for Greater Role In

Published: Fri 4 Nov 2005 03:41 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A) HCMC 984; B) HCMC 398
1. (SBU) From October 27 to 29, the HCMC Archdiocese hosted an
international workshop on strategies to care for people living
with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). The declared goal of the workshop was to
develop a concrete action plan for the Church on HIV/AIDS in HCMC.
The unwritten subtext was an effort to press -- and even shame --
HCMC authorities into giving the Archdiocese more latitude to
conduct HIV/AIDS activities. (Per reftels, the Archdiocese has
become increasingly frustrated with lack of local government
cooperation in administering the HIV/AIDS clinic in the Trong Diem
drug rehabilitation center and in approving new community-based
HIV/AIDS initiatives.)
2. (SBU) Local government and Party representation at the workshop
was strong. Representatives from the HCMC Fatherland Front,
HCMC's HIV/AIDS Committee, Department of Labor, War Invalids and
Social Affairs (DOLISA), and the Orphan Protection Organization
attended, as did a number of overseas Catholic NGOS, including
Caritas Germany and Norway and Catholic Relief Services. A
representative of Japanese Consulate also attended.
3. (SBU) In his opening speech, Cardinal Pham Minh Man, Archbishop
of HCMC, emphasized the Church's desire to broaden its cooperation
with local government to combat HIV/AIDS. He introduced the
Church's newest initiative: to set up an integrated and holistic
center run by the Church for PLWHA in HCMC. The Center, if and
when established, will house HIV infected children, provide all
PLWHA with support in health care, education, vocational training,
employment, psycho-spiritual care and other cultural activities to
enable them continue a constructive life. He called on local
government to support and facilitate the program.
4. (SBU) Group discussion, particularly on the level of government
support for the Church's activities, was frank and often heated.
For example, Sister To Nga, responsible for the Church's flagship
program supporting an AIDS clinic at DOLISA-run Trong Diem drug
rehabilitation center, expressed her grave disappointment over the
lack of cooperation with the Center's administrators and the
difficult conditions under which the Church team had to operate.
She complained that "we could do much more to help than what we
are allowed." She protested that the center would not allow
patients to die "in the caring hands of the sisters at the
clinic," but mandated their transfer to local hospitals.
5. (SBU) The immediate response from the official representatives
was positive. Tran Trung Tin, Vice Director of HCMC Fatherland
Front Committee, praised the contributions of the Church and the
Buddhists in the city's combat with the pandemic. The DOLISA
representative acknowledged that "nobody could care for dying
people better than religious workers". Dr. Lan Thao, of the HCMC
HIV/AIDS Committee, said that the HIV/AIDS Committee fully
supports the Church's initiative on the integrated center.
Responding to heated questions from some of the participants on
the problems the Church faced in its HIV/AIDS work, Thao asserted
that the Committee is preparing a new regulation for HCMC
government that will provide detailed guidelines to local
administrators and NGOs on HIV/AIDS prevention activities. Thao
emphasized that, with an estimated 263,000 PLWHA nationwide -- and
500 newly HIV-infected mothers and 150-200 babies born with HIV
each year in HCMC alone -- HCMC, and Vietnam writ large, had no
choice but to develop effective public-private partnerships on
6. (SBU) Comment: It is highly unusual for the Church to push the
envelope so publicly to put pressure on the local government to
support the Archdiocese's HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment
activities. While it reflects the Cardinal's frustration with the
current state of affairs in HCMC, it also suggests that the Church
believes that officialdom is more tolerant and open to dialogue
initiated by NGOs. Judged by the positive responses from local
government representatives, the Cardinal's gambit can be
considered a PR success. However, it remains to be seen if the
goodwill and positive rhetoric will translate into improved
government operational support and cooperation on the ground.
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