|| Former Chairman and current Ranking Member Eni Faleomavaega of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific submitted the following statement regarding Secretary Clinton’s visit to Laos.
Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton landed in Vientiane, the capital of Lao PDR,
for a brief visit on her way to meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) in Cambodia. Though the visit will not cause many waves in the U.S. press,
her three hours in Laos are actually quite remarkable. The last time an active U.S.
Secretary of State stepped foot in the country was in 1955, during the Cold War. Nine
years later, in 1964, the U.S. began a Secret War in Laos, unauthorized by Congress,
to stem communist ground incursions and to interdict traffic along the Ho Chi Minh
Trail in Laos. Between 1964 and 1973, the U.S. dropped the equivalent of one
planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, on a country the size of
Minnesota. One ton of bombs was dropped for every man, woman, and child in Laos
at the time, making it the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.
Secretary Clinton’s visit today marks the beginning of a new era in U.S.-Lao relations
— one focused not on this violent past, but on a bright future. As a Vietnam War
veteran who served at the height of the Tet Offensive, I take a personal interest in seeing
Laos heal from the wounds of the war. However, I also know that the ghost of the
terrible bombings is still very present in the daily lives of ordinary Lao villagers. Up to a
third of the bombs dropped over 40 years ago did not explode on impact. An estimated
800,000 volatile, decaying cluster bombs continue to contaminate fields, forests, and
villages across Laos. Farmers must risk deadly explosions every day to plant food for
their families, and dozens of children every year are killed or maimed by playing or
tampering with the small, toy-like cluster bombs. Before we can truly turn our eyes to
the future of U.S.-Lao relations, we must resolve this destructive legacy of the past.
In 2010, I returned to Southeast Asia not as a soldier, but as Chairman of the House
Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment and the leader of a
Congressional delegation to Southeast Asia. My colleagues and I learned first-hand the
impact that these bombs continue to have on the lives of innocent people — people
who are not and never were at war with us. When I returned, deeply affected by the
suffering I had seen, I held the first-ever Congressional hearing on the Lao UXO crisis.
Today I join the U.S. non-profit Legacies of War in calling on Secretary Clinton to make
clearing Laos of U.S. bombs a high priority in the region by committing at least $10
million per year over the next decade, or more. The scale of contamination is vast, and
Laos will never be able to reach its full potential without clearing land for agriculture and
development. But this is a man-made problem with a man-made solution — with her
visit today, Secretary Clinton has the opportunity to summon the necessary political will
to help Laos end this legacy of war and allow a new legacy of peace to begin. Not only
does it make sense to help build strong relations with an important ASEAN ally — it is
also the right thing to do.