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Madame Binh Visits New York
By David Cline
Nguyen Thi Madame Binh, the 75-year-old vice president of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, was in New York for a United Nations General Assembly special session on children and found the time for a meeting with American friends of her country on May 9.
Some of you may remember Mme. Binh as the head of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (PRG) delegation at the Paris Peace Talks. After 1975 she was the minister of education and was a deputy of the National Assembly for four terms. She was elected vice president in 1992 and again in 1997.
Accompanying Binh were other Vietnamese officials, along with a religious delegation made up of Buddhist monks, Roman Catholic priests and Evangelical Christian ministers who had come to the United States to talk about churches in Vietnam and to counter claims of lack of religious freedom there.
About 200 people packed the 1199 SEIU (New York's health care union) conference center. Before Binh spoke, Bev Grant and the Brooklyn Women's Choir sang. Several people, including Dave Dellinger, presented flowers and other gifts to Binh.
Binh expressed gratitude to those who opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam and talked a little about the legacy of that war, especially the continuing effects of Agent Orange, which include a substantial number of birth defects among post-war generations.
She talked about Vietnam's economic development, remarking that the country was unable to feed its own population just over a decade ago but is now the world's largest rice exporter and the second-largest exporter of coffee.
Binh said that they were building socialism in Vietnam and that Ho Chi Minh had taught them that independence meant nothing if the people did not achieve happiness. She spoke of efforts to improve living standards and mentioned that the number of Vietnamese living in poverty had been reduced sharply, while the education level among the general population was increasing.
There were a number of veterans present, including Ellen Barfield, Ben Chitty, Angel Quintana, Richie Breyer, Moe Fishman and myself.
I had the great honor of being one of the people who introduced Mme. Binh and made a few comments "from the heart." I presented her with a VVAW button and VFP lapel pin, and she responded by hugging me when I gave them to her.
Because she is a foreign dignitary on an official visit, the Secret Service had the responsibility of providing security for her. They searched everyone's bag before the meeting and stood around monitoring everything, so you can be sure they got an earful at this meeting.
All in all, it was a good event and expressed friendship and reconciliation with the people of Vietnam, something that we have worked for over many years. I'm glad I was there.
David Cline is a member of VVAW's Clarence Fitch Chapter.