Michael's Dispatches

A Simple Man scores a Major Win

22 February 2014


(It has been a long day, and tomorrow comes early. I rush to write these words with a single pass and no edit. Please forgive me.)

We begin:

This is a difficult struggle to overthrow an enormously corrupt Thai government. The struggle is marked by a series of independent victories.

This afternoon I spent more than two hours with a well-known retired general discussing the matter, and then I spent more than three hours with farmers. All agree that Yingluck's days are growing shorter.

One farmer is Ravee Roongraung. Khun Ravee is a rice farmer from Petchaburi. Khun Ravee has risen to the occasion to lead farmers from seven provinces to demand payment for their stolen rice.

Thai farmers are famously submissive. Normally they would not dare to look high government officials in the eye. Normally the farmers would not even look at their faces, but would cast their eyes to the ground.

But so morally corrupt is this government, and so rapacious and insulting, that many farmers are rising up, and staring officials straight in the eyes.

At first when the farmers came to Bangkok, the government officials refused even to meet with them. I am witness that this is true. One farmer sadly recounted to me that a high government official at the Ministry of Commerce was so dismissive that he insulted the farmers by asking why they even had come.

And so tonight the farmers sleep on the ground in protest. Their days of submission are waning.

Last week I was present when the farmers massed at the Secretary of the Ministry of Defense, where the farmers demanded audience with Yingluck, and answers.

Yingluck of course only cares about farmers for their votes and for their labors.

After much effort, Khun Ravee was granted audience with caretaker Deputy Prime Minister/Finance, Kittiratt Na-Ranong. The Yingluck government so despises the farmers that months of frustrating protests were required to obtain this simple courtesy.

I was with the huge crowd of farmers outside that day, when Deputy Minister Kittirat relented to Khun Ravee's demand for a face-to-face meeting.

Khun Ravee explained to me this evening how he demanded a specific payment date, and when Kittirat refused and was oily with his answers, Khun Ravee said to me that Kittirat told Ravee to go outside and to deliver the message himself.

Khun Ravee told me that he refused to deliver this news to the farmers. Ravee said that he would not allow Kittirat to hang him in front of his own people.

Khun Ravee told me that he demanded that Kittirat deliver the message to the crowd waiting outside. I was there and saw what happened next.

And so finally Kittirat emerged. The crowd of farmers did not accept his oil. They turned angry and began throwing shoes and eggs and empty plastic water bottles over my head. The military rushed a frightened Kittirat back into the building. Not a minute too soon. The farmers who have been peaceful for about five months of insults and dismissals were no longer casting their eyes at the ground.

They were ready to lynch Kittrat.

Khun Ravee explained to me the hard struggle that his people have endured, how they have been selling their land and jewelry to survive, and taking money from loan sharks at 3% per month.

He told me about how the government had stolen from them, had ignored them, and insulted them, and finally the farmers came here.

He said that other farmers have been committing suicide, but none of the two or three thousand he leads have committed suicide because the protests make them happy. Only a couple hundred stay in Bangkok at a time. They take shifts.

Khun Ravee explained how the farmers had come wearing "white shirts," but then how people had robbed them and tricked them and lied to them and insulted them every step of the way.

And finally, when the farmers arrived to Bangkok, expecting Bangkokians to be the worst of them all, the Bangkokians welcomed the farmers with tears and support.

The Bangkokians came not with tricks and insults but with donations of food and money and volunteering time. Khun Ravee and his farmers were shocked at the warm hearts of the Bangkokians. He began to cry, for only at this last step did his farmers realize that somebody cares. Tears of gratitude.

And now that Khun Ravee has taken his stare from the ground and looked the government in the eyes, the dynamic between farmers and the government has reversed. Now it is the government who is afraid of the farmers. Khun Ravee said the government calls him often, trying to negotiate.

The farmers want only one thing, he said, and that is to be paid so that they can return peacefully to their farms.

Click here for the original article.

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