Cấn Thị Thêu, 53, became a resident of Dương Nội, a village just outside of Hanoi, after marrying a local farmer. In late 2007 the family lost their land to the government, and she became a land rights activist. She told Loa this:
Dương Nội is where I lived. I want my children to have a home. When I lived in Dương Nội, I was a successful farmer. I owned 40 to 50 buffalos, fruit and vegetable gardens, fish ponds. We did well. But when they came to ‘take it back”, they destroyed everything, the sheds, the ponds. We lost our livelihood. Now, life is very difficult.
Thêu uses the word “take back” because in Vietnam, the land does not belong to the farmer, or technically anyone. The economy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is largely agriculture-based and land is considered the “people’s property”. Individuals have usage rights, but they never own the land. That means a city dweller must give up part of his front yard to become a street if the government demands it. A peasant family can have its fields confiscated, even after they have farmed it for generations.
The government is the administrator of its usage. With Vietnam propelling towards rapid economic development in the past three decades, and rice fields making way for new developments, the tenuous system is beginning to crack.
Theu explained the unfair treatment they received:
They paid us only 200,000 đồng ($9 US) per square meter, but on the market, they sell it at a starting price of 31 million đồng per square meter. That’s almost 200 times what they paid us. With this unfair price, and with people unable to find new jobs, so many people are driven into poverty and unemployment. That’s why we oppose the repossession of our land. These prices are robbing us blind.