chapter  1
13 Pages

Introduction: Setting the stage for neoliberalization

The small Southeast Asian country of Cambodia (formerly known as Kampuchea) has suffered tremendously in recent years. Cambodia’s 30-year civil war during the latter part of the twentieth century has had an enduring effect on the collective memory of the Cambodian people. Indeed, the psychological scarring and unspeakable suffering caused by the infamous Khmer Rouge and their four-year reign of terror in the late 1970s is a national commonality. In a population of seven million at the time, over one and a half million people died as a direct result of Khmer Rouge policy and administration (Banister and Johnson 1993; Chandler 1996; Heuveline 2001; Kiernan 1996). Less well known to most of the world is that this atrocity was preceded by another of comparable magnitude. From 1969 to 1973 the United States (US) reprehensibly and mercilessly bombed the neutral country in an effort to flush out Viet Cong forces thought to be operating from within Cambodia, leaving an estimated 600,000 Cambodians dead (Herman 1997; Kiljunen 1984). Thus, the Cambodian holocaust had two distinct stages in what a Finnish government report refers to as “the decade of the genocide” (Kiljunen 1984). The Cambodian genocide was followed by ten long years of silence at the international level, as it was Vietnamese communist forces that had brought down the Khmer Rouge regime (Chandler 1991; 1996; Kiernan 1996). Throughout the 1980s Cambodia was governed as Hanoi’s client state, and accordingly, with Cold War geopolitics continuing to command the foreign policy agendas of Global North governments, Cambodia and its recent holocaust were largely ignored. As the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, the global political climate shifted. Accordingly, the Cambodian question that had been allowed to fester for a decade could finally be answered. Democracy came to Cambodia in 1991 under a United Nations (UN) sponsored transition that was intended to provide a final solution to the country’s ongoing civil war.