01/19/2009, 00.00
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Celebrations for Tēt widen gap between rich and poor

by J.B. An Dang
In the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, next to luxury hotels frequented by the rich, live beggars, many of them poor farmers who have had to leave their land. Some of the bishops are expressing concern, and urging solidarity with those in need.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The approach of the celebrations for the Tēt (lunar new year) in Vietnam is widening the gap between rich and poor, and this is causing concern among some of the bishops, who are asking Catholics to help their brethren in need, whose numbers are growing steadily in many areas of the country.

In the crowded streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, elegantly dressed men can be seen driving the most luxurious cars in the world, and carousing every day in the luxury hotels. Next to the doors of these same hotels, there are many beggars. Most of them are poor farmers, forced to leave their villages for various reasons.

In an article about how entrepreneurs and high officials are buying luxury automobiles to flaunt their wealth, a state media outlet has published news of the order for a Bugatti-Veyron, at 1.5 million dollars. According to Vietnam.net, the car was bought by the son of an official, who already has a collection of five similar cars.

Apart from the fact that there is an 80% tax on imported automobiles, the importing of which has grown since 2007, local sources say that, given the congestion of the ports, the owners of imported automobiles are paying extra to get them early. In the end, one of these imported vehicles ends up costing three times as much in Vietnam as in the United States. To complete the picture, it should be recalled that Vietnam still depends on aid from Western governments, humanitarian agencies, and nongovernmental organizations in order to support millions of people living in poverty. The local press reports that in 2008, the average monthly salary for a state employee was 600,000 Vietnamese dollars (about 34 U.S. dollars). Low-level workers earn 450,000 Vietnamese dollars, about 25 U.S. dollars, per month.

The gap between rich and poor is increasing the level of crime and social distress. The charge comes from the bishop of Haiphong, Joseph Vu Van Thien. "More and more young people join gangs to steal, rob and murder for money," he writes in a pastoral letter for the new year. And "social crimes have increased at an alarming rate." For his part, Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh, bishop of Thanh Hoa, warns against the use of drugs and the danger of AIDS. "I specifically remind you," he writes, "to be highly vigilant against the risk of drug addiction and HIV." In other dioceses, the bishops are expressing their concern over the fact that during the Tēt, everything costs more, and many people are unable to buy food.

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