In Laos it is now two years since the Communist takeover, and the country faces immense economic problems.
In Laos it is now two years since the Communist takeover, and the country faces immense economic problems. The major problem is a grave shortage of food. This year the difficulties are complicated by the failure of monsoon rains, a poor rice harvest and the stopping of air traffic between the capital of Vientiane and Bangkok in neighbouring Thailand.
SYNOPSIS: Economically, Vientiane has always depended heavily on Thailand, and since October their only link has been the ferry across the Mekong River. The Laotian food crisis is most acute in the capital, where smuggled goods are openly on display in the Central Market building.
At one time the Government fixed all prices, but this ended in the disappearance of all commodities from the market. Now there is less control.....none on smuggled goods....so prices are high. Coffee for example costs about 50 U.S. dollars a jar, which is twice the average monthly wage. Chicken is 10 dollars per kilo and fish eight dollars.
There are official shops for the sale of rationed goods where rice, tinned food or cigarettes can be bought at a fraction of the black market rate, but there is a strict limit on the amount they can buy, and only farmers and state employees are allowed in the shops.
For most people it's buy where you can, and this same 'help yourself' attitude is being adopted where ever there is room to grow crops. More and more are cultivating their own produce.
It's a brighter picture, however, at the Thagone Agricultural Co-operative 20-miles north of Vientiane. There an irrigation scheme has meant that the yield on these 8000 hectares of paddy field has doubled.
Laos recently celebrated its anniversary as a Communist-run republic with a mass meeting in the vast grounds of the Defence Ministry. Prime Minister Kaysone Phomvihan told the rally that he wanted to improve relations with the United States.
Mr. Kayson, who is also communist Party Chief, added that he wanted the United States to pay damage for destruction caused during the Laos Civil War.