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A Requiem for Vang Pao

The Economist:

ON FEBRUARY 4th, thousands of people are expected to gather to pay their respects to the great wartime leader of the Hmong in Laos, Vang Pao. A Hmong funeral ordinarily lasts four days. Owing to his stature, Vang Pao's will last six days. His son says the affair will be "fit for a king". It should perhaps be fit for the aspirations of many of his countrymen as well. For as goes "VP" or "the general", as his followers called him, so too goes the Hmongs' hope for a comprehensive peace in Laos. Exactly a year ago Vang Pao launched what proved to be his last campaign as the champion of persecuted Hmong communities in the central highlands of Laos. He surprised many of his followers when he announced plans to return from his American exile to the Thai-Laotian border, to broker a peace deal with his old enemy. Laos' foreign minister was unwelcoming. "If he comes to Laos soon," he said, Vang Pao "must submit to the death sentence". The trip was cancelled, and now the dreamer himself has died.
The Madison School District planned to name a new elementary school after Vang Pao. However, the District changed its mind when Pao was indicted by the US Government for violating the "Neutrality Act". The charges were later dropped....

US Drops Case Against Vang Pao; Madison Elementary School Was, At One Time Name for the Exiled Hmong Leader

Jesse McKinley:

he federal government said Friday that it had dropped all charges against the exiled Hmong military leader Gen. Vang Pao, who had been accused of plotting to overthrow the Communist government in his native Laos. The announcement came after a grand jury in Sacramento issued a new indictment on Thursday against a dozen men accused of conspiring to give money, arms and other support to insurgents in Laos, and violations of the Neutrality Act. Ten of the 12 defendants, all of whom live in California, had been charged in a 2007 indictment that named Gen. Vang Pao, as a ringleader in the plot. The new indictment replaces the previous one.
Much more on Vang Pao and the Madison School District here.

General Vang Pao's Last War

Early in 2007, the Madison School Board decided to name a new far west side elementary school after Vang Pao. This decision became ingreasingly controversial after Pao was arrested as part of a plot to overthrow the Laos Government (the school has since been named Olson Elementary). Tim Weiner Interviews Vang Pao Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes digs into this latest chapter in the Hmong / US Government relationship:

The case against Vang Pao grew out of a sting operation, a crime created in part by the government itself. What evidence there is rests largely on secretly recorded conversations led by an undercover federal agent, and while the transcripts implicating some of the co-defendants in the case seem damning, the agent barely met Vang Pao. The talk between them was brief; though Vang Pao may have dreamed aloud of a glorious revolution in Laos in years gone by, his role in the conspiracy charged by the government may be hard to prove. The government presents the case as a clear-cut gunrunning conspiracy in violation of the Neutrality Act, which outlaws military expeditions against nations with which the United States is at peace. But the old general’s defenders contend that the case against him is the consequence of a misguided post-9/11 zeal. If convicted in a trial, the former American ally could face the rest of his life in prison. And already his indictment has apparently emboldened Laotian and Thai authorities to crack down on the beleaguered Hmong who remain in refugee camps or in hiding in the jungles of Laos. The government has a checkered record of late in its sting operations against people subsequently charged with planning acts of political terror. In 2006, to take one example, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced that a joint terrorism task force had broken up a plot to “levy war” and to blow up the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago. In that case, as two trials have shown, an F.B.I. informant known to the defendants as Brother Mohammed created some of the key evidence — leading the group in an oath of loyalty to Al Qaeda, for instance. He provided them with plans and plots and gave them military gear like combat boots. The defendants never had contact with actual terrorists, never obtained weapons or explosives. Two juries have failed to see the logic of the case; a federal judge has had to declare two mistrials. (The government plans to try the case a third time.) The sting operation against Vang Pao exhibits some similar traits. It has also dismayed a number of American intelligence officers who worked with the Hmong against the army of North Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. “We taught him how to do these things — to fight political warfare, to try to defeat the enemy,” I was told by Larry Devlin, a former C.I.A. station chief who worked with the general in Laos. “We helped Vang Pao learn to do some of the things that he and his troops are now charged with.”
Britannica on the Hmong.

Madison to Finalized Elementary School Name Tonight

Susan Troller:

The long saga of naming Madison's newest elementary school will end tonight as the School Board makes its selection from four final choices. The names are Jeffrey Erlanger, an advocate for people with disabilities; Paul J. Olson, a conservationist and well-known Madison educator; Howard Temin, a Nobel Prize-winning UW cancer researcher; and Ilda Thomas, a community activist who helped found Centro Hispano. The Erlanger and Olson names have received the most community support to date. "We have the school, the principal, the boundaries. We are looking forward to having a name," School Board President Arlene Silveira said this morning. The four final names were recommended to the board by a citizen committee which met extensively in January and early February, winnowing a pool of 87 names submitted by the public down to four.

A Visit to the Hmong in Laos

Thomas Fuller:

That view is not shared by the Hmong, many of whom felt betrayed by the United States when the war ended. Using battered radios, the veterans here have followed what to them are the confusing events of recent years: the friendship proclaimed between Vietnam and the United States and the arrest in June of Vang Pao, the former Hmong general who faces charges in the United States of plotting to attack the Laotian government. Mr. Pao’s indictment in California, after a federal sting operation in which a government agent posing as an arms dealer offered him weapons, is bewildering to the veterans here. Attacking Communists was the very job Mr. Pao was paid to do by the C.I.A. Mr. Yang and his group say they still hope for a democratic Laos but have given up any notion that they can assist in the overthrow of the Communist government.
Much more on Vang Pao and Madison here (our latest elementary school was to be named for Pao).

A bit of Tangential, International News

Both articles below are at best, thinly related to this site's purpose. However, I think they each merit a link and a read:Thailand to keep on repatriating Hmong to Laos by Pracha Hariraksapitak: Thailand has no plans to halt its repatriation of ethnic Hmong to communist Laos despite appeals by U.S. Congressmen and the United Nations, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said on Monday. Thailand had not sent any Hmong, many of whom fought alongside the United States during the Vietnam War, back forcibly, he told reporters. We did not deport them. There have been repatriations as they hold the nationality of our neighbour. The process is under the care of third countries to ensure no human rights are violated after...

Board of Education Activity in 2006-07

A few weeks ago, the Madison BOE received a summary of what the board and its committees had done in its meetings during the past year. I am posting the entire document as an extended entry as community information. It provides a lot more detail, a good overview, and a glimpse at the pieces that didn't make it into the print and broadcast media....

Naming our newest elementary school

In the interest of transparency, I am posting one of the e-mails received in relation to the decision to restart the naming process for the new school on Madison's far West side. I also am posting my response, which shares the reason for my apology to the Hmong community on Monday night, and also for advocating that the board go back to square one on the naming process. It is my expectation/understanding that the board will establish a time line for the nomination and selection process at our July 9 meeting. People who nominated names the first time can resubmit the materials without revision. People who want to submit new or alternate names must follow the process (e.g., commentary on...

Madison School Board Drops Vang Pao Elementary's Name Originally named for Hmong Gen. Vang Pao, the board reconsidered the name because of Pao's arrest on charges that he was part of an effort to overthrow the Laotian government. School Board President Arlene Silviera said before the meeting that she doesn't think the board will make any final decision on a name on Monday night, but would vote on whether to change the current name and how they might select a new one, WISC-TV reported.SIS links and notes on Vang Pao Elementary....

Madison School Board's "Final Exam"

Susan Troller:Even smart, hardworking students sometimes blow an exam or forget to do their homework, and the results usually show up on their report cards. The same perhaps could be said for the Madison School Board, which essentially finishes its term tonight. The board has one more big test as it closes out the school year with a bang. Members will be discussing whether to remove the controversial name of Gen. Vang Pao from the district's newest elementary school now being built on the far west side. In addition, they will be voting on a new two-year contract between the teachers union and the distict. The tentative contract was ratified by the union late last week. Those two issues represent...

An Open Letter from Shwaw Vang on the Vang Pao Elementary School

Former Madison School Board Member Shwaw Vang, via Kristian Knutsen:The Board of Education will discuss reconsidering its decision to name the new elementary school after General Vang Pao because Vang Pao has been charged with a plot to overthrow a foreign country. Since the fall of the Laos monarchy and democracy in 1975, the government of Laos, one of the most oppressive communist regimes in the world, killed the King of Laos and has murdered and continues to murder thousands of Hmong people and use chemical weapons on them. Yet the United States government and the United Nations have ignored these murders of former American allies 32 years. While not condoning the charges as stated in the indictment, I want...

"End the Vang Pao Debacle"

Marc Eisen: Finally, the Madison school board is showing signs it may back away from its wrongheaded decision to name a new elementary school for Hmong warlord Vang Pao. To a remarkable degree, the board has stubbornly ignored all evidence of Vang Pao's bloody past. That's because Madison's emergent Hmong community has rallied behind the proposal, and the board, wishing to celebrate Madison’s multicultural makeup, has decided that the Hmong's time is now, no matter what the objections. Carol Carstensen has been the lone exception in her willingness to reconsider the naming decision. Not surprisingly, Bill Keys, the former school board member and perhaps the city's most arrogant and self-righteous liberal, has been in the frontlines of Vang Pao’s supporters....

The Next School Name

A Capital Times Editorial: The new elementary school on Madison's far west side will not be named for Hmong Gen. Vang Pao, who has been arrested by federal authorities on charges of masterminding a plot to use money collected from Hmong refugees in the United States to massacre Laotians in a violent coup. Whether the Madison School Board recognizes that fact immediately or in a few weeks -- after what board President Arlene Silveira describes as an investigation into the "nature of the charges" against Vang -- there is no way that Madison, or any other city, is going to build a "Vang Pao Elementary School." That's the first reality of the moment. It is not a judgment regarding the...

Pao Vowed to Lead the Hmong Home

Tony Barboza and Ashley Powers: Vang Pao, a key figure among those arrested Monday on suspicion of plotting the overthrow of the communist Laotian government, is so well-known in the local Hmong community that his family always keeps fruit, soda and water on the living room coffee table to greet the constant stream of visitors who drop by his Westminster home. An aging Pao would often regale them with war stories while seated under portraits of the former Laotian king and other royalty — and one of himself in military dress from his younger days. But in addition to the nationwide image of patriarch and benefactor, Pao also has another reputation — that of a tough leader who worked for...

Hmong here speak reverently of Gen. Vang Pao

Susan Troller: Like countless thousands of other Hmong who had been American allies during the Vietnam War and who became hunted enemies in their own country when the United States withdrew from southeast Asia, Chue Thao lived as a refugee, eventually finding his way to the United States in 1987. And like many in Madison's Hmong community, he credits Hmong military and civilian leader Gen. Vang Pao with first establishing a proud Hmong ethnic identity and then opening the door for his people to build a new life in America, based on education and hard work. Harrowing experiences of discrimination, war and violent dislocation are the rule for local Hmong families who escaped to America, and they help explain the...

Vang Pao Elementary School Groundbreaking

Andy Hall: A windswept field on Madison's Far West Side became a place of reverence Wednesday for 60 Hmong residents who attended the groundbreaking ceremony of Vang Pao Elementary, a $12.9 million school whose funding was embraced by taxpayers but whose name remains controversial. "I just want to take this as a memory," explained Bee Vang, 47, as he held a softball-sized clod of warm, moist earth. "This will be a really great school." Vang said he will show his four children the dirt and tell them that school leaders spoke of giving all people, including Hmong, the opportunity to learn....

Van Pao will be green school

The Van Pao Elementary School will be certified for Leadership in Energy and Envrionmental Design (LEED), according to a story from Channel3000: In spite of the controversy over its name, Vang Pao Elementary is officially under construction. Ground was broken at the new school site on Wednesday. School board members along with Superintendent Art Rainwater and the building designers all turned the first soil where the school will stand. The new school will cost $12,923,000. The 86,396-square foot school will have 36 classrooms and house 690 students and 90 teachers. It's expected to be completed by September 2008. The green building will be LEED Silver Certified, and will include geothermal day lighting and solar electric panels. The school will be...

Vang Pao Elementary School: Remarks to the Madison School Board on May 7, 2007

The decision to name the new school after General Vang Pao was necessary and proper, although difficult. The board did its job well. Remember that when you evaluate the reactions of some parts of the community. The reactions are not about the process. Three months of notice and opportunities to comment was sufficient process. They are not about “localness”. Many of our schools are named after non-local figures. They are not about new information. Professor McCoy’s allegations about Vang Pao are old news, 2002 news. They are not about the persuasiveness of Professor McCoy’s allegations. He spent a short time in Laos. His evidence is thin. In contrast, Dr. Jane Hamilton Merritt spent many years in Laos and interviewed more...

More on Vang Pao Elementary School

channel3000.comThe decision to name Madison's newest school after Gen. Vang Pao is creating a divide in Madison. Opponents said that they plan to bring their concerns to the school board on Monday. For people in the Hmong community, Gen. Vang Pao is a leader comparable to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They said that Pao led masses of Hmong refugees to the U.S., WISC-TV reported. But opponents said that they still hope to convince the school board to change its mind and not honor a man that some say has a questionable past....

Petition seeks reconsideration of General Vang Pao Elementary

Bill Lueders:Heidi Reynolds doesn't deny that, ultimately, she'd like see the Madison school board rescind its decision to name a new school on Madison's southwest side after General Vang Pao, a controversial Hmong leader implicated in drug trafficking and summary executions. But for now, "We just want to reopen the debate." Reynolds, the parent of children who will attend the new school when it opens in fall 2008, says the board's April 9 vote to select this name "was done way too quickly, there was not enough debate. It was all done under the radar."...

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