The Caravelle Manifesto (1960)

The ‘Caravelle Manifesto’ was drafted and signed by 18 prominent Vietnamese politicians, officials and intellectuals. It was released to the public in an April 1960 press conference at the Caravelle Hotel, hence its name. The document contained strong criticisms of Ngo Dinh Diem‘s regime in South Vietnam, accusing it, among other things, of rigging elections, suppressing freedom of speech and engaging in corruption and nepotism:

“To the President of the Republic of Vietnam…

We the undersigned, representing a group of eminent citizens and personalities, intellectuals of all tendencies, and men of good will, recognise in the face of the gravity of the present political situation that we can no longer remain indifferent to the realities of life in our country. Therefore we officially address to you today an appeal, with the aim of exposing to you the whole truth in the hope that the government will accord it all the attention necessary so as to urgently modify its policies, so as to remedy the present situation and lead the people out of danger…

In spite of the fact that the bastard regime created and protected by [French] colonialism has been overthrown, and that many of the feudal organisations of factions and parties which oppress the population were destroyed, the people do not know a better life or more freedom under the republican regime which you have created. A constitution has been established in form only. A National Assembly exists whose deliberations always fall into line with the government. Anti-democratic elections [use] methods and “comedies” copied from the dictatorial communist regimes, which obviously cannot serve as terms of comparison with North Viet Nam.

Continuous arrests fill the jails and prisons to the rafters, as at this precise moment; public opinion and the press are reduced to silence. The same applies to the popular will as translated in certain open elections, in which it is insulted and trampled (as was the case, for example, during the recent elections for the Second Legislature). All these have provoked the discouragement and resentment of the people.

Political parties and religious sects have been eliminated. “Groups” or “movements” have replaced them. But this substitution has only brought about new oppressions against the population without protecting it…

Today the people want freedom. You should, Mr President, liberalise the regime, promote democracy, guarantee minimum civil rights, recognise the opposition so as to permit the citizens to express themselves without fear, thus removing grievances and resentments, opposition to which now constitutes for the people their sole reason for existence. When this occurs, the people of South Vietnam, in comparing their position with that of the North, will appreciate the value of true liberty and of authentic democracy. It is only at that time that the people will make all the necessary efforts and sacrifices to defend that liberty and democracy…

Effective power, no longer in the hands of those who are usually responsible, is concentrated in fact in the hands of an irresponsible member of the “family,” from whom emanates all orders. This slows down the administrative machinery, paralyzes all initiative, discourages goodwill. At the same time, not a month goes by without the press being full of stories about graft impossible to hide; this becomes an endless parade of illegal transactions involving millions of piastres…

Competent people should be put back in the proper jobs; discipline must be re-established from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy; authority must go hand in hand with responsibility; efficiency, initiative, honesty, and the economy should be the criteria for promotion. Professional qualifications should be respected. Favouritism based on family or party connections should be banished. The selling of influence, corruption and abuse of power must be punished.

Thus, everything still can be saved, human dignity can be reestablished; faith in an honest and just government can be restored…

Mr President, this is perhaps the first time that you have heard such severe and disagreeable criticism, so contrary to your own desires. Nevertheless, sir, these words are strictly the truth, a truth that is bitter and hard… that you have never been able to know… [This truth] shall sweep away the ignominy and all the injustices which surround and oppress it…

Until now, we have kept silent and preferred to let the Executive act as it wished. But now time is of the essence; we feel that it is our duty… We beseech the government to urgently modify its policies so as to remedy the situation, to defend the republican regime, and to safeguard the existence of the nation. We hold firm hope that the Vietnamese people shall know a brilliant future in which it will enjoy peace and prosperity in freedom and progress.”

[Signed by the Eighteen]
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