29 Mar The Betrayal of the Golden Venture
Freedom is a state of mind. It is a deep-seated belief that you have the right to follow your own dreams and choose your own path without being directed to serve the demands of a self-appointed potentate, federal agent or the bully down the street. Freedom means you’re not their property.
It is not necessary to be an American to be a hero of freedom. It’s not even required that one be a great orator, writer or inspirational leader of a movement. It’s enough that you understand the difference between brute force and the right to choose – and that you stand like a rock for the latter.
Some of our greatest heroes have been those who have suffered in silence in the blackest holes of totalitarianism. In spite of torture, solitary confinement, deception, betrayal and fear of death, they cling to that one spark of truth – that, as human beings, they have the right of free will to speak their thoughts, travel without restraint, succeed or fail and pursue happiness on their own initiative. In short, freedom exists because they exist, no matter how small the cell they are temporarily forced to occupy.
In the United States of America there are eight women held against their will, guilty of no crime except the undying desire for freedom, tortured daily with the threat of being sentenced to certain death. Since 1993 they have suffered in a maximum-security prison simply because they ran to escape the forced abortion and sterilization policies of the People’s Republic of China.
The eight were part of 286 who used their life savings to board a rickety ship, the Golden Venture, in June of 1993, to sail to America in a desperate attempt to escape the brutal Chinese regime. Their flight to freedom had taken most of them more than a year of running through steaming jungles, hiding from pursuing authorities and surviving the cramped, stifling, tiny hold of the ship. The ship ran aground near New York Harbor and they were forced to swim to shore in icy waters.
But as they stood on the shore, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, the trouble for these scared, desperate, cold, hungry, courageous women had just begun. One might wonder which is worse – the quick, cold scalpel of the Chinese abortionists, or the brutally impersonal, tortuous manipulation of the American bureaucracy and the betrayal of an American President.
Whatever the case, the 286 illegal refugees were gathered up and placed in the custody of the U.S. Immigration Service. Only twenty four women were on board; four were granted asylum in the U.S., one got a student visa to Costa Rica, nine were granted asylum in Ecuador, one was paroled for medical reasons and one was released for humanitarian reasons. But eight remain in custody in the Lerdo maximum-security prison north of Los Angeles awaiting deportation back to China and certain death.
Each of the eight tell a horrifying, yet inspirational story of their failed dash for freedom that rivals the legends of freedom fighters from throughout the ages.
Dai Bo Mai is a tiny woman of 34, born in a remote farming village near Shanghai. She is guilty of having two children, a boy, 15 and a girl, 12. Multiple children are illegal in China and the government fined her $3,000 and told her that she must be sterilized for having her daughter.
She ignored the order for sterilization until one day a gang of thugs captured and tied her and delivered Dai Bo Mai to a crude clinic for forced sterilization. There was no sanitation and she became infected. The resulting pain and infection prevented her from working in the fields. Because she could no longer work or have babies, her husband rejected her. She went back to the clinic and complained that they had ruined her life. They laughed, raised her fine to $10,000 and had her house destroyed.
Knowing she would never see her children or family again, Dai Bo Mai decided to flee to America by walking out of China, climbing across the mountains, and eventually boarding the Golden Venture.
Another of the women, Qu Ai Yue also came from the same primitive agrarian background. She had two children and became pregnant with a third. The government found out and forced her to have an abortion at six months. Then they told her she must be sterilized. Afraid of the operation, she and her husband ran to hide in the city.
Both she and her husband wanted to try to make it to America, but there was only money for one. He sent her on her way, across the mountains, and through the mosquito-infested jungles of Burma, almost dying of disease along the way. In Thailand she spent three months in a small crowded room waiting for a ship. Finally, she too boarded the Golden Venture.
But freedom burns brightly in Qu Ai Yau. After such a terrifying ordeal, only to find herself in an American prison betrayed by the American government, she still longs for America’s freedoms. In an interview she spoke of her husband and said, “maybe he will be able to come later.” Such a hope for life in a nation that she has known only from behind prison walls. How bad must China be?
But why were these eight selected for such treatment, even after the Bush Administration had issued an executive order granting asylum for women fleeing China’s brutal “family planning” policies? Politics. Two days into his Administration, Bill Clinton rescinded the order. He wanted to make an example of these women in order to stop more from fleeing. Again in April, 1996, after the U.S. Congress passed a bill that would reinstate asylum for such women and grant those from the Golden Venture their freedom, Bill Clinton vetoed it. It’s embarrassing to the Chinese, you see. Clinton didn’t want to harm trade relations with such a respected member of the international community.
So the women sit in their cells, waiting for the order that will send them back to China where they will face certain sterilization, the lawful punishment for any women who runs from the “family planning” program. More than likely, they will face a death sentence for their “crimes.” China, meanwhile, has been rewarded with Most Favored Nation status by their friend, Bill Clinton.
Human beings are all different individuals. Some take great pleasure in controlling others. Some readily accept that control and mold their lives to fit the circumstances. But a few carry a flame in their hearts. As they pace their cages of tyranny and crash against its bars, a constant thought burns in their mind, “I want to be free.”
Without such souls there would be no freedom. It is they who drag the others toward the light of Freedom’s torch. And so the women of the Golden Venture, in their own humble way, regardless of the fate that awaits them, know that their run for freedom was worth it because, for a brief moment they were deciding their own destiny. Such is the determination it takes to join the ranks of Freedom’s