But Cambodians still have hope for change. Last week, villagers facing eviction from their homes near Phnom Penh's international airport painted their rooftops with "SOS" signs accompanied by pictures of Obama. Eight were arrested. Their message is gone, but the sentiment remains.
And theirs is not the only plea for help. Land-rights activists rallied outside the U.S. Embassy three times in the past week, asking Obama to address forced evictions and land confiscations, according to Long Kimheang, senior communication officer for the Housing Rights Task Force. But the people were "forcibly evicted by hundreds of riot police, military police, secret police, and Phnom Penh security men."
Some U.S. dignitaries are on the activists' side. Twelve members of Congress signed an October 31 letter urging Obama to prod the Cambodian government to clean itself up before the next national elections, set for July 2013.
Human rights are indeed on this week's agenda for discussion. According to a Cambodia Daily interview this week, Samantha Power, senior director for Multinational Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Council, says she will hold roundtable discussions on a broad menu covering elections, human trafficking, women's rights and other issues.
Some interested parties had hoped for more. "Initially it was all sort of sunshine and light. It looked like labor would be a huge focus," says David Welsh, country program director for the Solidarity Center, an AFL-CIO affiliate. "That, for whatever reason, has been sidetracked... but it created huge expectations."