After months of prodding by U.S. advisors, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem introduces the first in a series of agrarian reform measures. This first measure was a decree governing levels of rent for farmland.
U.S. officials had strongly urged that Diem institute such reforms to win the support of the common people, but later critics maintained his land reform program began too late, progressed too slowly, and never went far enough. What the South Vietnamese farmers wanted was a redistribution of land from the absentee landlords to those that actually worked the fields, but Diem’s program to return the land to the tiller was implemented halfheartedly and did little to meet the rising appetite for land among South Vietnam’s rural population. Provisions for payment by peasants granted land created unnecessary hardships. Although 1 million tenants received some relief, more than 1 million received no land at all, and the lack of impartial enforcement agencies crippled many potential benefits. Instead of redistributing land to the poor, Diem’s land reform program ended up taking back what the peasants had been given by the Viet Minh and returning it to the landlords, forcing peasants to pay for the land they considered theirs on impossible terms. In 1960, 75 percent of the land was owned by 15 percent of the people. The communists capitalized on unresolved peasant unrest throughout Diem’s regime. Discontent towards Diem reached its height when dissident South Vietnamese officers murdered him during a coup in November 1963.