The article below is an English translation of the speech given by LALIT leading member, Alain Ah-Vee, at the International Conference on action on Diego Garcia and Chagos on 30 october, 2010 at the Grande Riviere LALIT headquarters.
Militarism, occupation, colonialism, uprooting and ecology
Chagos: UK & US history of secrecy, conspiracy, lies and impunity
It is not every day in our shared history that we find ourselves interconnected in such a matrix of struggles: the struggle against military bases and occupation, the struggle against decolonisation, the struggle to protect human rights and ecosystems. Diego Garcia represents this matrix. These struggles intersect at this atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean in the Chagos Archipelago, which is part of the Mauritius territory. The military base on Diego Garcia is not a coincidence in this matrix; it is at the very heart of the United States and Great Britain's military strategy.
What we are dealing with here in this part of our shared history is a criminal plot concocted by the British State and the American State; a conspiracy that the governments of UK and US have been trying to keep secret from us, from their own people and from the rest of the world. The role Great Britain has played on Chagos and Diego, sometimes on its own, sometimes alongside the prime mover, the United States of America, has been one of secrecy, conspiracy and a web of lies.
And, what is happening on Diego Garcia today can have important repercussions globally.
So, we are in struggle, in many struggles around these issues.
And the key to these struggles lies in the closure of the military base on Diego Garcia.
In order to free the Chagos, the military base on Diego Garcia must first be closed. A free Chagos will be a blow to US imperialism, which is responsible for increasing inequality worldwide, for widespread misery, for the destruction of lives and ecosystems all over mother earth, and, in collusion with its European ally, is responsible for instigating and maintaining conflict and war in the Middle East and elsewhere, creating suffering and violence, and bearing responsibility for several genocides. It is necessary to bring an end to the reign of US imperialism. And we, ourselves, have a role to play towards this end. We have an active and conscious role to play. We today need to prepare a new plan, a common political strategy, and we need to do it transparently and through open debate.
This is why we are here today.
But before we reach this point, it is worth taking a closer look at how Great Britain split up Mauritius and kept the Chagos and, grabbing a few Seychelles Islands that they subsequently won back, set up a brand new colony under the bizarre name of British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) as late as the year 1965, when it was giving all its colonies independence, and forcibly uprooted Chagossians. We will see that it is not for nothing that we call Great Britain the "perfidious Albion".
Diego Garcia is one of the largest US military bases in the world. It is active "24/7". The massive weaponry it contains could "make Pearl Harbour look puny", as Simon Winchester put it in an article in Courier International. He is one of the few journalists who has succeeded in reaching Diego Garcia, which he did by yacht. On the base, there are at any one time, approximately two dozen cargo ships, each the size of a building of a 100 floors, that are filled with tanks, missiles, trucks, bulldozers, bombardiers, helicopters, sophisticated weaponry and enough fuel for several tens of thousands of soldiers to be in combat for 3 days. From Diego it takes only 3 days for a convoy to reach Saudi Arabia, as opposed to one month from the United States. According to John Pike, an expert military analyst, the US will attempt to control the entire planet just from the Guam and Diego Garcia military bases as from 2015. They are already planning to spend some 8 billion US dollars to upgrade Guam and Diego Garcia bases. This is what we have to set about changing.
And Diego has been and still is used to wage war against other countries. It is from there that B-52s took off to bombard cities in Iraq and on civilians assisting a wedding in Afghanistan. It is Mauritian territory, and yet we have never declared war on these or any other countries. These crimes are being committed from our own land, from land we, as a people are supposed to assure democratic control. Will the US attack Iran from the same base in the future?
The Diego Garcia military base has also been used for the torture of prisoners in the context of the supposed US "war on terrorism". Again this was denied by US officials and UK ministers alike. But in 2009, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown had to admit in the British Parliament, that in 2002, Diego Garcia was used twice by the US for illegal rendering of prisoners, that is to say for torture. This too is happening on country over which we are supposed to have democratic control. Our Constitution even says so.
Today, the Diego military base is being used to protect the economic interests of US imperialism and other capitalist countries' economies. In a world where competition is increasing between capitalist countries with the rise of economic giants such as China and India, the role of military bases is becoming crucial in maintaining the reign of US imperialism. We are in an era where the international capitalist system depends on generalized militarism and foreign military interventions or military occupation in order to survive. Often, the US starts with occupation and then establishes bases, as in Iraq and, to a certain extent, as it and the UK did in the Chagos. According to the Base Structure Report of the Department of Defense of the US (2008), the US has 761 military bases in countries around the world and 104 on its own territory. This number does not take into consideration several undisclosed bases located in Irak, Afghanistan and Israel. Officially, the US has over 190,000 soldiers, 115000 civil servants in 909 military facilities in 46 countries and territories. There are 30,000 soldiers and 10,000 contractor workers working for the US military on the Ballad Air Base in Irak alone. Bases and their arsenals form part of the armaments industry and of the "industrial military complex" controlled by large multinational corporations that are tied to political leaders of the US, and to a lesser extent of Europe. They have an interest in fomenting, in fueling conflicts and war so that these industries continue to prosper. It involves enormous sums of money: the global arms trade represents 60 billion US dollars yearly. And the US controls nearly 40% of this trade. But today it is becoming increasingly difficult for the US to maintain these bases from an economic standpoint. The economic giant is on its knees. It is trying to survive "over-reach", and over-reach is the cause of the downfall of most empires.
The Diego military base also represents a direct threat to the people of the Indian Ocean. In 2001, a war airplane B1, which took off from Diego to bombard Afghanistan, crashed in the Indian Ocean. This kind of aircraft can carry up to 40 tons of bombs and is equipped to carry nuclear weapons. This is one example to demonstrate that the US does not have any interest in security and peace. In the 1970s, the US, the UK and France sabotaged a UN Conference aimed at declaring the Indian Ocean a "Zone of Peace". The people of Mauritius do not support the use of the Mauritius territory to wage war on other countries, to kill people and destroy lives, nor to obliterate schools and hospitals. LALIT and several unions, social movements and human rights organizations have demonstrated against the war on Iraq, against the military aggression of Israel against Palestine. We are not the only ones. Today there are a large number of people, including in the US, who oppose military bases and are mobilizing to close them down, and to send the soldiers home from the front and from military bases as well. In this way, the struggle shifts to mobilizing before there is war. There were successes in closing bases such as Subic Bay in the Philippines, Mannta in Ecuador, and Viesques in Puerto Rico. LALIT forms a part of No Bases, an international network for the abolition of foreign military bases, regrouping some 350 organisations from around one hundred countries.
Occupation, uprooting and colonialism
The Mauritius Prime Minister, other ministers and leaders of the country often describe Mauritius as a paradise for tourists, for foreigners to get married and go on honeymoon, and a great place to do business. Hilary Clinton last year praised Mauritius as the best place to invest when she was speaking at a conference for African countries. Now Navin Ramgoolam has the project of transforming Mauritius into a shopping paradise like Singapour. But you never hear in such speeches that this piece of paradise is under military occupation by another country. Without a special permit from Great Britain it is not possible to go to the Chagos, although in the Mauritius Constitution, Section 111 states clearly that "Mauritius" includes the islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues, Agalega, Tromelin, Cargados Carjos and the Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia. The Fisheries Act 1980 of Mauritius even defined the quotas and the kind of fishing nets quotas that are allowed to be used in the Chagos. But it is the British Government that has collected revenue from fees paid by boats which fish in the Chagos waters and which has granted permits for 25 years for people to visit Chagos (before the Marine Protected Area declared this year). You need a "permission" to visit your own land. Like the Palestinians in occupied Palestine.
Chagos is under illegal occupation since 1965. The British then uprooted all the Chagos inhabitants, boatload by boatload. The UK and the United States needed a territory where there was no "permanent population" in order to bypass international law. This act of removing all the people was described in an editorial of the Washington Post (September 1975) as an "act of mass kidnapping". In 1965 in the process of Independence, a part of the Mauritius territory, Chagos, was detached to create a new colony under the name of "British Indian Ocean Territory" (BIOT). All this was done in secrecy. The Labour Government of Harold Wilson at the time used an archaic Royal procedure, totally undemocratic, called "Orders in Council" to carry out their illegal acts, and they did this, in order to avoid the scrutiny of the British Parliament and of the United Nations.
Between 1965 and 1973, the British deported all 2000 Chagossians who were living on the islands of Salomon, Peros Banos, Diego, Three Brothers, Six Islands and Boddam. Since the 18th Century their ancestors were there as slaves on coconut plantations, through Indenture, they were there, and until the 20th Century creating a civilization, several generations staying, employed in different jobs, having children, and creating a social and cultural life there.
The British used several means to expel the Chagossians. For example, when Chagossians came to Mauritius for medical care or for holidays, they were not able to go back because Rogers Company notified them that the Chagos has been sold and was closed. The British authorities gave instructions to Rogers, a company which ensured the sea link between Chagos and Mauritius, not to let any Chagossian back on the boat. Later on, the British reduced food supplies on the Chagos. They imported less medication, milk, and other basic necessities, so as to literally starve them, after making them give up all hope of staying. Nurses and teachers were returned to Mauritius and the authorities closed down the dispensaries (clinics) and schools. American soldiers even gathered all Chagossians' dogs and had them killed in front of them, as a kind of warning as to what could happen to those who refused to go. In 1973, the last 200 Chagossians who were left were forcibly put on the Nordvaer ship and were dumped in the Seychelles and Port-Louis, without anything. No house, no work. Some committed suicide or died of sadness.
All of this was carried out without any transparency whatsoever. In fact, it was done in obscurity. The US Government and Great Britain did not inform their peoples of this illegal act. They did not want their people to know about occupation, uprooting and the dismemberment of a sovereign territory, for the purpose of building a nuclear military base. They acted in secret so as to force a population into exile. And at that time there was no press writing about this illegal transaction, apart from a few letters to the editor in Britain, nothing was said on this criminal act, that goes against the UN Charter, and that adds up to a crime against humanity. Resolution 1514 voted at the UN declares clearly that "Any attempt at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the UN". In December 1965, when the word spread about what was happening, the UN voted the Resolution 2066 that invites the UK authorities "to take no action that would dismember the territory of Mauritius and violate its territorial integrity". The British continued to act with impunity. In 1966 the UK leased Diego to the US for 50 years in exchange for Polaris missiles. This lease is renewable for another 20-year period unless one of the two governments within the 2 years before the end of the lease notifies the other if it wants to terminate it, at which time the agreement will expire two years after notification.
In fact, many British classified documents (file no.FO 371/184523) which were made public in 1997 revealed important information on what happened in the Chagos, that was until then hidden from public knowledge. For example, it revealed the Anglo-American study carried out on Diego as early as 1964, it showed how the US insisted that there be no inhabitants or permanent residents on the Chagos so as to avoid Article 73(5) of the UN Charter, which mandates all occupiers to submit a report to the UN Secretary General on economic, social and educational conditions on the occupied territory. These documents also showed the price paid for these islands (3 million pounds, plus the sugar quota on the US market). All to show that the US was planning to use Diego and discussions were going on behind closed doors with the UK to build a military base there. There was a conspiracy between ministers and government officials of these two countries. Everything else was just lies. They were lying when they said that they needed Diego Garcia to establish no more than a communications station. They were lying when they said that there were only contract workers on the Chagos. They were lying when they said sovereignty would not be affected. And later they would lie that there was no rendering.
Anyway, when these British State documents became public it gave the Chagos Refugees Group an opportunity to bring their case to Court. There was now proof. And in 2000, the verdict of the British High Court ruled in favor of the Chagossians and declared the BIOT Ordinance 1965 illegal, and gave them the right to return.
The initial disruption of the intergrity of Mauritian territory was an illegal condition for independence imposed by the British colonial power with the knowledge of the Mauritian delegation who went in London to 'negociate'. In other words the British State came to agreement with the British State (because the Mauritian State was under the control of the British State). Then, for forty years successive Mauritian governments have been complacent and demonstrated a lack of political courage around the Chagos and Diego Garcia base question. After Independence in 1968 different regimes have negotiated the maintenance of US and UK presence in the Chagos in return most often for commercial advantages for Mauritian capitalists. For this reason, the successive governments were hesitant to make a formal declaration in the UN and other international forums in favour of Mauritius' claim on the Chagos. In 1990 the government of Mauritius even removed the Chagos issue from the UN General Assembly, after putting it on the agenda, because of threats against the sugar industry and textile quotas on the US market. The MSM-MMM Government between 2000 and 2005 signed the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) in exchange for not opposing the US military aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan. The AGOA rules say that any country who signs it cannot put into question the foreign policy of the US.
No Mauritian Government has ever had enough courage to put a case before the UN International Criminal Court at the Hague. Neither PM Seewoosagur Ramgoolam nor today his son, nor Aneerood Jugnauth or his son nor Paul Berenger! They never confronted US imperialism on Diego, although they would have been able to get much support. Several resolutions were voted in the Non-Alligned Movement (from 1970 until 2008), in OUA and the African Union, which are in favor of the Mauritius claim on Chagos, the Chagossians' return to their islands and the closure of the Diego Garcia base. In fact, Lalit organized a peace flotilla in 2004 to confront US imperialism on Diego, alongside Chagossian organizations. When the initiative gained momentum, and the countries around the world offered to join in with dozens of boats, when in the World Social Forum in Mumbai, Lalit succeeded in gaining support from the anti-war movement, along with the No-Bases network and the pacifist movement around this Flotilla plan. That was when the UK, at that very same moment, passed new Orders in Council to close access to all Chagos islands. And later, the British announced that it will, itself, organise a boat to bring the Chagossians to visit the tombs of their ancestors on the Chagos.
With growing interest at the global level in favour of the protection of the environment and ecology, Diego Garcia and the Chagos will and are already coming to the forefront of new struggles. Diego Garcia is a base where there are nuclear armaments and nuclear submarines. This was also always kept secret. In 1980 Lalit revealed how Nuclear materials was transiting from Europe to Diego. Since August of this year, the USS Emory, the largest nuclear submarine tender, has, in fact, now been stationed on Diego. It is a massive vessel with 53 specialized shops, which provide nuclear submarines with food, electricity, water, medication, reparation equipments, as well as postal and legal services.
It is not enough to demand the closure and dismantlement of Diego military base but we must also demand the ecological clean up of the whole Chagos by the US.
This year, the UK had the impudence to declare a Marine Protected Area around the Chagos when, on Diego, there is a polluting nuclear base. Great Britain never showed any interest in the protection of water quality around Chagos but rather that they are anticipating a ruling in favour of the Chagossians, whose case will soon be coming before the European Court of Human Rights, and want to prevent their return, as well as prevent any Mauritian action to regain sovereignty. The British State bewitched a whole load of environmental organizations, even got Greenpeace on board, in favour of this marine park, which has a nuclear base as its next-door neighbour, and which is in someone else's land. This must truly be the most immoral bit of ecological imperialism ever implemented.
With the implementation of the Pelinbada Treaty there is a now new mechanism to tackle the nuclear arms issue, so that Africa can rid itself of all nuclear materials, and any explosive devices, including on the Chagos. Immediately, when this treaty came into force last year, LALIT met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Arvind Boolell to ask him to make a formal complaint so that there can be an inspection under the aegis of the UN on Diego to verify if there is not nuclear material stocked there. Given that UK and the US are signatories to this Treaty, they are both acting against the Treaty's mandate. We must now put more pressure on the Ramgoolam-Jugnauth Government for it to start procedures to make a complaint under this Treaty as soon as its secretariat is in place.
The story of Diego and the Chagos encompasses several struggles, the whole matrix we have outlined. LALIT and numerous other organizations and individuals have been constantly engaged in bringing the Chagos and Diego issue up on to the agenda. And in LALIT we have kept united together the struggle for the reunification of Mauritian territory, the closure of the Diego Garcia base, and the right of return for all Chagossians, never trying to trade one for another, in an unprincipled way. When these issues are separated, we move backwards; we must keep an integrated approach in order to bring change to these issues. The key in this matrix is, of course, the closure of the Diego Garcia military base. The context of the economic crises renders the US imperialism more vulnerable and exposed to pressure to close its military bases. Now is the time to increase the effort for this struggle. To free Diego means to free the Chagos and complete the decolonisation of Mauritius territory, and thus of Africa. The liberation of Chagos also forms part of the liberation of Africa from nuclear weapons. And a blow to the war machinery of the US.
Our struggle rests on the ongoing struggle for freedom, democracy, dignity and truth. Our weapons are a program around coherent demands, consciously planned actions, and the political will to confront the US and the UK.
Free Diego! Free the Chagos! The US and the UK must leave!