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U.S. military base on Diego Garcia: the intersection of so many struggles


Sometimes in history there is a moment when one small part of planet earth proposes itself for intense nurturing. As if that particular geographical spot is a matrix or womb bearing in itself both last and future struggles. As if that particular spot is the intersection of different lines of struggle in our common history. Offering to bring us together in spirit.
And then maybe what will happen there, on that particular spot, can, in turn, have wonderful repercussions all over the place.
Diego Garcia, beautiful Indian Ocean Island in the Chagos Archipelago, a part of the Republic of Mauritius, is just that kind of place, right now, at this moment in history.
Which is why we in Lalit in Mauritius are contacting you. (For background information on us and Diego Garcia, you can visit our website )

On Diego Garcia is one of the biggest military bases in the world. Maybe the biggest outside the USA.
So, that's the first struggle involved: the struggle against militarism, the peace movement's struggle to close down the military base on Diego Garcia. It is vital. We will come back to this central struggle later in this paper.

And there is also one of the most poignant human rights true stories ever, a story that unfolded on Diego Garcia. Hidden from the eyes of the world. And not yet over.
The people of Diego Garcia, Chagossians, were forcibly removed from their beloved land. They were tricked off the Islands first, then those who were not tricked, were frightened off (their 1,600 dogs were gassed in front of them), and the rest of them were starved off Diego Garcia and the other Islands. Quite literally.
Two thousand Chagossians, who had lived there for generations were forcibly removed over the period 1965-1973, and dumped on the dockside in Port Louis, Mauritius. Just like that. Homeless. Workless. Disoriented. Never to return to their houses, their bed-side cupboards, their hearths, their vegetable gardens, their society. Never to return to put flowers on the graves of their relatives and ancestors. And left living with the indelible image in their mind of their dogs being gassed. As a warning to them.

So, intersecting with the struggle for peace, there is the Chagossians' long, brave struggle, consistent over thirty years or more, for the right to return. And for dignified reparations to be paid to them and their descendents for the unspeakable harm they have suffered. Yes, they never gave up. They opposed the most powerful forces in the world. And they still do. With nothing but their will and their intellect. With nothing but the support of people like you and like us.

The torture that the Chagossians suffered was inflicted on them by particular States. The States concerned are the United Kingdom, the colonizer, and the United States of America, the military base owner. It is these States that must be exposed for what they did. They de-populated the Islands behind the backs of the United Nations, in order to build their base. And they are, at this moment in history, with the Bush-Blair axis in power, the most belligerent States on the planet. The human rights struggle of the Chagossians is part of the struggle against the USA-UK political project.
This struggle, in turn, unites many peoples. Us in Mauritius, including the Chagossians, the people of Britain and the USA whose Governments are so bellicose, and the people of the States that are suffering the catastrophe of war, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Other struggles also intersect with the main human rights one. For example, for 30 years, the length of a generation, the forcible removal of the Chagossians was kept "secret", mainly through the "Official Secrets Act" in the UK, thus hiding the formal proof necessary for legal actions. Only in the year 2000 could the Chagossians finally win their landmark Court Case in the UK Courts for the right to return.
This delay, with all its human tragedy, highlights the oppression of State secrecy, and the importance of struggling for free access to information. How can elected Governments keep secrets from those who elect them? What does this kind of secrecy make of the people of Great Britain?
The legal victory of the Chagossians, interestingly, was thanks to the oldest of all human rights documents, the Magna Carta of 1215, which shows the surprising longevity of the landmarks in the struggle for human rights and democracy. Causing even the uprising of English noblemen against the oppression of the King of England to intersect with the struggle of the people of Diego Garcia in Mauritius today. Right across the surface of the earth and right across the centuries - almost exactly eight centuries.
Now, today, the British State still keep the Chagossians away from their home on Diego Garcia. Now, the Chagossians have lost a more recent court case (2003) in the British Courts. Now, they are going to appeal against the very bad judgement handed down. They will not give up. They want to go back to Diego Garcia.

There is also the intersection on Diego Garcia with the struggle for full decolonization.
When the Chagossians were being forcibly removed, Diego Garcia that is part of Mauritius, was illegally severed from all the other Islands of Mauritius by the British colonial State and put together with some Seychelles Islands, made into the newly invented colony, the British Indian Ocean Territory, prior to granting Mauritian Independence and as an illegal condition to Independence. The Seychelles, after much later becoming Independent itself, negotiated its Islands back out of the BIOT. But Mauritius has never been re-united. Despite the British flouting of the United Nations Charter when it "stole" Diego Garcia.
And what this continued occupation of Diego Garcia means is that 20th Century decolonization is not yet complete. So, Diego Garcia is the centre of the struggle for the re-unification of Mauritius, something important to Mauritians, Chagossians, Rodriguans, Agalegans. And, just like all decolonization, it is the concern of everyone that no-one be colonized.

The main reason why Mauritius did not get re-united in the same way that Seychelles did is of course that there is the military base on one of Mauritius' Islands, Diego Garcia. But there is another reason. It is partly because successive Mauritian Governments have used the Diego Garcia issue, and the USA and British shame about their past actions there, in order to extricate "trade advantages" from the UK and the USA, either for sugar or for textiles, either quotas or price guarantees. So this is how trade-related issues, so important today with the World Trade Organization and Free Trade Agreements, also intersect with the Diego Garcia struggle.

Now in 2004, in these times of so-called "globalization", Diego Garcia, still illegally occupied, houses an enormous US military base, which disfigures the beautiful Islands completely. Tarmac and bombs. Where coconut palms were. Nuclear heads and submarines where coral and fish were. The different club-houses for different grades and ranks of military men, where peoples' tiny homes used to nestle in the trees. Civilian companies raking in money from defense contracts, where people used to de-husk coconuts, dry their fish, cook their turtle eggs.

Diego Garcia is a key base to the US Armed Forces, when it attacks Iraq and Afghanistan. B-52's take off from there. Supplies and men lie in wait there. Aircraft carriers huddle in the shelter of the bay. Diego Garcia is being used for interrogations of prisoners of war. Those prisoners that the USA-UK-Poland-Australia take, and then the USA hides from everyone, even their allies. Diego Garcia has, in this way, been Guantanamo-ized.
Diego Garcia is also a key element of the world-wide Global Positioning System, so vital for the US armed forces when they aim guided missiles and other war-heads in their new re-colonization of the globe. Did they not "take out" a man (and four or five other people who happened to be in the same car) in the Yemen with the help of their GPS?
Diego Garcia is the head of the U.S. Pacific and Indian Ocean Command.
All this to say how Diego Garcia is thus also central for all of us working against militarism.
We must get the base closed down.

Diego Garcia has also an important historic significance for the women's movement. In their struggles for their rights, amongst the Chagossians, it has always been the women who have been in the vanguard. Why was this? On Diego Garcia there was a matri-central society. The company that ran the Islands, treated men and women equally at work, for its own reasons, and organized for the older people to look after the children. This equal treatment means that the women of Diego Garcia have powers that other people brought up in patriarchy, do not have, and they have shown these powers in the struggle. They have transmitted this experience of strength to the women's movement in Mauritius as a whole. The struggle of the women of Chagos is a beacon for the world-wide women's movement.

Another struggle that intersects with the Diego Garcia struggle is the anti-nuclear struggle. In order for the Pelindaba Treaty for a Nuclear-Arms Free Africa to be signed, the treaty had to contain the infamous "dotted lines" around Diego Garcia, suspending Chagos from its rightful place, as part of Mauritius, in Africa. The struggle for a nuclear-arms-free Africa goes through the struggle to close down the US base on Diego Garcia.

In their quest for the truth to be out and justice to be had, the Chagossians now have a Reparations Case in the US Courts. Some of those being sued, in addition to the US State itself, include Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Some of the reasons cited for damages include human rights abuses and genocide. One of the most important struggles of our age is to show up the links between the military machinery and private business and mainstream politics in the USA. And to show how war, poverty, environmental damage, human rights abuses, genocide, women's oppression, virtual colonization, are all causally related to this complex, to this bureaucratic complex, of war-mongers and armament producers and private enterprise corporations and mainstream politicians.
The Diego Garcians' court case against the US and US personalities highlights these links in all their crudity.

And finally, there is the pressing need to re-kindle the old UN Resolution for an Indian Ocean Peace Zone. For how many years did the US and Britain sabotage the Colombo Conference? And this struggle for a Peace Zone, too, intersects with the struggle to close down the Diego Garcia base.
And with the next Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in the USA now fixed for 2005, we can aim to get it closed down, as part of an aim to close all the US bases.
As part of the movement for peace all over the world.

We, in Lalit, who have been part of the Diego Garcia struggle since 1977, we, who have shared all the hardest times with the Chagossians - the street demonstrations, the hunger strikes, the night vigils, the battles against the Riot Police, the arrests, the being kept in Police Cells, the Court Case under the Public Order Act, the thinking and the acting - we are now calling on you to help us.

We, in Lalit, together with the Chagossians and together with people experienced in such things as getting on to military ships (and who have worked for peace and freedom on Greenpeace boats), have come together and taken a decision. We intend to go to Diego Garcia - as many of us as possible - to confront the US Armed Forces at their base.
We intend to get the US to close the base down, the UK to return its stolen Islands, the US to stop receiving stolen goods. We stand by the people of Chagos to be granted the unconditional right to return to the whole of Chagos, including Diego Garcia, and we stand by their right to lifetime compensation and full reparations for the damage they have suffered.

We want to see the environment of Diego Garcia, after base closure, begin to re-generate, to start the long process of recovery and once again grow its pristine corals. This is another important struggle that intersects with the Diego Garcia struggle: loving care for our planet earth and all its waters. We want to see the Islands inhabited by those who love them and who have fought so hard against the biggest, most heavily armed institutions in the world. We want to see the lagoons, the coral and the land itself back in the hands of nature and those caring human beings who believe they belong there, the Chagossians. We are demanding an independent environmental assessment. And we are demanding to know how many fishing licenses the British Indian Ocean Territory has issued in exchange for how much money, and what impact this has made on fisheries.

And while we prepare to go to Diego Garcia to affront the US military, we are joining hands with other organizations world-wide in a network called " No U.S. Bases". And we are calling a meeting, the very first, of the "No U.S. Bases" network, a meeting to be held at the World Social Forum in Mumbai. The huge Japanese "Peace Boat" that plies the world as a living educational experience in bringing peace, will be moored in Mumbai at the time of our meeting, and we will link up with them.

Please signify your support (as an organization, as an individual) by a short e-mail, letter, telephone call or fax to us. We want a sort of list of well-wisher organizations and individuals, and people who can follow our confrontation with the U.S. Armed Forces when we go to Diego Garcia. You will have noticed that we said when, not if. We will soon be making a public announcement about our plan.
Then, when we make this announcement, please, please, please let everyone you know know about what we plan to do. Meanwhile, please raise the issues in this letter with your elected members of Parliament, Congress, National Assemblies. Write articles. Put the issue on agendas of trade unions and associations. Link your struggles with ours.
We want your moral support, social support, political support. We want you to be part of this struggle with us. So that we can bring together all these different lines of struggle, and strengthen them all, here and world-wide.

Lindsey Collen
153 Main Road, Grand River North West, Port Louis, Republic of Mauritius,
Tel: 230 208 2132