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LALIT and the Obama Petition


LALIT expressed its reserves on the contents of the petition initiated by SPEAK and UNROW Litigants through an article we pasted on our web-site. We deliberately did not air those reserves on the national media: our aim was to explain clearly why our members would not be signing the petition.

LALIT is probably the political party that has contributed the most, and over a long period, to the struggle on the Chagos issue. Our principled position has always been that the Chagos issue had three interlinked elements which could not be separated: the absolute right of the Chagossians to return to their birth place and to reparations, the need to complete the decolonisation process through the return of the Chagos islands to Mauritian sovereignty, and finally the dismantling of the imperialist US military base on part of Mauritian territory. This triple strategy was confirmed at the International Conference we organised in October, 2010, at which there were participants from Australia, Holland, France, and the USA.

When we posted our analytical article on the Obama petition, we included the text of the petition on our site. This is more than can be said for the dozens of articles in the press that asked for virtual signatures for the petition: most of the people who went to “sign” the petition did not actually know the content of the demand being made to Obama, or the implications of the demand.

Now that the Petition has gathered more than the necessary 25,000 signatures, let us together imagine what the possible outcome could be.

President Obama takes cognizance of the Petition, he decides it would be wise to give in to the main demands of the Petition and implement them. After all, anybody who signs a petition would want the demands to be met.

“We petition the Obama administration to:
“The U.S. Government Must Redress Wrongs Against the Chagossians.

“The United States should provide relief to the Chagossians in the form of resettlement to the outer Chagos islands, employment, and compensation.”

So what will the Obama administration do, in practical terms, to satisfy the people who have signed the Petition?

At the moment the US military has total control over the island of Diego Garcia, while the “outer islands” of Peros Banos and Salomon are under the administrative control of the British State, illegal as this may be. So the US military will need to assume control over the “outer islands” in order to “resettle” the Chagossians. There it will build housing estates and other amenities for the Chagossians who wish to return. The US military base will then provide employment to Chagossians, to service the military personel and installations, loading bombs on B52’s, re-fuelling hunter-killer drones, etc. Finally the US will fork out millions of dollars as compensation, after negotiations with the representatives of the Chagossians.

Will this then represent a total success for the more than 25,000 people who signed the Petition which included these demands? Is this what they had in mind when they clicked their respective mouses? Does this constitute “the right to return”? Does this constitute the end of colonization?

But this is certainly what ex-USA Ambassador to Mauritius John Price would agree with. On 29th March 2012, he wrote: “I believe that Diego Garcia needs an outer safety ring to keep the military core area sanitized from any access by unauthorized personnel. … In addition the military base imports contract workers, hence hiring the Chagossians would be a humanitarian gesture, as well as an economic benefit for them. There is no question as to the importance of Diego Garcia for our national security interests, especially in today’s struggle with Iran which threatens its neighbors and beyond. … So for the foreseeable future, the United States cannot consider giving up this strategic military base in the Indian Ocean. However the Chagossians’ plight will need to be addressed at some point in the near future; to find a permanent solution for the destitute Chagossian Diaspora.”

So, as the ex-ambassador writes, the US administration sees the outer islands, under their control, as an “outer safety ring” for the Diego Garcia military base. In other words, Peros Banos and Salomon, inhabited by Chagossians employed on the Diego military base, under the control of US military personel would represent that “outer safety ring”, or “cordon sanitaire”.

In Conclusion

The main demands contained in the Petition are in total contradiction with the principled stand we have always defended on the Chagos issue: we could not support demands that went towards re-inforcing the US military presence in the whole of the Chagos. We could not support demands that represented an obstacle to the decolonisation process. We could not ask for the resettlement of the Chagossians to be in the form of a charitable or humanitarian gesture by the President of the very same imperialist super-power that so cruelly caused them to be expelled from their homes, rather than as an inalienable right of return for all Chagossians.