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Alain Ah-Vee's speech at War Resister's International

27.07.2014

THE DANGER TO AFRICA, THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE WORLD
OF THE US DIEGO GARCIA MILITARY BASE ON MAURITIAN, THUS AFRICAN, LAND


Today, when we gather for the WRI Conference, world-wide people are suffering the effects of the economic crisis, the financial debacle, and deep social and ecological crises – all of which are the responsibility of the global capitalist system – and these are both the effects and the causes of constant conflict and war. Yet, the capitalist system is now fragilized, with the USA, its most powerful nation state and imperialist power, economically on its knees, while its closest ally, Europe, is still in the midst of a crisis in the Euro zone. Even the emerging powers, BRICS, are shaken to the core by the global crisis. It is against this background that, for its survival and its continued domination of the planet, the capitalist system has come to depend increasingly on generalized militarism, on direct military intervention, on military occupation, and on the violent repression of people including by new, vast surveillance systems.

A vast network of military bases, especially but not exclusively US bases, is one of the permanent structures of this militarism. As such all anti-war struggles need to address this constant threat, and to do so in as constant a way as possible. Every military base has a population near it, or affected by it. We all, world-wide, oppose the oppression of these bases. And this WRI Conference is a moment when we can put together our knowledge and experience of these struggles – and develop our more political strategies. Which is why, in the name of the political party, LALIT, in Mauritius, I am here today.

The USA, with its network of over 700 military installations and bases outside its own territory, is the backbone of the arsenal that continues to consolidate and expand military control over the planet in order to protect the interests of US-based capitalists and their allies. They say it themselves. And they do this even as their economy threatens to collapse under the strain. They are in over-reach mode. And as we know, over-reach is one of the contributing factors to the down fall of empires. The Obama Administration continues to spend millions and millions to expand this military presence world-wide, and in particular, the rate of expansion in Africa is extremely high. With increasingly ferocious competition between capitalists, the need for cheap fuel and rare minerals grows out of hand. And it is in this context that over the past 10 years, Africa has become increasingly the stage for this competition to take place.

However, this military expansion in Africa of US, French and other interests in Africa, is veiled by a thick layer of secrecy and lies. It is increasingly up against a more open Chinese presence in Africa.

Mauritius and the UK-US Diego Garcia military base
The USA has over the past 10-15 years intensified its presence in Africa. When George W. Bush, in 2001 declared his ‘War on Terror’, no-one realized the hideous dimensions this would take. And one of the key elements of this expansion is the US military base on African land, that is to say on Diego Garcia, part of the Chagos Archipelago, part of Mauritius, which is part of Africa.

Lies and secrecy have abounded around this military base. The first lie is the linguistic trick of calling Mauritius “Isle Maurice” in French, and “The Island of Mauritius” in English. Mauritius is not “an island”, but a series of islands and archipelagoes, including the once pristine Chagos Archipelago, of which Diego Garcia is a beautiful part. If world-wide, and even in Mauritius, we think of Mauritius as “an island”, then part of Mauritius which is not in this island cannot, logically, be occupied by an illegal military base. Clearly an island cannot contain other islands and archipelagoes. The second lie, is that Mauritius is not just “an island”, but a paradise island, implying that the entire people of the country are mere stage props for tourists on honeymoon. Whereas Mauritius is a place where a strong working class, born out of the sugar fields and mills and the textile mills, has refused the conditions the IMF-World Bank and our own Government imposed, and has, until now, maintained free education, free health care, universal pensions, free transport all day for pensioners, disabled people and students, and even subsidised imported food – pure blasphemy for the neo-liberal rulers. The third untruth is that Mauritius is often called “a small island”, when it is a huge country in terms of its maritime space (2.4 million square kilometres), around all its many Islands, bigger than most countries. How could a huge military base and a vast archipelago possibly be in a small paradise island? The fourth untruth, is when the Africa is called “the African continent”, and its adjoining islands, like Madagascar, Seychelles, Comoros, Mauritius, and even the still-colonized Reunion Island, are denied existence.

These four “lies” make it difficult for people in Africa, or anywhere else in the world, even activists, peace-lovers, anti-war protesters, to so much as SEE the Diego Garcia base, let alone see that it is on Mauritian land, which is part of Africa. It falls into a black hole. And this is clearly in the interests of the US and UK who illegally occupy it. This way, the entire base is out of any social control. The people of the US and UK do not know of its existence, nor of the fact that a fictitious colony called British Indian Ocean Territories (BIOT) exists at all, nor that this was stolen illegally from Mauritius at Independence, nor that it was then rented illegally to the US “receiver of stolen goods”. And all this is happening in Africa.

Mauritius, just to dot the i’s, has been a member of the OAU (now the African Union) since its Independence in 1968, nearly 50 years. And Chagos has been part of Mauritius since the British and French signed a Treaty saying so exactly 200 years ago. Therefore, Diego Garcia is in Africa.

A Brief History of the Occupation of Chagos and Diego Garcia
Chagos, is made up of dozens of Islands, the largest of which are Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos and Salomon, was a French colony used for ships to anchor and get provisions. The first inhabitants included a group of 22 slaves brought there to work on coconut and copra in 1783. By 1808 there were over 300 slaves settled. And in 1814 France ceded Mauritius and its dependencies, including Chagos, to Britain. After the abolition of slavery in 1835 indentured labourers were brought in from India to work on copra production for a private company. From then on up till their forcible removal by a UK-US plot, they became a society of some 2,000 people, who lived permanently there, who were called “Zilwa” (meaning “from the outer islands”), and who were catered for by the Mauritian colonial state (for education, health, meteo, the judiciary, etc) and they developed a culture and a variant of the Mauritian Kreol language. Right now there is an exhibition at a museum in Port Louis showing the cultural richness, the creativity, the unique tools, and the scope of the copra industry that Chagosians developed over many generations.

Anyway, what happened was as from 1965, the British Government dismembered the country of Mauritius, by separating the Chagos from the Mauritian Main Island, Rodrigues, Agalega and St. Brandon, which were granted Independence, while the British created a new suppoed colony, BIOT. This was clearly against the UN Charter and all international law. Obviously, had this not been completely illegal, all colonizers would have kept the gold mines and diamond fields, so to speak, of each colony and given the rump Independence. And then, importantly after they had become “British”, the UK and US forcibly removed them. First, they were not given transport back home after medical treatment or shopping holidays to the Main Island, then they were told to leave, then medical treatment was stopped, their pet dogs were rounded up and gassed, and finally the last inhabitants were literally starved off, in 1971, then transported in the holds of ships to, mainly, Mauritius.

Meanwhile, in 1966, although planned years before, the UK leased the Diego Garcia Island, part of Chagos, to the US for an initial 50 year period for the construction of a military base. (In return, anti-war activists will be interested to know, the UK were given nuclear armed submarines, Polaris missile submarines.) The nearly Independent Mauritian political parties and private sector were told that Mauritius would not get its Independence if they did not cow-tow to this excision, which they were assured was only to be used for a “communications station”.

So, you see why in Mauritius we say the British State is the thief and the US administration the receiver of stolen goods.

Today in 2014, there are new negotiations between the UK and USA towards lease renewal, as the present 50-year lease expires in 2016. If renewed, it will be for another 20 years.

Britain’s absurd position is that Chagos will revert to Mauritius when no longer needed for British security.

Case in British High Court Revealed Truth in Year 2000
The judgement in favour of the Chagossians living in Mauritius who took their deportation case to the British Courts (they got legal aid because they were “British” by virtue of being in the BIOT figment of a Colony) finally made public all the devious and cruel conspiracies of the British State. I would advise everyone to Google this judgment. (Bancoult v. The Queen, 2000). Olivier Bancoult, who we have worked with on the Diego Garcia issue over the years, was able, in the case, to use the evidence made public after the 30-year secrecy rule came up, under the Official Secrets Act of UK.

Diego Garcia the Largest US Base in Africa
Its position in mid-Indian Ocean, 2,600 miles from Australia, 2,200 miles from Berbera in Somalia, 1,900 miles from Masirah in Oman, 3,400 miles from the Cape of Good Hope, Diego is strategically placed, relative to the Middle East and for the US strategy of so-called “containment of China. Based on Diego, as we call it, are “two dozen massive cargo ships prepositioned for wartime (each almost the size of Empire State Building), tanks, helicopters, ammunition, fuel ready to equip tens of thousands of US troops for up to 30 days of battle.”

For ages, the UK and US had realized the strategic importance of Diego. In the 1930s, British and US military aircraft were already using it for stop-overs. US Military expert John Pike says, “Even if the entire Eastern Hemisphere has drop-kicked us from every other base on their territory, the military’s goal is to be able to run the planet from Guam and Diego Garcia by 2015.”

A Danger to the Whole World
The Diego base has already been used as springboard for attacks on US enemies. In 1991, in the first Gulf War, it was used for Operation Desert Fox. In 2001 B-52s took off from there to bombard Afganistan, often killing civilians, as in the notorious case of the assassination of an entire wedding procession. And in 2004, the cynical “shock and awe” campaign was run from Diego Garcia, too. It could be used for attacks in the future on Iran, for example.

Illegal Renditions and Torture
Diego is now also proven, despite secrets and lies for years, to be one of Black sites for US secret services to “render” illegal prisoners snatched from all over the globe, for torture by third parties. For many years British Ministers, including Prime Ministers, denied this in Parliament. But more recently they have publicly admitted in Parliament that there have, since 2002 been renditions. More recently, it has become public that Libyan anti-Khadafi man, close to the UK, Abdul-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar were tortured via Diego Garcia, before being handed over to Khadafi. Right now, there are indications that more details are due to be disclosed soon, following a confidential Senate Hearing in the US.

Nuclear danger
In 2009 the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty came into force. This treaty also known as Pelindaba Treaty (after the place near Pretoria where the apartheid regime’s nuclear arsenal was developed with Israeli State assistance, when the ANC Government closed down the arsenal) was ratified by the near totality of countries in the world including the UN Security Council permanent members. Signatories are pledged not to develop, produce or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons and the Treaty prohibits the stationing of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials for arms, on the territory of any state party to the treaty.

US and UK got around the Diego Garcia problem by insisting that dotted lines be put around the Chagos and Diego Garcia, as part of the treaty. It is not clear to anyone what the dotted lines mean – so the balance of forces holds. It is this balance of forces we intend to change.

What is the US-UK agenda? It is well known that the nuclear submarine maintenance and upkeep is done in Diego Garcia. This since the Italian anti-bases movement closed down the base where they were previously kept up. Dockers in Amsterdam also gave LALIT Bills of Lading for nuclear shipments in the late 1970s.

In Mauritius, we and our allies are putting pressure for our Government, as member of the brand-new Secretariat under this Pelindaba Treaty named “African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE), to come forward to demand for an UN (IAEA) inspection on Diego Garcia for nuclear materials, which would be in contravention of the Treaty for a nuclear-free Africa. (Does anyone present know if the new Secretariat, due to have been set up in South Africa, is in fact functioning?)

The Militarization of Africa
Since the George W. Bush declaration of intention for an increased military presence in Africa in 2001, things have accelerated. Despite a lot of resistance from Governments to military presence, it has continued to grow. In daily reality people in many countries have suffered and are suffering from this presence: from the streets of Somalia, to the forests of Congo and the desert in Sudan, there is US military presence. Meanwhile, French military presence has continued in Mali and Central African Republic.

But what the USA uses most, in order to assure this kind of intervention, is what they call State of Forces Agreement (SOFA), whereby the US aims to have an increasing military accessibility through a constantly revised SOFA. This is an agreement over the legal framework to protect US military personel, as well as other military agreements. Or, if the US finds a country on its knees, as Seychelles was at the time of the collapse of the Lehmann Brothers as their State industry had its money there, then they push for the presence of drones in the airport.

And of course the key to the increase is in the US Africa Command (Africom) which has opened up the way for the US to try to get facilites in “54 African countries, including the islands of Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome and Principe, along with the Indian Ocean islands of Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, and Seychelles.” The US is already implicated in military activites in 49 of these countries.

On its website, this is how AFRiCOM describes itself: “Africa Command protects and defends the national security interests of the United States by strengthening the defence capabilities of African States and regional organizations and, when directed, conducts military operations, in order to deter and defeat transnational threats and to provide a security environment conductive to good governance and development.”

Resisting war is therefore not just waiting for war to break out and then descending into the streets and squares of the capital city. It is constantly confronting the instruments of war: stopping arms production, on the one hand, and also getting the military bases dismantled. The network of imperialist military bases in Africa is the main instrument for maintaining constant military conflict in Africa. And behind this military is the protection and extention of capitalist interests. It is vital for us to organize resistance against this militarization and re-colonization, and to do this, we have to confront our own Governments which are notoriously complaisant. In Mauritius, it is the same. The Diego Garcia base is a key element in the US military dispositive, and the Mauritian Government acts like a lackey.

Actions in Mauritius
From the 1970s, the party I’m representing, LALIT, together with groups of Chagossians and other organizations, have constantly run battles against our Government, as well as against the British and US. We have always kept together the three key demands in this struggle:

- Close down the base (with ecological clean-up)!
- Complete de-colonization of Mauritius, and the re-unification of the country and its people.
- The right of return and full reparations for displaced Chagossian Mauritians.

Today, after 40 years of struggle, we are at a turning point. What history has taught us is this: if we separate these issues, our struggle is doomed to failure. All the Court Cases against the UK Government have finally come to nought, because they have sought the right to return, without simultaneously addressing the military base and the sovereignty issue.

Similarly, every single Mauritian Government since Independence (and they change often!) has tried to regain sovereignty, but always at the expense of bartering the military base’s presence. This fails hopelessly. Sometimes, even more corrupt than this, Governments have agreed to keeping silent on the US and UK crimes, in return for deals for important sections of the local capitalist class, in particular the sugar barons, in the earlier period, and the textile bosses in more recent decades.

LALIT’s campaign continues to keep the flame of struggle against colonialism and imperialism. In 2010, for example we organize an “Action Conference” on the theme “Free Diego”, which received letters of support from WRI, War Resisters Africa Working Group, WRI Australia, the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, US Peace Council, Veterans for Peace, the Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste in France, and organizations and individuals world wide, including the academic David Vine, the film-maker and writer John Pilger, Gunvant Govindjee, former SA Speaker Frene Ginwala, John Percy, as well as the former President of the Republic of Mauritius, CassamUteem, who is perhaps the sole mainstream politician in Mauritius to have remained dedicated to the cause. .

Since 2011, LALIT took the initiative to set up a “Diego Committee” (which regroups the MLF (women’s organization), MPRB (neighbourhood organization), CTSP (large trade union federation), Grup Unitaire Be di Tonbo, (another neighbourhood organization). We have then acted against the US increasing presence through warships and held demonstrations, and through infiltration into the Press, which we have denounced. And we have called on Associations and other groups to refuse to take any money or other donations from the US Embassy, so long as there is military occupation of the country.

We constantly put pressure on the Mauritian Government (letters, petitions, conferences, forums, demonstrations) so that it acts against the UK and US. Finally the Mauritian Government has met a case against the UK in the UNCLOS tribunal, where it still is. This is in response to the British outrageous plan of setting up a Marine Protected Area around Chagos (obviously not around the nuclear base itself, that would be too ridiculous even for them to do) pretending that Britain’s coast is near there. (Through its quasi-colony BIOT). The tribunal’s ruling is expected in August, 2014.

Conclusion
In this context of economic crisis and its rising militarism we have to think on how we can enlarge the circle of support in the region and in the world, for the closing down of the military base, the de-colonization of the country, and the right for the displaced people of Chagos to return? Who are the potential allies for this battle? What kind of co-ordination is possible on this issue?

Bearing in mind, that this is a moment to act. The lease is up for re-negotiation, on the one hand, and the US is economically wobbly, on the other. In addition, it turns out that there is a lot of conflict within the US military about which bases to close. Of course, we want all closed down!

Alain Ah-Vee
LALIT
July 2014

References:
1. The startling Size of US Military Operations in Africa (by Nick Turse, 2013) {www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/09/us-military-bases-africa}
2. On Africom {www.africom.mil/about-the-command}
3. Pelindaba Treaty {www.iaea.org/About/Policy/CG/GC40/Documents/pelindabab.html}
4. Lalit website: {lalitmauritius.org}