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What is “Victory” in the Diego Garcia and Chagos Struggle? by Lindsey Collen


 We have pleasure in printing the notes translated into English to which Lindsey Collen spoke in Kreol at the LALIT Second International Conference on Diego Garcia.

 My speech is about victory. Victory on the Diego Garcia issue. Victories, in general.

 There was a great peace activist called Bertrand Russell, who was also a great mathematician. He was the first President of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, an organization that has sent us a letter of support for this Conference (you can read it on the board outside). Bertrand Russell tells in his auto-biography how when he was in the suffragettes’ movement in the early 20th Century,  they were a group of a hundred or so women and 3 or 4 men, he being one of them, who everyone thought stone mad to have the idea that women could vote. That was until 1914. War broke out, and women replaced menfolk in all walks of life, and by 1918, within four years, women got the right to vote. But what he said was curious was that after 1918, he never met a single person who admitted to having ever been against women voting. Yet, women’s emancipation is still on the agenda. Victory is always partial. I lived a similar experience in Apartheid South Africa. There were so few of us in the movement that raised its head immediately after the mass arrests around Nelson Mandela’s incarceration that everyone told us we were wasting our time. But after 1994, everyone – even here in Mauritius all those who said we were wasting our time in the anti-apartheid movement here – cried “Victory!” rushed to shake hands with Nelson Mandela, and to name every building after him. Yet, the working people of South Africa are still oppressed today. In victory, there are often elements of defeat. It’s the same with the Palestinians’ struggle today. People say, “Israel’s too powerful. The US is too strong!” Well, we will see if the Israeli state will be brought to order.

 And today with Diego Garcia, it’s been much the same. But things are beginning to show signs of movement, to show signs of one of these swings that will even wipe out previous positions retrospectively!

 What is “victory” in the Diego Garcia struggle?

It’s simple: close down the base and do an ecological clean-up; de-colonize the Mauritian state completely; ensure the right to return heads-held-high for Chagossians; and freedom of movement for all Mauritians over all the land and sea. That’s victory. And maybe this victory will be more thorough if it is at the same time as other immense geo-political and economic changes: the beginning of the end of all forward military bases; the beginning of the conversion of all arms manufacture into other production; bringing democratic control over the economy and finance – on the entire globe. This is what we, as wage slaves, aim for, isn’t it? Not much, as the James Connolly song goes, “We only want the earth”.

 Why is victory possible? Human society is always moving, never stands still. This, for LALIT, is vital to keep in mind. And there are times when 50 years’ political work, while nothing seemed to be happening, when all our efforts could glibly be accused of being a waste of time, quite suddenly everything begins moving very swiftly. And today we are on the cusp of such times. And they are times for great vigilance – they are times when we could end up in the worst barbary, but also when we are closest to bringing in a new socialist way of life, a life beyond war.

 Let’s look at Mauritian history in three broad strokes, to see what victories have been. It’s 300 years of history. For the first 100 years, most people worked under the legal framework, the labour laws, of slavery. It appeared stable. People who opposed slavery were marginalized. Considered mad. Rebellions, run-aways, protests – were all, seemed all, a waste of time. Seemed. But no. In the early 1800s everything suddenly became unstable, and events happened fast. Slavery was banned. Prohibited. No-one had, it seemed, ever defended it. Then Mauritius had the next 100 years when we all worked under different labour laws: the book of laws was in two halves, with well-nigh identical contents: Indentured labourers and ex-slaves. This labour law was also later banned. And we became, for the next hundred years until now “wage slaves” – living by the curious means of selling off hours of our physical and mental powers to someone who buys them from us. And it too seems as stable and as eternal as slavery and indenture did. When LALIT puts it into question, people think it as far-fetched as people putting slavery into question in times gone by.

 And this shows the importance of us all, every one of us, being present today to put into question the status quo on Diego Garcia. We can see how things can be. Before they happen. This is our true humanity.

 For 50 years, too, colonization has been virtually outlawed as immoral. The UN Charter says it is a collective responsibility to rid the world of this scourge. But today, remnants remain. In the victory of Independence, Mauritius including Chagos, suffered a defeat. Britain still colonizes part of Mauritius. And finally, after 50 years of struggle, we have forced the Mauritian State, a cowardly State, a State wont to submit to the private sector by sheer choice, to in fact go and haul Britain before the UN General Assembly last Friday with a Resolution on the Agenda to drag Britain before the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague.

 For 50 years, Chagossians who lived on these outer Islands of Mauritius for 4-5-6 generations have been exiled. And finally, it is possible that today they can begin to imagine the right to return, heads held high as Mauritians, free at long last from the colonization of Britain, a colonization so cruel it included banishment.

 And for 50 years the military base, the military occupation, has lasted. Because Britain organized its crimes with the US (to dismember Mauritius, to uproot all the Chagossians) so as to, with the US, set up a base there – a base used to attack countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, a base on which to torture prisoners kidnapped from independent countries. And now, it is at long last being considered reprehensible by everyone.

 Even wars of aggression – a much older phenomenon, but one that anthropologists put at only 5,000 to 10,000 years in a human history of between 150,000 and over 1,000,000 years depending on definitions of “human” – are reaching their expiry date. The big demonstrations against the Iraq war, and now the Chilcot Report show the early signs of the rejection of all wars of aggression.

 Our Diego Garcia Conference in all this

When conceptualizing the Conference early last year, we knew we were planning it at a key moment – October 2016 being so near the expiry date of the lease by Britain (the thief) to the US (the receiver of stolen goods) of Diego Garcia.

 But we had no idea then, that the UNCLOS Tribunal would vindicate Mauritius against Britain. We had no idea that after 50 years of political struggle, Diego Garcia would at long last be on the national agenda, and even in a privileged position on the international agenda. We did not know that there would at long last be a Resolution before the UN General Assembly, nor that Britain would be being taken to task before the ICJ – as we have, since 1985, been demanding. We did not know that the Mauritian Government would, as we called for them to do, invite the Chagos Refugees Group to be part of the official delegation to the UN, nor that Olivier Bancoult would accept. We had no idea that Mauritius would see the sovereignty issue and the right-to-return as “inseparable” issues, as we have always said they are. Nor did we think the Prime Minister would find his own argumentation forcing him to talk as though his old position of “not questioning the military base” is unsound; he now – by the force of events – has changed his position to a confused one. But what is important is that, even at the UN, he is quoting the UNCLOS judgment to say that Britain “has so far not honoured its undertaking [to return sovereignty over Chagos to Mauritius] as the criteria on which it relies to contend that the Chagos Archipelago is still required for defence purposes keep changing”. He says the Cold War is over, so the base is no longer necessary. He even says the War on Terror and the War against Piracy are “pretexts”. So, the logic of events forces him to include base closure in his discourse even though he says he is in favour of the maintaining of the base! So, we had no idea when we planned the Conference that things would have changed that much.

 We had no idea either that political forces world-wide would support our Conference, as you can read in the Kiosk outside. The people of Britain and the US remind us that their “state” is not themselves, but something they, in many ways, oppose.

 With all these changes in 18 months, we begin to see how victory can, when it comes, come quickly.

 Even the private sector mouthpiece, L’Express that just four weeks ago called for Britain to make a “dignified and sincere offer” in exchange for the Mauritian State suspending its Resolution (which to some extent has happened through that UN President, Peter Thomson, creating a delay for Britain in debate-and-vote)  has last Thursday published an interview and article with a fine academic Maeve Hosier explaining how the Mauritian State must include base closure in its argumentation in order to win – just as LALIT and former President of the Republic and others have been saying all along.  

 And this way, when victory comes – as it will if we continue mobilizing in a political way – then it will seem to have been inevitable. Just as the abolition of slavery, the end of indenture, the vote for women in Bertrand Russell’s lifetime, the end of Apartheid in mine – all seemed inevitable once they happened. Nobody will admit they were in favour of the Diego Garcia base. Nobody will admit they were in favour of Bush and Blair’s war in Iraq, or NATOs in Afghanistan. 

 What is this “mobilizing in a political way” that we have to continue? It’s easy. But what is difficult is keeping the long term vision in mind (looking both forward and back at history) and also taking care of the day-to-day nitty-gritty of the struggle: a petition, a demand, a march, a conference.

 * We need to keep on struggling to understand the issues. Understand them in common with others:            

   - That it is the military base that is both the source of all the crimes and suffering around the Chagos issue, and it is closing the base that is the key to victory. For this we have to understand all sorts of things, even Treaties like Pelindaba, Conventions like the one against cluster bombs.

  - De-colonization must be completed. For this we need to be in touch with the philosophy of the UN, and the nitty-gritty of the mechanisms of the ICJ. We need to situate de-colonization as part of “the land question”, LALIT’s present campaign. Mauritian land must be used for creating jobs, for housing, and for food security, not for villas for the world’s millionaires.

  - That the right of return is not the same thing as being “resettled” by a colonial power (which is akin to being settled on a “reserve”).

* That the Diego issue must, for victory, be linked to other struggles: Closing down all Forward Bases: international struggles.

* That the concept of anti-war movements must be expanded to include the on-going struggle to close bases and shut down the arms industry.

* The reality of wars of aggression and of military bases is linked to “interests”, as the US administration calls them. It is linked to the economy. It is an effect of the capitalist economy.

* And as all empires rise, so they also fall. Capitalism’s greed makes its empires even more unstable than past pre-capitalist ones. It is also so dangerous that it is imperative that we work to overthrow it before it ruins the planet.

* Winning over others to our position on Diego Garcia and to our position on the causes of the Diego Garcia problem.

* This, through well-thought out actions keeping the subject alive on the agenda.

* Preparing and proposing strategy upon strategy as the situation changes to put into practice our political aim on the Diego Garcia issue, and on the issues underpinning it.

 The military base on Diego Garcia, is central, as  

- The cause of the crimes that the British and American state apparatus committed

- The cause of all the suffering of the Chagossians

- The cause of Mauritius being dismembered  prior to independence – violating thus the UN Charter.

- The cause of the setting up as late as 1965 of a new anachronistic colony, the British Indian Ocean Territories (BIOT)

 And what are the things that cause the need for these forward US military bases?

- Unfettered militarism.

- The perpetuation of colonialism/imperialism, and its persistence till today.

 And what is the underlying cause of the US-UK militarism?

 - In short, it is the capitalist system, and in particular the three or four fractures it causes for humanity:

            -Society is fractured into classes (the modern wage slavery I mentioned earlier over the past 100 years); this causes the vast majority of people to be without a voice against the wars of aggression they do not want.

            - Society is still fractures by patriarchal hierarchies (a tiny minority pre-dating capitalism, but persisting throughout its reign and dominating the vast majority)

            - The fracture of each human: the hours of our week are separated from us, considered labour power, and sold (and we cannot live for long without thus selling part of our very lives).

            - Human society, while being part of nature, is also fractured from nature – the capitalist system makes humans take nature for something inexhaustible and unruinable.

 So, as we struggle towards victory on:

            * Base closure and demilitarization of Diego Garcia.

            * Complete decolonization of Mauritius, including Chagos.

            * The right of return, and freedom of movement over the whole of the Republic of Mauritius.

 At the same time as we focus on these issues, we also know that victory will be swifter and more thorough if we understand the broader context of this battle. And this broader context is capitalism. And its overthrow is not too difficult for various reasons, including:

 1. Capitalism is relatively new, only from 300 years ago did it come to power here and there.

2. It is inherently unstable.

3. Humans have the fantastic ability to think, organize, plan – and this is what political struggle is.

4. Great Britain had to beat a quick retreat after its 1945 bankruptcy.

5. The US economy is failing – its balance of payments, public debt and private debts are all out of control. It will also need to beat a swift retreat.

 And at the same time, the alternative to victory, is too hideous to contemplate:

 1. Times ahead of permanent wars, with the increasing risk of nuclear war/accident/incident.

2. Ecological ruin – where a dozen different tipping points are coming into action, any one of which being fatal for human survival, or societal survival.

3. The continuation of the form of dictatorship, including so-called “democracies” that are so little democratic, that the rich become richer and the poor poorer.

 We appeal to all who are not branch members of LALIT, to start coming regularly, at least to our open meetings like this one.

 So, the struggle continues!


Lindsey Collen