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Diego Garcia, Chagos, LALIT: A Fortnight When History Catches up with Today


Sometimes there comes a moment in time when History catches up with the Present, and thereby, at least for a short while, changes the way we perceive time and change. The past fortnight was one of those moments in time.

 The judgment handed down by the 14 judges of the UN’s International Court of Justice at The Hague on 25 February was a victory that, while representing a culmination of forces built up over more than 70 years, in turn becomes a new force by, in the course of the one hour during which it was read out in Court, changing the balance of forces in Mauritius and in the world between the imperialist ruling classes and the peoples of the world.

 Suddenly there is a strengthening of all the social forces in favour of:

- decolonization

- democratic control by the people so as to cover all parts of the world, without “dark holes” where rendition can take place, or B-52s take off from in secret

- the closing down of the Diego Garcia US military base that was for so long beyond any democratic control

- Chagossians right of return to Chagos when they wish, to live or to visit,

- foreign military base closure world-wide

- an Africa free of nuclear arms.

 And, our party, LALIT, since before it was actually constituted as a Party and was still but an “assembly of distributers” of a political magazine Revi LALIT deklas, has had a contribution in this struggle to re-unite Mauritius with Chagos and to close the Diego Garcia base. In fact, it has been one of LALIT’s flagship campaigns.

 So much so, that last year a senior person in the establishment recounts an anecdote of how, ever-interested in children’s perceptions of the world, she had once asked a young child at a social gathering, “Ki to panse lor Chagos?” (What do you think about Chagos?) and the immediate reply was, “Sa, bann LALIT, sa!” (Oh, that’s the LALIT lot!). She was so astounded that later, when she met the father of the child, she put the same question to him, “What do you think about Chagos”, and of course he had the same reply,  “Oh that’s the LALIT lot!”

 And so much is Chagos known as LALIT’s flagship campaign that, when the MBC-TV invited me to, and then dis-invited me from, a Panel Discussion after the ICJ findings, one of the three remaining panellists, political commentator and former editor of a major daily newspaper Yvan Martial, when he read about it in the newspapers, before his first intervention on the Panel, expressed solidarity with LALIT members and hailed our work on the issues of Chagos and Diego Garcia. Towards the end of the program, when the conversation came to the role of women in the struggle, again Yvan Martial mentioned that I was amongst those who the Riot Police manhandled at the women’s demonstration that had become emblematic of the 50-year struggle.

 So, let us look at what the judgment means:

 1. For the first time, even if only for one “news cycle” of some 48 hours, the issue of Chagos and the fact that Britain, and the USA, occupy the Islands became major news items in the world press. So, informed people have formally been informed. Denial is no longer a possibility.

 2. The strategy that we in LALIT proposed and campaigned for since the 1990s, i.e. to go to the African union for support for a UN General Assembly resolution to take the matter to the ICJ, was the correct strategy and it worked.

 3. The judges of the highest UN Court have vindicated LALIT, and they argue precisely what we have argued since 1976.

 4. Now, the decolonization of Mauritius (and Chagos) returns to the UN General Assembly.

 5. But, we cannot just sit twiddling our thumbs and waiting for the UN’s action, but we must, for example:

 - now that the Chagos is statuted to be part of Mauritius, and Mauritius is part of Africa, and the Diego Garcia US military base is now clearly in Africa, call for the erasure of the dotted lines around Chagos in the UN Pelindaba Treaty for a Nuclear Arms Free Africa, and for immediate IAEA inspections for unlawful nuclear matter; this can be done via the relatively new AFCONE committee in South Africa, which Mauritius has a representative on.

 - get the Government to organize an official visit on a big ship, with the presence of all parties in the National Assembly or that have contributed to the struggle, Chagossian organizations, African union representatives and the local and international press.

 - get the Government to set up a fishing industry, and go fishing in the waters. This was already made perfectly legal by the binding judgement of the UNCLOS Tribunal in 2015.

 - get the Government to organize prospection for minerals in the area.

 And while this judgment represents a victory for the present MSM-ML regime that brought the case forward, in particular for Aneerood Jugnauth, those leading the regime should remember that the Labour Party brought and won the UNCLOS case that paved the way, and the MMM, in its early years, supported the struggle on all three issues (base closure, decolonization and Chagossians right to return), and it should of course note that Les Verts Fraternelle and, of course, more than any of these over time, LALIT, have all contributed to making this moment possible. The Chagos Refugees Group and the Group Social Chagossien have also had a big role, as have individuals like former President of the Republic Cassam Uteem, the late Charlesia Alexis, Fernand Mandarin, Aurelie Talate and Kishore Mundil, a number of trade unions (MLC, CTSP and FCSOU), individual reporters like Yvan Martial, Gerard Cateaux, Henri Marimootoo, Patrick Michel and the late Bickram Ramlallah all worked at keeping the issue on the agenda, individual writers and artists from Bam Cuttayen and José Bhoyroo to Shenaz Patel, Henri Favory, Nando Bodha, Ras Natty Baby, Nitish Joganah, Rajni Lallah, Ton Vie, Claude Lafoudre and Mennwar. And this is naming only some. (Please add names.)

 The Chagos judgment brought others, who were feeling left out and a bit sore, like Jack Bizlall and Alain Laridon to call a kind of common front to discuss the victory, and Ashok Subron’s Rezistans to do the ignoble thing of calling, instead of for base closure, for a referendum.   

 But the fact is, it is LALIT and our allies that come out proud. We emerge dignified by the victory after so many of us for so many years working towards it. It means:

- LALIT’s judgement, over time, was good: this was an historic crime that can be and must be, redressed.

- LALIT’s persistence with this theme, come hell or high water, is vindicated.

- When LALIT’s women members acted in a way that exposed arrest and charges, there too, we are now proven right; the issue deserved the exposure.

- The victory is a kind of living proof of the power, the force, of momentum that struggles gain, if maintained in a principled way over time.

 So, the Chagos judgement has broken some of the walls in the mainstream media against us as a political current. And it is perhaps not a coincidence, but this same power in momentum over time, that there are 4 things – over the same period of time of 2 or 3 years, that have together forced the commentators and the media, the academics and politicians, to recognize LALIT, a party that never courts the bright lights of fame. What are these four things:

1. The Chagos findings and their vindication of LALIT’s judgement.

2. The fact that LALIT over the past 9 months or so has mobilized people in 51 housing estates, and then done the impossible of organizing two big street demonstrations in Port Louis for people all over the country, one on 6 July and the other on 5 October. So, all those who like to say “Oh, LALIT has ideas, but what about action?” can no longer maintain this fiction.

3. All that LALIT ever said about the capitalist economy in Mauritius, and its heading for a precipice, is now, as predicted, coming true. All commentators have now lined up with the same analysis as LALIT. Their proposals to get out of this mess may differ, but the diagnosis and prognosis is what LALIT has been predicting since 1984, when we launched the campaign “Disik, ki Lavenir?” and faced criminal charges over it. Now one of the Mr. Sugar Industry itself’s men, Arnaud Lagesse, describes the very situation we have dreaded as “catastrophique”.

 The fragility of textiles, too, is what LALIT has constantly warned of, and now with the folding of Palmar and the Ram Mardaymootoo enterprises, this becomes too evident to deny any longer.

 The lack of investment in production – which only LALIT denounced for years – is now what everyone is bemoaning, from Amédée Darga to Francois de Grivel from Thierry Lagesse to Lindsay Riviere, who accurately describes the FDI relying on real estate sales, too, as “catastrophique” just as LALIT does. Even the MCB has launched a rather LALIT-sounding campaign called “Lokal is beautiful”, using both Kreol and local production as a way of selling the loans they now offer. 

 The fragility of tourism, too, is now evident, as hotel investments get over-indebted and Air Mauritius hits the same problem.

 All this adds up to a menace to the banking system.

 4. With the 20-year commemoration of Kaya’s death, there has been a realization that, on this too, LALIT has been right all along. And this, on two issues. Kaya was killed by police officers. And the uprising that followed was not communal, but against police brutality and torture.

 There must be, late as it is, a full Commission of Inquiry into the way he died. And people in the intelligentsia who hid in their houses at the time must inform themselves via LALIT archives if they wish, of what the uprising was about and how it played out, how police officers during the uprising killed Leemal Ghoostia, Michel Laurent and Berger Agathe, and how murky elements of the State acted in mock “revenge”, burning down houses in two hamlets outside Triolet and Goodlands. LALIT has campaigned on the issue of violence of enquiring officers in the police constantly, ever since the death of Serge Victorine following his escape during the 1979 prison mutiny. So, while for the first time academics and visual artists have honoured Kaya, they have often done so while exposing a certain coldness-of-heart by not calling at the same time for an enquiry into how his dead body was found with 33 recent injuries, blood running upward against gravity from his nose that was squashed on the ground, and with marks left on the soles of his feet because the cell door had been closed upon them. To celebrate only his music and his life – without calling for the truth about his death – betrays a degree of ignorance, too, about his death, and often, in addition about the exact way the uprising against the police caused the defeat of the police, which in a class society and without a political program, can lead and did lead to petty-pillage followed by systematic pillage by lorries, and that big-time pillage then led to the State seeking “mock vengeance” with lance-flame in two hamlets in the North so as to put a retrospective communal spin on what was an uprising against police violence.

 So, these are four issues that end up by putting LALIT in a strong position, politically, however much people might want to deny LALIT a place in history. They, all four issues, bring the weight of past momentum to our present actions.

 So, in conclusion, it has been a fortnight when LALIT has quite suddenly, with its past momentum of action and reflection, pushed aside what are the pre-occupations of the press and radio. Tarolah in a karo kann, for example, although it might get a headline the same size as the Chagos judgement, does not have the same weight in historical terms.

 All this to say, it is not surprising that LALIT, a Party so often hidden by the press, is suddenly no longer hidden. And even when the MBC disinvites a LALIT member, this causes a debate on its panel and even in the Press for a couple of days.

 But, from now on, for the rest of the year, all struggles will be linked in with the coming general election. And for LALIT, we will be preparing for it.

 Lindsey Collen