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UK and USA under attack on Diego issue

10.03.2008

In LALIT we knew that sooner or later, when the triple crimes of the dismantling of the Mauritian territory, the displacing the Chagossian people, and the setting up an illegally-conceived military base on Diego Garcia, would finally be exposed for all to see, and when this exposure would, in turn, put the American or British State in a tight corner, whoever was leader of the Chagossians at that particular time, would come under enormous pressure from them.

This is because the US-UK "Plan A" for keeping control over the Diego Garcia military base is no longer viable once the truth is publicly known. Even 30 years later. And it has taken a good 30 years of mainly political struggle to force the world to face the truth. What was the US-UK "Plan A"? It was the Emperors' New Clothes Strategy. It was simply to pretend that there was not ever an illegal partition of Mauritius because they maintain a fiction that Diego Garcia was not part of Mauritius. Similarly they simply pretend there was never an illegal displacement of people because they maintain the fiction that there were not people living there at all. Now, once all their crimes are being exposed suddenly to the whole wide world, with all their lies and subterfuge, too, and once the they have to prepare to fall back on "Plan B", they immediately need to put hideous pressure on the Chagossian leader of the day.

And it has come to pass. The Emperor had no clothes on.

It is the British State that has cracked first, under the exposure. It is truly humiliated. It is exposed as being a positively lying State. And we can expect it to become vicious.

This comes after the already humiliating exposure of having lied about "weapons of mass destruction". The British State recovered a semblance of dignity by changing Prime Ministers, moving Blair out of local politics altogether.

Now what's being exposed in Parliament is that a British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, lied, and lied seven times over, about the use of Diego Garcia for US torture victim renditions or illegal transfers. David Miliband, present Foreign Secretary suddenly came forward (20 February 2008) and confessed to "just" two of these handing overs. Nothing more.

And why this sudden confession? We, in LALIT, suspected it was because the British State had for a while got wind of the imminent exposure of their collusion in torture. And, we soon found out that this was true.

Before we even knew what the British ex-SAS soldier, Ben Griffin, had said about Diego Garcia or about renditions, we learnt that the British State had hit him with a High Court Order (29 February) preventing him from making any new disclosures after those made a few days before as to how hundreds of Iraqis and Afghans were captured by both British and US special forces and then rendered to places, - including Diego Garcia. Worse still, he also said that "it has been British soldiers detaining the victims of extraordinary rendition in the first place". For his pains, he has been put under a gagging order.

Then Manfred Nowak, United Nations torture investigator, announced (2 March) he, too, has for some while had "credible" evidence that the UK State apparatus has actually detained terror suspects on Diego Garcia, something the British specifically deny.

So, it is not surprising that eight Chagossians were guests of the British on Diego Garcia exactly at the time of the British attack of acute embarrassment, i.e. from 25 February. They were invited to repair their tombs after 40 years neglect.

Nor is it surprising that by 23 January the screws were already being put on Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG). For this was the day that he finally caved in. HE caved in just as much as the British needed him to cave in, enough for the possible preservation by the UN-UK, in the short term at least, of their infamous US military base on Diego Garcia. He said to a British Parliamentary Committee that a majority of his people would prefer to be British rather than Mauritian. Not "some", not "we do not have to decide", not "we have always been Mauritian". No. "Most". So, if things continue to go roughly for the UK about the base, the US-UK will move to, or threaten to move to, their next option, Plan B. What is Plan B. It is to announce that Diego Garcia is not Mauritian, and never has been, but is Chagossian, and the Chagossian people want to remain British and not be Mauritian. No sooner had Olivier Bancoult made his statement than, the British Secretary of State, Meg Munn, comes and specifically says there is "no doubt" about the British sovereignty over Diego Garcia (Hansard 27 February, 2008). How come there is suddenly "no" doubt? This position differs so vastly from even Mrs Thatcher's famous stand to the effect that when the Islands are no longer needed for the defence of the West, they will be returned. This was the original Harold Wilson position at the time of the dismemberment. And, just to jog British memories, when Paul Berenger threatened to leave the Commonwealth so as to put an actual case before the UN International Court of Justice at the Hague, Blair indecently hastily changed the jurisdiction that the UK excludes to include not only members of the Commonwealth, but also ex-members of the Commonwealth.

Of course, the cowardly behaviour of successive Mauritian Governments in not putting a case before the UN International Court of Justice at the Hague for an Advisory Opinion is one of the things that has permitted this eminently predictable state of affairs to be forced upon the Chagossian leader by the UK apparatus. Soon we will have Gordon Brown and George Bush quoting Lenin on "self-determination of peoples". As if Lenin would have been so un-dialectic as to pretend that in all cases, and no matter who puts it on the agenda nor for what purpose, self-determination is compulsorily the best thing to do! No matter that the capitalist Empire can use this so as to impose divide-and-rule politics, and expand its empire. Lenin would turn in his grave.

In LALIT, once the CRG went into its "legal strategies", we knew that it would have taken a fantastic level of political rectitude in their leadership to prevent what is happening now, from happening. We also knew that once one opts for "legal strategies" as the CRG has done, that one's lawyers dictate to one's leadership what is good for the legal case and do not always advise what is good for people in more general terms. The case for damages in the US courts, for example, in order to get underway at all, had to begin by establishing that the Chagossians seeking reparations, which they so eminently deserve, were not putting into question US foreign policy. Even in the British Courts, the question of legalistic tactics bringing opportunism was always a risk. It was as "British subjects" that the Chagossians put their case for the right to return and for damages. The Chagossians are, in fact, British, but only because the British trickery was so devious they got caught up in their own plot made Chagossians British when they set up the fictitious State, British Indian Ocean Territories. And now, gradually, the Chagossian leadership has lost sight of the fact that the base, and the dismemberment of Mauritius, are the cause of their displacement, not some other unrelated affairs.

And the hideous logic of a legalistic approach to their legal cases has led them into the very mouth of the monster itself.

In LALIT, we were in all the struggles around Diego Garcia, including in the street demonstrations in the 1980's on the triple demands: close the military base! Return Diego Garcia to Mauritius! The right of return and reparations for Chagossians!

We were in the RANN NU DIEGO Committee of 1997 when Olivier Bancoult's group, also in it, had been reduced to some four or five women. We helped rebuild it up. At the time, the other group, led by lawyer Hervé Lasemillante, was not just a majority group, but well nigh hegemonic, and we in LALIT were concerned that it was not opposing the military base nor the illegal occupation of Mauritian land strongly enough.

Even after the CRG began to fall into the legalistic approach to their legal strategy, we tried to prevent them falling prey to the USA and UK State apparatus, in particular from accepting the logic of Diego Garcia being used as a military base. We made up a joint LALIT-CRG team to go to the World Social Forum in Mumbai in January, 2004 with the specific aim of participating in the first face-to-face meeting of what had been an electronic network, then called "No US Bases" (Now called "No Bases"). There, we hoped that Olivier Bancoult and his group would be exposed to the existence of and arguments used by the worldwide movement against military bases like the one on Diego Garcia, and that this would help them to stay out of the wolves' clutches.

All those present in Mumbai who heard Olivier Bancoult speak would have noticed that even while addressing NO US BASES meetings, he managed, if such a thing were possible, to actually avoid saying he was against the military base. His lawyer, Robin Mardaymootoo, was present under the tent, as if by chance in Mumbai. No doubt he was there in order to check on Olivier Bancoult's silence on the base issue. (One of the woman committee members, Anzie Jaffar, did speak out against the military base, it should go on record for the reputation of their group.) Even there, in Mumbai, there were attempts of a very serious nature, difficult to prove but easy to imagine precisely by what forces, to compromise Olivier Bancoult, attempts he succeeded in thwarting.

So, when world-wide the strategically vital struggle not just against war, but for the closure of US military bases, gets a huge impetus, precisely because it has had such a huge impetus, there has been reaction. And the reaction is to bring to bear unbearable pressure on Olivier Bancoult. And he has succumbed. He, who has lived all his life in Mauritius, alongside the working people of Cassis, employed as electrician at the Central Electricity Board, now announces that "most" of his people would prefer to be British, or more precisely British Overseas Territories' subjects. The terrible thing is that Bancoult had NO reason to have to choose. The fact that he chose publicly to announce that "most" would make this "choice" is, unfortunately, the proof of his ultimate collapse. And the repeated questioning until Bancoult uses the particular formula he did, is yet another indication of what is going on. Three times Bancoult is questioned by member Paul Keetch at the U.K. Parliamentary Committee on this issue, including the following pointed question: "Well, look, we would quite like to know what is going to happen? If we fund your return to the islands and we start helping you to do that, are you going to turn round in six months and say, right, we want to leave the British Overseas Territories and join Mauritius?" When Olivier Bancoult tried to wiggle out of the question, he was again asked.

This time, he will not be able to say he was misquoted, as he did last time he said something similar. History has caught up with him.

So, looking at the broader picture, where right now does the world-wide movement for base closure find itself? It has in the past one year made immense strides. The first ever world meeting for the ABOLITION of foreign military bases was held in Quito and Manta in Equador in March, 2007. LALIT was represented there. The BRING THE TROOPS HOME movement in the US has adopted the slogan of bringing the troops home from the front AND from the bases. This was after its spokesperson, Stan Goff, had listened to the speech of Ram Seegobin, LALIT leading member, at the Asia Pacific International Solidarity Conference in 2005 and experienced as he put it an "epiphany". The CODEPINK women's organization has taken up the battle against military bases. And in Italy and almost every ex-Soviet Block country where the US is putting up its military bases, movements have become very strong in short periods of time. The White House has even had recently to announce publicly that it only has bases where the hosts want them. In response to a journalist's question, the spokeswoman said that Guantanamo didn't count. Diego Garcia would also not count. Meanwhile, anti-war democrats in the US Congress are making progress with their plan to halt the setting up of permanent military bases in Iraq. So, the UK and US are under attack just on the Diego Garcia issue, but on the entire international front on the question of bases. This means they are acting out of relative weakness.

So the "Plan B" that all thinking people in Mauritius have been dreading for years will come about. It is a sign of our progress. Otherwise they would not have needed to resort to such despicable methods. Now, will the British organize a "referendum" amongst Chagossians, who they will have "organised" to say they prefer Diego Garcia to stay British? Of course, even just the threat of this would do. As it is, some 1,000 of the 4,000 Chagossians live in Britain since the UK gave them British passports recently.

Now, more than ever, is the time for Prime Minister, Navin Ramgoolam, to act.

LALIT formally, once again, calls on him to go forthwith to the UN General Assembly for a resolution, and simultaneously to prepare the case for presentation at the Hague, for an Advisory Opinion. He must act before the imperialist Plan B comes about.

This demand has been made to him, not only by LALIT, but also by the former President of the Republic, Cassam Uteem.

In addition, the following organizations have made this demand: Commission Justice et Paix, Muvman Liberasyon Fam, Amnesty (Mauritius Branch), Federation of Civil Service and Other Unions, Organisation de l'Unité des Artisans, Federation of Progressive Unions, Federation des Travailleurs Unis, Federation of Trade Unions of the Chemical Sector, General Workers' Federation, State Employees Federation, Federation of Trade Unions of the Construction, Metal & Wooden Sector, Private Enterprises Employees Union, Construction, Metal, Wooden and Related Industries Employees Union, Institute for Consumer Protection, Federation of Pre-School Playgroups, Cedrefi, Ledikasyon pu Travayer, Comité pour l'Amelioration de la Sante.

If anyone wonders about the strange and repeated capitulations of Mauritian Prime Ministers on this issue, it is each time after direct economic advantages have been offered by the US and UK to the Mauritian private sector - for their produce to get preferential treatment when exported.

The time for this game is over.

Lindsey Collen
For LALIT
7 March 2008