Below is the letter LALIT has sent out to all members of the NO BASES NETWORK on 9 April, 2008.
Dear Everyone in the NO BASES NETWORK,
The single-issue campaign to "get the Chagossians of Diego Garcia back to their Islands" has reached the terrible impasse where it finds itself well-nigh colluding with the US military base on Diego Garcia, as well as openly colluding with continued British colonization of this part of Mauritius.
We are writing to everyone in the NO BASES movement. We do this because we see the network as a strategically important part of the anti-war movement, which is, in turn, a mass expression of anti-militarism that is, in turn, an important component of the anti-capitalist movement, which is the main driving force towards socialism. And all this at a time in history when we already feel the pull of the dichotomy between socialism and barbary looming up ahead. Barbary is already upon us in many countries: Iraq, Columbia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia - to name just a few - while it threatens in many others, and is a possibility everywhere. While socialism is being put on the agenda for now by groups of people all over the world. Last week there was the important development in Ecuador where the National Assembly voted on 1 April 2008 amongst other things, to abolish all and any foreign military bases. A fantastic victory.
The struggle around Diego Garcia is now, for those bent on the single-issue campaign of "getting the Chagossians back", finally reduced to how Chagossians can cohabit with the US military base. Or even how Chagossians can get priority for getting jobs on the military base. And at the same time many people begin to slide down the slippery slope of how to keep Chagos a British Colony. There is an increasingly blind refusal even to mention that Chagossians are Mauritians. And of course this plays straight into the hands of the state apparatus of the USA and UK. It prepares their fall-back position very nicely for them.
This present state of affairs was, of course, predictable. We in LALIT have been warning of this danger from the first NO US BASES meeting at the WSF in Mumbai, through articles and letters in the Network, at the Ecuador Conference for the Abolition of all Foreign Military Bases, and since then, too. For 30 years we have been in this struggle. Our members have been arrested and tried for illegal demonstration, during the course of this struggle. We have never faltered. And we will not forsake this struggle.
Today, we must draw your attention to the fact that the present leader of the Chagossians, Olivier Bancoult, in his recent statements has spoken out in favour of the US military base on Diego Garcia (attached mainstream press report). He has also, in reply to a question in a recent UK House of Commons Committee, "Would they [Chagossians] want to become (sic) Mauritian, or would they want to stay as part of a British Overseas Territory?" said, "Frankly, most of us want to stay British." Despite the grammar of the conversation, the British only recently "granted" Chagossians a form of passport, after the State lost one of its Court Cases. (Attached Olivier Bancoult and his lawyer's entire testimony before House of Commons committee session.)
All this is to say that we have to understand clearly what Olivier Bancoult now stands for. We draw attention to this because he will soon be on a US tour. He should perhaps be asked specific questions on his attitude towards the base, and towards employment on the base, when he is on tour on international anti-war platforms, so that people can be sure they are not supporting a group that is in favour of the United States military base on Diego Garcia. One of our reasons for urgently needing to draw your attention to this is that we in LALIT were on a joint delegation with his organization, Chagos Refugees Group, at the WSF in Mumbai in 2004. The reason we organized this joint delegation was so as to allow the CRG to see for themselves the support that they could expect from the world anti-bases movement and anti-war movement. His position, at that time, was already faltering. The British State has continued its trickery. And Olivier Bancoult has now become categorically in favour of the base (see article in daily press). Everyone in the NO BASES NETWORK should be aware of the fact that he has ended up on the other side of the barricade.
But, this open letter to you is not so much to expose the new politics of Olivier Bancoult (and the trickery of the British to maintain their occupation so as to maintain the base), as to criticize the tactics of "single issue campaigns" that ignore related issues and even underlying causes. This open letter is to remind people that however much wishful thinking you indulge in, the basic causes of social phenomena do not go away. In fact, they have a stubborn habit of not going away. And, we write this letter not for the sake of criticizing, nor to say "I told you so", but to expose the bankruptcy, in the final analysis, and the danger all along the way, of this kind of opportunism. At a time when it is rampant.
We write also in praise of understanding the general course of history in which something (everything) takes place. Not for the academic sake of it, but so that we can stand a better chance of winning. So that we can stand a better chance of winning not only battles, but the long struggle for socialism, too. So that we can one day, once again, live in a world of social equality and peace, as we did for 95% of human history-and-pre-history. Only this time, in a world of plenty.
We have come to the dead-end of the tactic of "concentrating on the purely humanitarian issue" of the displacement of the people of Diego Garcia. It was not for nothing that the people of Diego Garcia, part of Chagos Archipelago that is part of the Mauritian State, were cruelly displaced. Nor was it out of British cussedness - though that State has a fair share of that, too. So, pretending that the only issue is "getting the Chagossians back" is bound to turn out erroneous. Merely struggling for the right-to-return, in isolation from other issues, is bound to be short-sighted. You cannot deny the existence of the issues that were and still are the very cause of the banishment. All you will "win" through this single-issue campaign is an undignified "assimilado" status for a few thousand people in the UK and maybe some money.
Let's look at the issue properly.
The US-UK Diego Garcia military base depends on MILITARY OCCUPATION OF LAND (Illegal occupation, at that.) And just as it is important to recognize and denounce, during the course of our struggle for freedom, the occupation by Israel of Palestine (also, illegal, as it happens) and the occupation by the USA of Iraq (also illegal, after an illegal invasion), so it is important to recognize and denounce the occupation of Diego Garcia and other Chagos Islands by the British. And its illegality. For us to win, this must, at all times, be exposed. What Britain did at the time was, as an illegal condition for Independence, to excise Diego Garcia and the other less populated islands of Chagos from the rest of Mauritius. This is against the United Nations Charter. It is illegal occupation.
So, there is a combined issue for us today of (i) CLOSING THE BASE DOWN and (ii) STOPPING THE ILLEGAL OCCUPATION and RE-UNIFYING MAURITIUS and (iii) THE RIGHT OF RETURN and REPARATIONS FOR CHAGOSSIANS. These three issues cannot be treated as separate issues without risking profound defeat on all issues. We cannot, without risking ridicule, ally ourselves blindly with people in favour of the military base, when we are against the base. Equally, we cannot ally ourselves with people in favour of military occupation, when we are against.
The British colony called "British Indian Ocean Territories" (BIOT) which was created to house the stolen islands is recognized in practice by no-one. It is an empty tactic for occupation, like Bantustans were or like Israeli colonies are. It is not a State. It was designed to steal land from Mauritius while granting Independence. And Diego Garcia had to be "depopulated" so that the UK would not have to testify regularly before the UN decolonization committee. And the British got hold of this land NOT for nothing, but specifically SO THAT its ally the USA could set up its huge military base there. So, as the British withdrew from their Empire in the Indian Ocean, they sliced the colony up, and gave a part to their ally, the USA, for a military base from which it could better control its newer Empire. This figment, the BIOT, also involved the stealing of some Seychelles Islands. And to prove the point about stealing, when the Seychelles demanded their stolen islands back at the time of their Independence, they got them back. Because they had been detached illegally. The Mauritian State has been cowardly in not staking its claim in a principled way. It has preferred boot-licking. But in Mauritius, as everywhere, the people are different from the State. All thinking people believe the Mauritian State should press ahead with the claim, as part of the struggle to free the last colony of Africa, part of Mauritius. And also, for what concerns us in the NO BASES Network, most thinking people in Mauritius believe that this is part of the struggle to shut the base on Diego Garcia down.
We congratulate Peter Bouquet and Jon Castle of the Musichana yacht which went to Diego Garcia recently, for their highlighting many of the issues: the base, the illegal rendering that we have been denouncing for some time now, and the cruel displacement of the Chagossians, too. The same breadth of vision can be seen in the recent article by the academic David Vine. However, they and most international commentators, even John Pilger in his otherwise absolutely outstanding film, continue to make the mistake of not even so much as mentioning the British State's absolutely shameless dismantling of a colony as a condition for Independence, and its continued illegal occupation. As you know, in Mauritius there is a broad alliance of forces infavour of keeping all the issues closely linked. These include along with LALIT which we are in, Cassam Uteem, former President of the Republic, 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 Santé.
We call on everyone in the NO BASES Network to support us in this difficult struggle. As we support you in yours.
(There are three accompanying documents in a separate email for anyone who wants to study this question in detail: a recent petition to the Prime Minister of Mauritius about the illegal occupation; minutes of Olivier Bancoult and his lawyer's answers to the UK Parliamentary Committee, and an article showing his stand on the question of the military base on Diego Garcia).
Yours in struggle,
Ragini Kistnasamy and Lindsey Collen
For LALIT, in Mauritius, 9 April, 2008