By Lindsey Collen and Ragini Kistnasamy of LALIT, Mauritius
After a life-time's banishment, on 30 March 2006 a group from amongst the people originally forcibly removed, will finally be taken by ship to visit their home islands and tend the graves of their ancestors. They are due to visit Diego Garcia where the U.S.'s huge Indian Ocean military base is.
You will remember that thousands of Mauritians living on Diego Garcia island were forced from their homes when all the Islands of the Chagos Archipelago were dismembered from Mauritius by the British State in the late '60s to make way for the infamous U.S. military base named, irony of ironies, CAMP JUSTICE.
The British Government, the very State that forcibly removed the people, has chartered a ship to take a hundred of the Chagossians for this brief visit. In a diplomatic conundrum, the Mauritian State is co-operating with the occupier, supplying its own vessel, "Trochetia", to the British for the trip, so that Mauritian citizens can visit part of Mauritius while it's illegally occupied by the British and US.
The visit will probably be in the news around the end of March beginning of April. So, here is an update on this tragic saga directly caused by British and U.S. militarism, and on the so long-awaited and so short "return" of a group of the inhabitants.
Do you remember that Lalit and the Chagossian Refugees Group, in the run-up to the World Social Forum in Mumbai in January 2004, were working on getting a ship to take people back home to Diego Garcia to visit? As a form of protest against the base and the forcible removals it exacted.
As the idea developed, smaller yacht owners asked to join in, and this had become the planned PEACE FLOTILLA against the military base there. We were drawing together the three interlinked struggles i.e. to close the base (with environmental clean-up), to completely decolonize and reunify Mauritius, the twin struggles of right to return of Chagossians and their proper reparations.
What happened inbetween then and now was that the peace flotilla got massive support from people all over the world in peace groups. The flotilla captured the imagination of women's groups, environmental groups, political groups, human rights groups, peace groups and especially anti-military-base groups, and the peace flotilla brought them all together around this amazing shared idea. It was becoming a reality. And the mobilization around the flotilla, in turn, brought journalists from all over the world to make the issue widely known for the first time. And John Pilger's outstanding documentary, STEALING A NATION, then came and brought the issues quite literally centre stage. Thousands of British people reacted in anger at their Government's crimes.
When the peace flotilla gained ground, the British Government aided by the Queen, issued a regulation banning all Chagossians from all the Chagos Islands.
Feeling increasingly exposed, the British State began to negotiate. It offered, itself, to take the Islanders on a visit to all the Chagos Islands including Diego Garcia. It wanted a visit strictly under the control of the British State.
So that is how this present planned visit has come about.
Another tactic of this cornered British State, after it suffered a defeat in 2000 in its own Courts in the initial case on the right to return to Diego Garcia, is to assimilate the Chagossian community into the "metropole". British passports were issued to the Chagossians and their descendants, and the entire community is now in flux. From most families someone has left Mauritius, is leaving or is planning to leave for the U.K., where they believe work will be easier to find and the standard of education and social services is higher. Some then find the going tough in the UK, and return to Mauritius, as yet others are preparing to leave.
And meanwhile the case for reparations that the Chagossians have filed in the U.S.against the U.S. government and private companies that run the Base, came up for hearing on 14 February and will be continuing in March. The judges heard arguments as to whether the case can be entered in the US Courts. One interesting aspect of this case is that the U.S. law provides that lawsuits are inadmissable if they put into question U.S. foreign policy. This has, in turn, been a recent pressure on the leaders of the Chagossians and their lawyers to repeat again and again, as a kind of chorus, that they are "not against the military Base", even while ordinary Chagossians criticise the US for using their land for "killing other people" and even as Mauritians scratch their heads to understand what could be behind such unusually servile language.
The military base used for B-52's to take off from to drop bombs on Afganistan and Iraq, is still there, in all its concrete and tarmac horror. It is still believed that prisoners are kept there or near there on ships, and "interrogated" and/or "rendered" to other States. The UK Government says that the U.S. could not use the base in this way without informing them, and has not informed them. The U.S. spokesmen refuse to reply.
So, we, in Mauritius, find ourselves socially and politically responsible for keeping the complete closing down of this much detested military base on the agenda.
Today, the struggle to close the US military base and for reunification of Mauritius, is for the first time becoming a struggle in which the organizations of the Chagossian people are involved to a decreasing degree.
The U.S. and Britain have between them managed, for the meantime, to drive a wedge between the Chagossians' right to return and their rightful struggle for reparations, on the one hand, and the overall struggle against militarism and against the capitalism that drives it, the very realities that robbed the Chagossians of the islands they lived on.
We, in Lalit, are still working on all three fronts i.e. to close the base, decolonize the entire country, and for the right to return & reparations. And this in the knowledge that the struggle to close the base on Diego Garcia is now united with the overall struggle to ABOLISH ALL FOREIGN MILITARY BASES, and that this struggle is growing apace world-wide in a way that was never even imaginable before.
One of our members, when taking the floor at the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference last year, on the basis of Lalit's experience, proposed a broader slogan for the U.S. anti-war movement: not just BRING THE TROOPS HOME, but BRING THE TROOPS HOME FROM THE FRONT AND FROM ALL MILITARY BASES ABROAD. The idea was subsequently taken up by the BRING THE TROOPS HOME movement.
After 30 years of struggle to get international support for the Diego Garcia issue, we have over the past four or five years really begun to succeed. This is partly because the 30-year rule in the U.K. Official Secrets Act finally expired, and proof of the fraud was available for the first time. So that today our struggle is united with everyone else in the world's struggle for peace. Before this, we could not even get the Diego Garcia issue known in other places in the world. People almost didn't believe us.
So, in the long struggle for equality, justice, peace and freedom, as is almost always the case, in our victories are defeats, in our defeats the seeds of future victories.
As we watch the British State taking 100 people on a heart-breaking visit to their homes in these strange circumstances, let us remember all the struggles, all the victories and defeats that have produced the visit. And let the visit, as well as letting some of the displaced people put a foot on their home islands for a few hours at least, expose at the same time for all the world to see the pitiless cruelty of the British and U.S. States.
We call on everyone who has supported the struggle to close the US base on Diego Garcia, to keep up the good work. We also ask whether you would not be interested, if you are not already a part of it, to join with us in the first "Conference for the Abolition of all Foreign Military Bases". (Invitation below in English and also available from us on request in French, Zulu, Mauritian Kreol, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, Italian).
Lindsey Collen and Ragini Kistnasamy for LALIT (visit our web-site where in the News archives you can get articles, and if you click on the Diego Garcia Book Cover on the home page, get a whole book on Diego Garcia.)
CALL TO AN INTERNATIONAL GATHERING IN ECUADOR in MARCH 2007 FOR THE ABOLITION OF ALL FOREIGN MILITARY BASES
The construction of foreign military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq; the cases of torture at the bases in Guantanamo and Diego Garcia; the construction of new bases in Okinawa; the "realignment" of military alliances in Asia; and the dramatic increase of joint military exercises as part of the so-called "global war against terror" have highlighted how foreign military bases, other forms of military presence, and militarization of whole societies are used to secure certain states' and corporations' interests at the cost of democracy, justice, and sovereignty around the world.
Another world will not be possible without abolishing these bases and demilitarizing global and national societies.
Over the past two years, we have been building up an international network to achieve this aim. Many of us have come together for the first time at the World Social Forum and other meetings or through the internet so as to form a global community. Our approaches vary, our concerns are multi-faceted. But our objective is the same: the closure of foreign military bases around the world.
The times demand that we escalate our actions and improve our coordination. The next step in consolidating our community is to organize an inaugural conference for our network. After much communication and deliberation we decided to hold this conference in Ecuador in March 2007.
We hope that this conference will be the biggest gathering of anti-bases activists in recent history. We intend for the conference to provide a rare opportunity for closer, ongoing interaction; for sharing experiences, exchanging strategies and lessons learned; for laying the groundwork for more effective global coordination, and for building strategies for more effective international campaigning.
In organizing the conference, we hope to further broaden the network, remaining conscious of the critical importance of grassroots anti-bases activists to be involved and to take the lead in building our global network.
We call on all anti-bases activists, individuals, and organizations to be part of building this international network and campaign.
We call on the global movements for peace, justice, and ecological sustainability; those working in campaigns and mobilizations against war; the movement against corporate-led globalization and against militarism and imperialism; movements for disarmament and demilitarization; and movements against racism and for liberation and sovereignty.
We call on grassroots women's, indigenous rights groups, environmental groups, faith-based organizations, youth organizations, sexual minorities, trade unions, social movements, human rights groups and other local, national and international progressive formations to be involved in and to contribute to building this global movement.
We call on all those committed to abolishing military bases to send representatives to this meeting. Where possible, we call on anti-bases formations in a country to come together and send a national delegation.
While we hope to have the participation of the broadest range of groups possible, we also intend for the conference to be a working meeting that will come up with a concrete plan of action. Our challenge is to ensure participation that is both broad and at the same time manageable.
We call for solidarity in spreading the word about this initiative; in building a broad range of groups committed to this effort; in reaching out to grassroots or community-based anti-bases groups wherever they may be; in building links across movements and struggles; and in providing concrete support to sustain this long-term effort.
Abolishing foreign military bases around the world and working toward demilitarization is essential in the struggle against war. Abolishing foreign military bases around the world is one step to establishing another world that is possible and necessary.
5 November 2005 NO BASES NETWORK International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases
[For regular updates on the conference, visit www.abolishbases.org. To let us know your interest in attending the conference and to give us an idea of the possible number of participants, please e-mail us your intent to participate, as well as the number of possible participants from your organization/delegation, by March 15, 2006.]
ENDORSERS as of November 2, 2005: Peace and Justice Service (Ecuador); Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador; Regional Advisory Foundation on Human Rights (Ecuador); Campesino Social Security (Ecuador); Pro-Human Rights Collective (Ecuador); Tohallí Movement (Ecuador); Altercom (Ecuador) ; Ecumenical Human Rights Comisión [(Ecuador); Conscientious Objector Group (Ecuador); Christian Youth Association (Ecuador); Migrants, Refugees, and Displaced [(Ecuador); Llactacaru Migrant Association (Ecuador); Pakistan Peace Coalition (Pakistan); American Friends Service Committee - Peacebuilding Unit (US); US Peace Council (US); Nonviolence International (US); American Friends Service Committee (US); Bangladesh Krishok Federation; Gathering for Peace (The Philippines); People's Task Force for Bases Clean-Up (Philippines); For Mother Earth (Belgium); Campaign for the Demilitarisation of the Americas; Focus on the Global South; Fellowship for Reconciliation (US); Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (UK); LALIT (Diego Garcia / Mauritius); Asian Peace Alliance - Japan; Bangladesh Sramajibi Kendra (Bangladesh); Cuban Movement for Peace and Sovereignty (Cuba); Centro Memorial Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (Cuba); Stop the War Coalition (Greece); SEATINI (South Africa); Japan Peace Committee (Japan); Transnational Institute.