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Struggle to close down military base military base on Diego Garcia

frank | 05.01.2004 01:36 | Anti-militarism | Globalisation | Repression | Cambridge

[Here is a report of an action planned for a reclamation of a US military base in Mauritius. Sounds very inspiring and potentially groundbreaking. Report received through the Women in Black network.]

This report is about a coming action in 2004 which will
interest both anti-militarist activist groups and women's groups.
The action will consist of getting on a ship full of people, mostly those
who were forcibly removed from their homeland on Diego Garcia island by the
US military, and were never allowed back, in order for the US military to
set up a military and nuclear base there. This ship will go to Diego Garcia
where Mauritian people who lived there will reclaim their island back. Diego
Garcia is one of the biggest US military bases outside the US and was
actively used to bombard Afghanistan and Iraq by the US. It was stolen from
Mauritius by the British State in the mid-1960's and leased to the US. The
ship, full of Chagossians, Mauritians, anti-war activists, and
greenpeace-type activists, will have to confront the US military when they
get into Diego Garcia waters. The Chagossians (Mauritians who lived there)
were a matricentral society, there will be many, many women in the
frontline. We are hoping to build up the campaign so as to attract as much
media on the ship itself as possible (and it would be helpful to have
reporters, especially from the US and UK, on board, quite literally), and
perhaps a few "personalities" as well. We are also counting on organizations
being part of this campaign worldwide.

The coming action has started to be announced in the press here - so now it
is possible to open up the international campaign - although the
organisational aspects that will make the whole thing a reality will be
announced mid or end of January 2004 thereabouts.

Please read the WHAT YOU CAN PERHAPS DO section in the paper below and see
how you can link your struggle with ours. Should you have any questions, do
not hesitate to contact me at For background information on
Lalit and Diego Garcia, you can visit our website

Sincerely yours
Ragini Kistnasamy
Member of Lalit, and member of the Muvman Liberasyon Fam (Women's Liberation

PS Lindsey Collen who signs the paper below is also member of both
organisations. She will be at the WSF at the NO US BASES meeting and the
Anti-War Movement General Assembly in Mumbai, India - Jan 2004.

Sometimes in history there is a moment when one small part of planet earth
proposes itself for intense nurturing. As if that particular geographical
spot is a matrix or womb bearing in itself both past and future struggles.
As if that particular spot is the intersection of different lines of
struggle in our common history. Offering to bring us together in spirit.

And then maybe what will happen there, on that particular spot, can, in
turn, have wonderful repercussions all over the place.

Diego Garcia, beautiful Indian Ocean Island in the Chagos Archipelago, a
part of the Republic of Mauritius, is just that kind of place, right now, at
this moment in history.

Which is why we in Lalit in Mauritius are contacting you. (For background
information on us and Diego Garcia, you can visit our website )

On Diego Garcia is one of the biggest military bases in the world. Maybe the
biggest outside the USA. So, that's the first struggle involved: the
struggle against militarism, the peace movement's struggle to close down the
military base on Diego Garcia. It is vital. We will come back to this
central struggle later in this paper.

And there is also one of the most poignant human rights true stories ever, a
story that unfolded on Diego Garcia. Hidden from the eyes of the world. And
not yet over. The people of Diego Garcia, Chagossians, were forcibly removed
from their beloved land. They were tricked off the Islands first, then those
who were not tricked, were frightened off (their 1,600 dogs were gassed in
front of them), and the rest of them were starved off Diego Garcia and the
other Islands. Quite literally. Two thousand Chagossians, who had lived
there for generations were forcibly removed over the period 1965-1973, and
dumped on the dockside in Port Louis, Mauritius. Just like that. Homeless.
Workless. Disoriented. Never to return to their houses, their bed-side
cupboards, their hearths, their vegetable gardens, their society. Never to
return to put flowers on the graves of their relatives and ancestors. And
left living with the indelible image in their mind of their dogs being
gassed. As a warning to them.

So, intersecting with the struggle for peace, there is the Chagossians'
long, brave struggle, consistent over thirty years or more, for the right to
return. And for dignified reparations to be paid to them and their
descendents for the unspeakable harm they have suffered. Yes, they never
gave up. They opposed the most powerful forces in the world. And they still
do. With nothing but their will and their intellect. With nothing but the
support of people like you and like us.

The torture that the Chagossians suffered was inflicted on them by
particular States. The States concerned are the United Kingdom, the
colonizer, and the United States of America, the military base owner. It is
these States that must be exposed for what they did. They de-populated the
Islands behind the backs of the United Nations, in order to build their
base. And they are, at this moment in history, with the Bush-Blair axis in
power, the most belligerent States on the planet. The human rights struggle
of the Chagossians is part of the struggle against the USA-UK political
project. This struggle, in turn, unites many peoples. Us in Mauritius,
including the Chagossians, the people of Britain and the USA whose
Governments are so bellicose, and the people of the States that are
suffering the catastrophe of war, the people of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Other struggles also intersect with the main human rights one. For example,
for 30 years, the length of a generation, the forcible removal of the
Chagossians was kept "secret", mainly through the "Official Secrets Act" in
the UK, thus hiding the formal proof necessary for legal actions. Only in
the year 2000 could the Chagossians finally win their landmark Court Case in
the UK Courts for the right to return. This delay, with all its human
tragedy, highlights the oppression of State secrecy, and the importance of
struggling for free access to information. How can elected Governments keep
secrets from those who elect them? What does this kind of secrecy make of
the people of Great Britain? The legal victory of the Chagossians,
interestingly, was thanks to the oldest of all human rights documents, the
Magna Carta of 1215, which shows the surprising longevity of the landmarks
in the struggle for human rights and democracy. Causing even the uprising of
English noblemen against the oppression of the King of England to intersect
with the struggle of the people of Diego Garcia in Mauritius today. Right
across the surface of the earth and right across the centuries - almost
exactly eight centuries. Now, today, the British State still keep the
Chagossians away from their home on Diego Garcia. Now, the Chagossians have
lost a more recent court case (2003) in the British Courts. Now, they are
going to appeal against the very bad judgement handed down. They will not
give up. They want to go back to Diego Garcia.

There is also the intersection on Diego Garcia with the struggle for full
decolonization. When the Chagossians were being forcibly removed, Diego
Garcia that is part of Mauritius, was illegally severed from all the other
Islands of Mauritius by the British colonial State and put together with
some Seychelles Islands, made into the newly invented colony, the British
Indian Ocean Territory, prior to granting Mauritian Independence and as an
illegal condition to Independence. The Seychelles, after much later becoming
Independent itself, negotiated its Islands back out of the BIOT. But
Mauritius has never been re-united. Despite the British flouting of the
United Nations Charter when it "stole" Diego Garcia. And what this continued
occupation of Diego Garcia means is that 20th Century decolonization is not
yet complete. So, Diego Garcia is the centre of the struggle for the
re-unification of Mauritius, something important to Mauritians, Chagossians,
Rodriguans, Agalegans. And, just like all decolonization, it is the concern
of everyone that no-one be colonized.

The main reason why Mauritius did not get re-united in the same way that
Seychelles did is of course that there is the military base on one of
Mauritius' Islands, Diego Garcia. But there is another reason. It is partly
because successive Mauritian Governments have used the Diego Garcia issue,
and the USA and British shame about their past actions there, in order to
extricate "trade advantages" from the UK and the USA, either for sugar or
for textiles, either quotas or price guarantees. So this is how
trade-related issues, so important today with the World Trade Organization
and Free Trade Agreements, also intersect with the Diego Garcia struggle.

Now in 2004, in these times of so-called "globalization", Diego Garcia,
still illegally occupied, houses an enormous US military base, which
disfigures the beautiful Islands completely. Tarmac and bombs. Where coconut
palms were. Nuclear heads and submarines where coral and fish were. The
different club-houses for different grades and ranks of military men, where
peoples' tiny homes used to nestle in the trees. Civilian companies raking
in money from defense contracts, where people used to de-husk coconuts, dry
their fish, cook their turtle eggs.

Diego Garcia is a key base to the US Armed Forces, when it attacks Iraq and
Afghanistan. B-52's take off from there. Supplies and men lie in wait there.
Aircraft carriers huddle in the shelter of the bay. Diego Garcia is being
used for interrogations of prisoners of war. Those prisoners that the
USA-UK-Poland-Australia take, and then the USA hides from everyone, even
their allies. Diego Garcia has, in this way, been Guantanamo-ized. Diego
Garcia is also a key element of the world-wide Global Positioning System, so
vital for the US armed forces when they aim guided missiles and other
war-heads in their new re-colonization of the globe. Did they not "take out"
a man (and four or five other people who happened to be in the same car) in
the Yemen with the help of their GPS? Diego Garcia is the head of the U.S.
Pacific and Indian Ocean Command. All this to say how Diego Garcia is thus
also central for all of us working against militarism. We must get the base
closed down.

Diego Garcia has also an important historic significance for the women's
movement. In their struggles for their rights, amongst the Chagossians, it
has always been the women who have been in the vanguard. Why was this? On
Diego Garcia there was a matri-central society. The company that ran the
Islands, treated men and women equally at work, for its own reasons, and
organized for the older people to look after the children. This equal
treatment means that the women of Diego Garcia have powers that other people
brought up in patriarchy, do not have, and they have shown these powers in
the struggle. They have transmitted this experience of strength to the
women's movement in Mauritius as a whole. The struggle of the women of
Chagos is a beacon for the world-wide women's movement.

Another struggle that intersects with the Diego Garcia struggle is the
anti-nuclear struggle. In order for the Pelindaba Treaty for a Nuclear-Arms
Free Africa to be signed, the treaty had to contain the infamous "dotted
lines" around Diego Garcia, suspending Chagos from its rightful place, as
part of Mauritius, in Africa. The struggle for a nuclear-arms-free Africa
goes through the struggle to close down the US base on Diego Garcia.

In their quest for the truth to be out and justice to be had, the
Chagossians now have a Reparations Case in the US Courts. Some of those
being sued, in addition to the US State itself, include Donald Rumsfeld and
Dick Cheney. Some of the reasons cited for damages include human rights
abuses and genocide. One of the most important struggles of our age is to
show up the links between the military machinery and private business and
mainstream politics in the USA. And to show how war, poverty, environmental
damage, human rights abuses, genocide, women's oppression, virtual
colonization, are all causally related to this complex, to this bureaucratic
complex, of war-mongers and armament producers and private enterprise
corporations and mainstream politicians. The Diego Garcians' court case
against the US and US personalities highlights these links in all their

And finally, there is the pressing need to re-kindle the old UN Resolution
for an Indian Ocean Peace Zone. For how many years did the US and Britain
sabotage the Colombo Conference? And this struggle for a Peace Zone, too,
intersects with the struggle to close down the Diego Garcia base. And with
the next Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in the USA now fixed for 2005,
we can aim to get it closed down, as part of an aim to close all the US
bases. As part of the movement for peace all over the world.

We, in Lalit, who have been part of the Diego Garcia struggle since 1977,
we, who have shared all the hardest times with the Chagossians - the street
demonstrations, the hunger strikes, the night vigils, the battles against
the Riot Police, the arrests, the being kept in Police Cells, the Court Case
under the Public Order Act, the thinking and the acting - we are now calling
on you to help us.

We, in Lalit, together with the Chagossians and together with people
experienced in such things as getting on to military ships (and who have
worked for peace and freedom on Greenpeace boats), have come together and
taken a decision. We intend to go to Diego Garcia - as many of us as
possible - to confront the US Armed Forces at their base. We intend to get
the US to close the base down, the UK to return its stolen Islands, the US
to stop receiving stolen goods. We stand by the people of Chagos to be
granted the unconditional right to return to the whole of Chagos, including
Diego Garcia, and we stand by their right to lifetime compensation and full
reparations for the damage they have suffered.

We want to see the environment of Diego Garcia, after base closure, begin to
re-generate, to start the long process of recovery and once again grow its
pristine corals. This is another important struggle that intersects with the
Diego Garcia struggle: loving care for our planet earth and all its waters.
We want to see the Islands inhabited by those who love them and who have
fought so hard against the biggest, most heavily armed institutions in the
world. We want to see the lagoons, the coral and the land itself back in the
hands of nature and those caring human beings who believe they belong there,
the Chagossians. We are demanding an independent environmental assessment.
And we are demanding to know how many fishing licenses the British Indian
Ocean Territory has issued in exchange for how much money, and what impact
this has made on fisheries.

And while we prepare to go to Diego Garcia to affront the US military, we
are joining hands with other organizations world-wide in a network called
"No U.S. Bases". And we are calling a meeting, the very first, of the "No
U.S. Bases" network, a meeting to be held at the World Social Forum in
Mumbai. The huge Japanese "Peace Boat" that plies the world as a living
educational experience in bringing peace, will be moored in Mumbai at the
time of our meeting, and we will link up with them.

Please signify your support (as an organization, as an individual) by a
short e-mail, letter, telephone call or fax to us. We want a sort of list of
well-wisher organizations and individuals, and people who can follow our
confrontation with the U.S. Armed Forces when we go to Diego Garcia. You
will have noticed that we said when, not if. We will soon be making a public
announcement about our plan.

Then, when we make this announcement, please, please, please let everyone
you know know about what we plan to do. Meanwhile, please raise the issues
in this letter with your elected members of Parliament, Congress, National
Assemblies. Write articles. Put the issue on agendas of trade unions and
associations. Link your struggles with ours.

We want your moral support, social support, political support. We want you
to be part of this struggle with us. So that we can bring together all these
different lines of struggle, and strengthen them all, here and world-wide.

Lindsey Collen
153 Main Road, Grand River North West, Port Louis, Republic of Mauritius,
Tel: 230 208 2132