Next Year in Diego Garcia – Jean Claude de L’Estrac,
Translated by Touria Prayag (Elp: Mauritius, November 2011)
Review by Vaughan Rapatahana
This story is one of deceit, lies and cowardice. Perhaps worse; it is the story of the British Foreign Office admitting that large sums of money were at stake in Whitehall negotiations which led to the butchering of the Mauritian territory. The decision to rip the Chagos archipelago from the mainland was thus sealed as was the fate of its inhabitants who were forced to leave their birthplace to make room for the Anglo-American military base, Diego Garcia.
In fact what the Anglo-American conspiracy did to the Chagossians was and remains to this very moment, a major crime against humanity – which may well be the only legal recourse left for these displaced and distraught and brave people to fight with. The selfsame conspiracy has steadily forsworn them at every gain they ever made – culminating in the 20 December, 2012 European Court of ‘Human Rights’ further denying them any redress in terms of a chance to return to their now uninhabited islands, because they had already accepted the munificence of British recompense more than once over the years, commencing after a court battle in 1982. Although they did receive some pittance in 1978 from Mauritian authorities who had sat on that British ‘largesse’ for five years previously!. Case closed.
Except that – of course – rich Anglo-American yachtsmen and women can sail and party-in-the-harbour for long periods of time on and off the beaches of the very islands the stranded Chaogossians can still not attain, while the yachties merely have to obtain a visa from the BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory) office for a small fee.
This book portrays this whole saga of Anglo-American duplicity, and in de L’Estrac’s many other terminological sideswipes and full-on attacks he repeats more than once all of the following vocabulary: ‘maintaining the fiction’, ‘bribes’, ‘secret agreements’, ‘pretend’, ‘blackmailed’, ‘complicity’, ‘dodge its obligations’, ‘lied about’, ‘conceal’ and ‘avoid’ – among a disturbing raft of others pertaining to the perfidy, minaciousness and greed of feckless English public servants and some politicians, in particular. No-hold bars writing at its best — further strengthened by de L’Estrac’s myriad use of recently declassified documents pertaining to the entire affair.
Originally the Chagos Islanders were actually indigenous to these scattered atolls and in some cases were families with several generations’ heritage: of an African with some East Indian mixed bloodlines, from the times a couple of hundred years previously the French and later the English had dragooned them to the islands to toil in the copra and coconut trade. These Creole-speaking Ilois were indubitably poor, did have some pragmatic problems such as hordes of rats everywhere and what can only be depicted as a rudimentary standard of living, but they were also indubitably reasonably happy in this archipelago of “abundance and peace.” And it was – and remains – their home, their turangawaewae.
But, of course, Los Americanos wanted these isolated splinters of land as a vital naval/armed forces/air nexus so as to fight the various supposed bad guys, starting from the Russians in nearby Ethiopia through today’s Al Qaeda clones, wherever they might be. A bit of enforced rendition and waterboarding never hurt anyone and why not in Diego Garcia, the keystone to this Americanized war footing base? As Admiral Horatio Rivero spluttered: I want this island. In so doing. he was demonstrating that the American Navy, in general – or should that be, in commander – were very keen to grab these islands and bugger the inhabitants. Although several Americans were totally against this project in first place and for some considerable time afterwards, as for example Edward Kennedy and Clairborne Pell, their voices were soon squashed into the mud of military realpolitik.
Now, of course also, the Chagos had indeed been ceded to Mauritius way back during the Treaty of Paris (1814) when Britain had slam-dunked the French navy into oblivion – and it must also be stressed that Mauritius maintained only tenuous ties with the Chagos at the best of times: indeed proffered very little via aid or interest. In fact Mauritius’ connection to Chagos was only ever at best rather haphazard and they certainly were of absolutely no assistance when the no-return one-way deportations to both Mauritius and Seychelles commenced soon after the Anglo-American skullduggery began in earnest in 1968. By 1973 indeed “There were no Chaogossians in the Chagos” and the initial waves of deportees found themselves quite literally abandoned on the docks of Port Louis – bereft of shelter, funding, equipment to make an even fundamental re-start to their lives.
Mauritius was also earnestly seeking independence from Britain – at least some Mauritian politicians were. They also knew – after having heard on the pre-Wikileaks grapevine – that the USA was particularly interested in these coral atolls and were pretty darn keen themselves to get a bit of gold (not that the Americans were ever going to offer any sort of recompense for Chagos lands then or in the present day. Even although right up until the present day the Chagos action groups try to petition for recompense from the Americans, the stock riposte always is – ‘Go ask the British.’)
For of course – again – Los Americanos saw Britain as fully responsible for not only Mauritius – as part of that burgeoned monster named the British Commonwealth – but also Chagos. And Britain knew darn well also that they could not just wrench the Chagos away from Mauritius : this would cut across UN Declaration 1514 (XV). So, Mauritius’ consent was bought and bribed and blackmailed by a prevailing fiction novel written by Britain that there would be no Mauritian independence unless Mauritius ‘gave up’ Chagos. When Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (Premier of Mauritius) in 1965 tried to obtain a better fiscal and a future-use territorially guaranteed deal from the British government, one Harold Wilson spat out the hard line that ‘really’ the Americans were not that interested in the scheme after all. He and the rest of his UK bunnies therefore tried to convince Mauritius that the US would withdraw interest and – more – that Mauritian independence moves would be well hampered. Besides which, the British threatened to merely usurp the Chagos via an Order in Council anyway, if necessary! (Which would mean the UK could not abide by any UN resolution as it would not have the requisite Mauritian permission.) Anglo chicanery once more.
And then, of course, there was the mighty sweetener of three million pounds for this devil’s pact trade-off, eh. Mauritian complicity, sadly, was all too “easily purchased.”
More, this blackmail re: Mauritian independence was a completely cynical ploy as the UK already: “had already decided to ‘get rid’ of Mauritius as soon as possible!” This ex-Dutch, ex-French islands network of Mauritius and Rodrigues was always going to achieve its independence anyway. Preferably after the British got what they wanted first – a ceding of Chagos and the follow-up long-term lease to the salivating Americans.
Mauritians did not actually realize that the UK HAD to have Mauritius consent so as to avoid as much as possible accusations of the UK totally ignoring UN resolutions (and, in particular, Section 73 of the UN Charter) for the UK knew well that: “the islands are legally part of the territory of the colony concerned.” The UK had had its best lawyers working on all the definitions for yonks (or should that read ‘yanks’).
For the very same reason they – these duplicitous British politicians and civil servants – also pretended consistently that there were no permanent residents on Chagos, and had never been. This complete and massive lie is articulated in one of their sample declarations here: “Only a few hundreds of workers of indentured labourers hired on contract and their families” as used to describe the Chagossians, when it was several hundred kilometres from the truth. Because, of course: “the absence of permanent residents on the islands would allow the UK to dodge its obligations under Chapter XI of the Charter of the United Nations.” Somehow Indigenous islanders had to become misrepresented as: “migrant labourers.” Another vast fictive strand.
So began and finished – from the early 1960s until right now – this entire sorry process of betrayal and deceit and dissemination of the impoverished, largely illiterate Chagossians and the construction of “The American city of Diego Garcia” as so very well illuminated (with copious photographs), evidenced (via an impressive array of Notes) and articulated in this book.
Sir Paul Gore-Booth, from the Foreign Office: The object of the exercise was to get some rocks which will remain ours; there will be no indigenous population except seagulls…[who]…have not yet got a Committee (the Status of Women Committee does not cover the rights of Birds.)
In equally smart-arse and racist reply was from one D.A. Greenhill: …unfortunately, along with the birds go some few Tarzams or Men Fridays whose origins are obscure.
Thus a completely new territorial entity named the BIOT was formulated, despite several non-Western nations’, as in non-White, manifest qualms and complaints at the U.N. level.
The actual depopulation process was heinous – initially hundreds of dogs were rounded up and incinerated in full view of their Chagossian owners. Ilois who went to Mauritius were suddenly stranded there, as there were no boats back (the ‘island is closed’ grieves one Ilois character in Mutiny, the definitive novel by Mauritian author Lindsey Collen). Remaining Ilois were themselves rounded up like their pet dogs: “Carrying nothing more than a small box containing personal belongings and a mat,” while: ”Bulldozers uprooted palm trees, destroyed the coral reef with explosives and the corals ripped out were used to build the runway.” To add considerable insult to their totally undeserved misery was the fact that: ”the best space [on the ferrying-away boats] was reserved for horses.”
Living conditions – even today – remain especially grim for the displaced Chagossians – I know as I stenuously enquired after them on a recent (January, 2013) trip to Mauritius whereby some non-Chagossians knew of the Chagos people, but had no idea whatsoever where they actually were. “They lived in rusty tin shacks along narrow and potholed streets,” writes de L’Estrac and: ”A census conducted a year after their arrival reported 44 deaths ‘due to unhappiness, poverty and lack of medical care’…an alarming number of psychological problems and suicides.” More: “they experienced the same level of discrimination and prejudice as the African-Mauritians or Creoles with whom they assimilated” – for, of course, pigmentocracy still sadly thrives within Port Louis and indeed beyond, with the sad irony that their supposed ‘betters’ in the main are dark-skinned East Indian descendants of other indentured labourers.
Mauritian authorities for a long time also did absolutely nothing for these refugees, despite being ‘recompensed’ for their forfeiture of the very lands these refugees had been so evilly coerced to depart. de L’Estrac once more: “in one case, 31 people shared three rooms…”
The current irony is that Mauritius now however sees Chagos as part of their territory and is making some efforts and international bellows to attempt to re-attain the archipelago. However Mauritius trying to claim sovereignty is made far more difficult as the Chagossians had by then been declared UK citizens well before (in another irony for British white-collardom attempting to portray them as homeless non-permanents) – which is why they have been through the full gamut of UK law courts over several years, until a final 3-2 House of Lords judgment against them in 2008. This final British-based legal conundrum came after three earlier victories in these selfsame, yet ‘lower’, law courts.
During this time also were many protests and hunger strikes – often led by women – and a series of reciprocal legal manoeuvres by the UK government, who tried to bribe the Ilois to give up all rights to any possible return to their home island – signing with their thumbprints documents they couldn’t even read! They kept on receiving such relatively meager $$$ measures for some time – which those refugees deported to Seychelles didn’t get at all, by the way. But no way, Jose, was the UK – at the behest of the USA – ever going to relent and allow any fulltime return by the Ilois to their homeland island chain. Britain even resurrected the ancient and generally never used procedure of Orders in Council on more than one occasion – all signed by Queen Elizabeth – to initially incorporate the entire BIOT and to later (in 2004) prevent these few hundred destitute Chagossians ever going home for good, let alone, God forbid – ever attaining territorial qua homeland rights.
As noted, the other supreme villain here – the US – also never paid any Chagossians a nickel, let alone a cent, and their only huge monetary advance was to their British cronies to establish and implement a phalanx of Polaris missiles. The USA themselves also continued to provide a handy rucksack full of lies such as their original intention on Diego Garcia as being to construct merely: “certain limited facilities.” More bullshit. More worryingly was the fact that during the mid-1960s they were feeding such crap to their own countrymen.
The severe fact was and remains that they, like the UK: were: “determined to take possession of the islands in question at all costs” and both parties to this crime also were whispering staunchly to the remainder of the so-called White Commonwealth – including New Zealand, of course – during their scheming – about ‘saving the free-world.’ Obviously the irony was lost on these multi-white ears. Even more bizarrely at that time the Shah of Iran was also allowed in on the secret: “and his help was sought in combating any ‘anti-colonialist criticism’ at the United Nations.” The complicity of the UK and USA of course remained steadfast throughout too: “Even before the end of the negotiations, the United States were kept informed of the developments,” while the empire of Halliburton – of course – that great elitist financial fount of American potency and military construction was always a benefactor and to this day remains mightily involved.
As for the Chagossians – many of whose original stranded generation has thinned out considerably – the only recourse now would seem to be an appeal to the International Criminal Court as regards a case declaiming crimes against humanity. Especially now as these selfsame Anglo-American politicians, in their cynical manipulations, have further endeavoured to declare the entire BIOT a ‘protected maritime park’ and as such – uninhabitable by mankind – especially dark-skinned Ilois.
Establishing a marine reserve might, indeed, as the FCO’s Roberts stated, be the most effective long-term way to prevent any of the Chagos Islands’ former inhabitants or their descendants from resettling in the [British Indian Ocean Territory].
This in 2010 from one Richard Mills, US advisor. Wikileaked, by the way.
More, in 2016 the current ‘lease’ expires and then there is room for a further 20 years…as again Machiavelli-ed, of course between the two nefarious poles of Anglo and American.
This is about the stage where the book under review halts – in late 2011. Jean Claude De L’Estrac has written a severe critique about a seriously evil wrongdoing in our World today. More people need to read his book, to become aware of not just Diego Garcia, but of the Chagos Islanders and their unenviable plight. I totally guarantee it to ensure full wakefulness, read in one sitting, for all its readers – it is compellingly distressing and comprehensively well-written.
Meanwhile the struggle continues by the Chagos Refugees Group and their inspiring leader Olivier Bancoult http://www.chagosrefugeesgroup.net/
But I bet any ‘success’ for them, such as a return to the archipelago, won’t be next year in Diego Garcia…not when clowns like UK Foreign Secretary William Hague can blither after the 2012 verdict: “There are fundamental difficulties with resettlement in BIOT, but we will be as positive as possible in our engagement with Chagossian groups and all interested parties.”
The rot continues.
Yet, by the same token, to wax clichéd momentarily, the British will never be able to: “attempt the Chagossian experience from history” as the London Minority Rights Group once atrabiliously scorned them.
Precisely because books such as Jean Claude de L’Estrac’s have been written.
- English Language as Hydra (Multilingual Matters, U.K.)
- Schisms (Stonesthrow Poetry, Nevada, USA)
In addition he has a novel forthcoming in early 2013: Toa (Atuanui Press, Auckland, Aotearoa-New Zealand)