Tag Archives: John Pilger

The Chagos Islanders and the War on Democracy

I posted a poem some time ago, “Rounding Up the Dogs of the Children Who Died of Sadness,” but a recent article from John Pilger that appeared in The New Statesman made me remember it. Here’s the poem’s link – https://matangmanok.wordpress.com/2009/05/17/rounding-up-the-dogs-of-the-children-who-died-of-sadness/

And here is Pilger’s article link: http://www.newstatesman.com/global-issues/2012/01/pilger-obama-war-britain

A snippet:

Lisette Talate died the other day. I remember a wiry, fiercely intelligent woman who masked her grief with a determination that was a presence. She was the embodiment of people’s resistance to the war on democracy. I first glimpsed her in a 1950s Colonial Office film about the Chagos Islanders, a tiny creole nation living midway between Africa and Asia in the Indian Ocean. The camera panned across thriving villages, a church, a school, a hospital, set in phenomenal natural beauty and peace. Lisette remembers the producer saying to her and her teenage friends, “Keep smiling, girls!”

Sitting in her kitchen in Mauritius many years later, she said: “I didn’t have to be told to smile. I was a happy child, because my roots were deep in the islands, my paradise. My great-grandmother was born there; I made six children there. That’s why they couldn’t legally throw us out of our own homes; they had to terrify us into leaving or force us out. At first, they tried to starve us. The food ships stopped arriving, [then] they spread rumours we would be bombed, then they turned on our dogs.”

In the early 1960s, the Labour government of Harold Wilson secretly agreed to a demand from Washington that the Chagos archipelago, a British colony, be “swept” and “sanitised” of its 2,500 inhabitants so that a military base could be built on the principal island, Diego Garcia. “They knew we were inseparable from our pets,” said Lisette. “When the American soldiers arrived to build the base, they backed their big trucks against the brick shed where we prepared the coconuts; hundreds of our dogs had been rounded up and imprisoned there. Then they gassed them through tubes from the trucks’ exhausts. You could hear them crying.”

Lisette, her family and hundreds of the other islanders were forced on to a rusting steamer bound for Mauritius, a journey of a thousand miles. They were made to sleep in the hold on a cargo of fertiliser – bird shit. The weather was rough; everyone was ill; two of the women on board miscarried.

Dumped on the docks at Port Louis, Lisette’s youngest children, Jollice and Regis, died within a week of each other. “They died of sadness,” she said. “They had heard all the talk and seen the horror of what had happened to the dogs. They knew they were leaving their home for ever. The doctor in Mauritius said he could not treat sadness.”

This act of mass kidnapping was carried out in high secrecy. In one official file, under the heading “Maintaining the Fiction”, the Foreign Office legal adviser exhorts his colleagues to cover their actions by “reclassifying” the population as “floating” and to “make up the rules as we go along”. Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court says the “deportation or forcible transfer of population” is a crime against humanity. That Britain had committed such a crime – in exchange for a $14m discount off a US Polaris nuclear submarine – was not on the agenda of a group of British “defence” correspondents flown to the Chagos by the Ministry of Defence when the US base was completed. “There is nothing in our files,” said the MoD, “about inhabitants or an evacuation.”

Today, Diego Garcia is crucial to America’s and Britain’s war on democracy. The heaviest bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan was launched from its vast airstrips, beyond which the islanders’ abandoned cemetery and church stand like archaeological ruins. The terraced garden where Lisette laughed for the camera is now a fortress housing the “bunker-busting” bombs carried by bat-shaped B-2 aircraft to targets on two continents; an attack on Iran will start here. As if to complete the emblem of rampant, criminal power, the CIA added a Guantanamo-style prison for its “rendition” victims and called it Camp Justice.

 

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Exorcising Diplomacy

This will be a short one.  Just a link to an open letter.  Wikileaks has managed to do.  Funny how in this case those who shout TERRORISTS! the loudest seem to have the bloodiest hands.  A new brand of squirty handwash should be invented.  Let’s call it Lady Macbeth, shall we?

Wikileaks: the emperor has no clothes


Haiti Howls

The recent headlines regarding some suspicious activities by a religous group from the US (alleged kidnapping of Haitian children, just to spell it out) is overshadowing a darker deed.  Read John Pilger’s analysis:

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The Kidnapping of Haiti from The New Statesman

The theft of Haiti has been swift and crude. On 22 January, the United States secured “formal approval” from the United Nations to take over all air and sea ports in Haiti, and to “secure” roads. No Haitian signed the agreement, which has no basis in law. Power rules in a US naval blockade and the arrival of 13,000 marines, special forces, spooks and mercenaries, none with humanitarian relief training.

The airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, is now a US military base and relief flights have been rerouted to the Dominican Republic. All flights stopped for three hours for the arrival of Hillary Clinton. Critically injured Haitians waited unaided as 800 American residents in Haiti were fed, watered and evacuated. Six days passed before the US air force dropped bottled water to people suffering dehydration.

Read the rest of the article.

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Who would have thought that an earthquake alone is not tragic enough?


Rounding Up The Dogs of the Children Who Died of Sadness

dog ghost

Monsters came one day, dressed
in stiff uniforms.  They were fed
largely on red meat and so had grown
like giants compared to the islanders.

They scarred the land as they drove,
engines growling like hungry beasts,
churning sand and dust into the terrified
eyes of the children.  Those little

Brown arms grew powerless at the sight
of fists clutching the collars of their pets.
Never before had they seen such dark
nightmares.  The monsters had come

To gather all the dogs of the island.
They were taken amid screams and cries,
hearts cracking like husked coconuts
flung against a jagged rock.

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Almost 1,000 pets were rounded up and gassed, using the exhaust fumes from American military vehicles. “They put the dogs in a furnace where the people worked,” says Lizette Tallatte, now in her 60s, “ … and when their dogs were taken away in front of them, our children screamed and cried.”

“Diego Garcia: Paradise Cleansed” by John Pilger, October 4, 2004



The Oddity that is Chavez

Hugo Chavez is an oddity. He does not seem to fear the omnipotence of previous and current empires. He seems certain of a future for his country that is not linked to foreign loans and influences, totally unlike most other non-Western, once-colonised countries. He does not even seem to care what Western governments have to say of his style of government. Or at least what their mainstream media babble on like religious fanatics hunting down a local witch.

Clearly democracy is in its death throes in Venezuela? Look, no one was killed, not a single voter reported being abused or forced to vote a particular way, and the elite controlled press wasn’t taken over by military personnel! What abomination! This dictatorship smells fishy!

Okay, enough of the silly ranting. I have to admit my own ignorance of Latin American politics before and after colonial rule. Venezuela didn’t get a single mention in my school history books. Only Mexico, when a beauty pageant was held there, I think. Besides, I was growing up under a dictatorship. More on that in the future, when the right memories come together to dance.

I thus confess that the first time I heard of Chavez was when he called Dubya “the devil.” Back then I thought “Wow, who is this idiot who wants his country nuked?” Of course, being a keen follower of Bushisms and other oddities, I chuckled. In that time I saw a lot of bad press about Chavez. As if he were the devil on earth!

Some time later I saw John Pilger’s “The War on Democracy” and heard a bit more from Chavez himself. The documentary was a little uneven and heavy handed in some parts, but it gave me a new perspective on the history of Latin American struggles. Pilger was too obviously in awe of Chavez, but that I suppose is forgivable if you think about the devilish image the Western press have made of him.

Fast forward to now, February 2009 with Hugo Chavez claiming victory in the Venezuela referendum. He and other politicians can now freely run for office again beyond the second term. If Venezuelans keep voting him in, he could remain president for life. What a thought! What a headache for those who cannot bear his open mouth!

Having grown up in a dictatorship, I can only say that at the moment Chavez does not seem to qualify as one. Not yet. Sure, the “poor” (read: elite) opposition have suffered a defeat. All that money and still not enough to take down a political opponent. But is a single one of them in prison? Is the local population bound by a silence for fear of disappearing in the night? Do all the newspapers carry the same stories?

You don’t know what a dictator is if you have never lived under one.

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This article also appears on Helium.