Diego Garcia.30 years on..
We like to think of ourselves as humane, caring, responsible and as a beacon of compassion that all those strange people from other parts of the world should be following as an example for their own lives.
So, how do we explain away what has happened and continues to happen on Diego Garcia, a small island in the Indian Ocean, part of the Chagos Archepelago, that used to be part of the Seychelles until it's own independance from Britain back in 1976.
OK, so what is the problem, you ask? Diego Garcia has been part of the old "British Empire" ever since the British beat the French for title to it in the 19th century - after the French had themselves taken it from the original colonisers of the island, the Portuguese, who 'found' it back in the early 16th century. It has had a simple existence since that time, with pretty much the only work and revenue for the island's population coming from the growing and harvesting of coconuts - some 4 million of them every year. A very simple life which kept 1500 people alive and happy with life on their island paradise.
Until the 23rd January 1971, when the first US forces arrived on the island, looking for a suitable location from which to create a major US military base in order to combat the danger of communism presented by China and Russia. Life on the islands was about to take a devastating turn for the worse.
The US government liked the island so much that they entered into negotiations with the British government, discussing and agreeing on terms for the lease of the Island to the US for an extended period up to the year 2016 - one of the conditions imposed by the US military was that the indigenous population be removed so as to prevent any "complications" for them. Complications? The USA required that the entire population of the Island be removed so they could carry out their activities in peace (sic) and without anyone there to see or witness what they were doing?
The British government, obviously, couldn't see anything wrong with that idea - but didn't see why they should actually tell anyone about it. Least of all the inhabitants themselves. A problem, you might think? Well, no actually. A clever civil servant had a bright idea that he thought would both save a lot of money and some unwanted public criticism. When Islanders left the island to see a doctor - or to go shopping - or to sell coconuts, they were prevented returning home again with the simple ploy of telling them that there were no boats going back there - ever. Simple, eh? Get them to leave and then simply shut the door behind them. Well, it certainly got them out and the US military moved in swiftly with the "joint" base. I say "joint" as there are about three thousand US troops stationed there, but only 50 British ones. Caretakers, I suppose - or toilet cleaners for the US troops latrines, perhaps?
The Islanders were bitterly unhappy with having been tricked out of their homes - homes that they and their families had occupied for several generations. They have stayed mainly in Mauritius - certainly not "settled" there. They only want to go home again. With that aim - and with the support of much of the international community (except, of course, Britain and the US) they petitioned the High Court in London for the right to return home again. The High Court found in their favour and criticised the diplomats' behaviour as beyond "any proper limits" and ruled that the islanders had a right of return. The Foreign Office, after six hours of agonising, opted against appeal, and announced a study on the feasibility of resettlement.
The islanders were ecstatic at the thought that, after some 30 years of living in slums in Mauritius, they were about to be allowed home again. This feeling of hope ended abruptly this June 10, when Bill Rammell, as the colonial potentate, summarily changed the law to overturn the high court ruling and decreed that the islanders had no right of abode now or in the future.
But why has this over-inflated politician stopped the application of the British High Court judgement in such a careless and cavalier fashion? He cited several reasons, all of them implausible. One of the most ridiculous was the effect on the delicate marine and terrestrial life of the return of the islanders. Possibly - but more so than the US military contingent of 3200 troops together with the activities of B-52 and Stealth bombers?
Another reason given was cost. True, it would be expensive to resettle the islanders, but the cost would be insignificant compared with the profit from the US deal. The Foreign Office said last week that Britain received nothing for the base. In reality, the US had made secret payments, including a $14m reduction in the cost of the Polaris nuclear missile system.
There is so much more that can be said about the awful situation there - a situation affecting the lives of an entire population of people. But, to say anything would be to criticise the US military and the pandering, obsequious behaviour of the British government.