On Friday 8 December a demonstration in Mauritius calling for the huge US military base in Diego Garcia (in the Indian Ocean) to be shut down, and the archipelago's inhabitants to be allowed to return. On Thursday afternoon, the demonstration was banned.
The Chagos archipelago, of which Diego Garcia is part, was ruled by Britain. After Mauritius became independent, Britain bought the archipelago backed and forcibly evicted its inhabitants, between 1968 and 1973, to make way for the US base.
The Mauritian socialist organisation Lalit is part of a “Komite Diego” (Diego Garcia Committee), which also includes a women’s organization, the Muvman Liberasyon Fam, a trade union federation, the Confederation des Travailleurs du Secteur Privé, and a neighbourhood association, Muvman pu Progre Ros Bwa.
The committee organised the demonstration following Britain's (94-15) at the UN General Assembly last year in its attempt to block an International Court of Justice case, as proposed by the African Union. As Lalit says, "we need to put on the agenda the need to close down the Diego Garcia base, and all imperialist military bases for that matter. This is a crying need when there is someone like President Donald Trump as Commander in Chief".
Lindsey Collen of Lalit told Solidarity: "For all demonstrations organisers have to inform the police at least eight days before the protest. The police then have 48 hours... to raise any objection...
"There is one exception. You can't hold a demonstration in the Capital on a day that Parliament sits, without written authorisation from the Police Commissioner. Parliament sits on Tuesdays according to its standing orders. However, when the National Assembly adjourned on Tuesday, they fixed a special session for Friday, the day of our march... The Police Commissioner issued a letter which amounts to prohibition under the law...
"The government will have to pay a political price for prohibiting a march on the Diego Garcia issue.
"We then held a gathering of about 75 people on the social centre veranda, where the march was to start from, while two members went to deliver an open letter of protest to Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth against the base and his seeking money for it [as compensation, instead of restoring the inhabitants' rights]...
"The anti-riot police had jeeps in front of the Social Centre, and a large Black Maria about 75 metres up the road. But they did not act against our gathering, so long as it did not go outside the gates. On the Diego Garcia issue, the State will not want to pay the political price that any physical force against us would entail (my personal guess).
"The national press were present in impressive numbers, and it was written up, on radio and bits on TV sites. So, your letter of support (we received seven in all - from organisations in Namibia, USA, UK, India, France) was particularly important to us - with our demonstration being prohibited.
"At out gathering, we took a resolution together that today's gathering is a rehearsal for the real demonstration... probably next year..."
Workers’ Liberty sends support and solidarity to the march being held by LALIT and other comrades in the Komite Diego in Port Louis on 8 December.
At a time when the dispossession of the Chagossians and the British-organised occupation of their homeland by the US military finds fewer and fewer to justify it internationally, the British labour movement must exert pressure on the political leaders of our ruling class to push them from their entrenched position. That begins with putting the labour movement’s house in order, demanding that it takes a clear internationalist stance.
We have greater possibilities and greater responsibilities than previously because the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is a longstanding supporter of the Chagossian cause. Since becoming Labour leader, he has restated this support. But Corbyn is not the whole Labour Party and, as on many issues, the danger is that the party establishment will transform him as much as he transforms it. It is surely relevant that he has, for now at least, dropped his opposition to British membership of NATO.
Fortunately, Corbyn is now backed by a mass membership, well over half a million, which leans strongly to the left. Most of these members will know little or nothing about any of this, but the vast majority of those who learn about it will instinctively support the struggle. We hope to work with you over the coming months to raise these issues in the British labour movement and Labour Party, to demand the right of the islanders to return to their home, the removal of the US presence from Diego Garcia and the reunification of the Chagos with Mauritius.