Friday, 3 December 2010

Fish or People?

American politicians have leaned on web hosts to boot Wikileaks off their servers: Amazon is the latest one to bow to their pressure, and Wikileaks' .org address has been cancelled too.

I've spent - at a rough estimate - £3000 on Amazon's sites in the last 2 years. No longer. I was uncomfortable enough with their anti-union stance. This is the last nudge I need to start shopping at independent stores. I've just cancelled my order for a new camera - that's £970 withdrawn from their business in one go.

Wikileaks is now back online with a new address:

The shocking story today is one that cynics won't find shocking and most others won't care about: the long and boring tale of Diego Garcia. It's an archipelago of isolated islands in the Indian Ocean which the British stole at some point in its colonial history. When the Americans wanted a Cold War base there in the 60s, the British deported the 2000 natives to foreign countries where they didn't fit in and couldn't pursue their fishing livelihoods. Then the British spent decades claiming that there never had been any natives.

Eventually, a string of British and other courts decided that these unfortunates were natives and should be allowed to go home. The government has used a number of loopholes to prevent this, and came up with this cunning wheeze: to declare the whole area a 'marine conservation park' - i.e. no fishing, and therefore no hope of return.

While government ministers were telling Parliament that there was no such plot, Wikileaks has revealed that the Foreign Office was exchanging racist quips with the Americans and promising that these savages wouldn't be allowed to get in the way of imperial policy: Diego Garcia has become a central location in the Allies' kidnapping'n'torture network.

the Foreign Office has privately admitted its latest plan to declare the islands the world's largest marine protection zone will end any chance of them being repatriated.
Colin Roberts, the Foreign Office director of overseas territories, told the Americans Diego Garcia's value in "assuring the security of the US and UK" had been "much more than anyone foresaw" in the 1960s, when the plan to set up the base was hatched.
"We do not regret the removal of the population since removal was necessary for [Diego Garcia] to fulfil its strategic purpose," he added under a passage that the Americans headed "Je ne regrette rien". 
"Roberts stated that, according to [Her Majesty's government's] current thinking on a reserve, there would be 'no human footprints' or 'Man Fridays' on the BIOT uninhabited islands," according to the American account of the meeting. The language echoes that used in 1966 when Denis Greenhill – later the Foreign Office's most senior official – described the inhabitants as "a few Tarzans and Man Fridays".
The leaked documents also record that Roberts "asserted that establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago's former residents".
This private stance differs from the Foreign Office's public line in April when a series of MPs asked Chris Bryant, the then Foreign Office minister, if the marine park ruled out the islanders, known as Chagossians, ever returning home. 
Leading conservation groups have supported the marine park plan. Roberts is quoted as telling the Americans that Britain's "environmental lobby is far more powerful than the [islanders'] advocates". 

I know most of you won't care - what are the concerns of a small bunch of poor brown people? But for me, the ways in which you treat the weakest in society are the basis on which you should be judged. The Diego Garcians are all of us: governments would do the same to us if they thought they could get away with it.

My students' attitude towards the Wikileaks story has been depressing. Some think governments have the right to do whatever they want without citizens knowing or protesting. Others think that knowledge without the power to change anything is pointless knowledge. I must confess to feeling the same way. I'm shocked and saddened by the injustice meted out by successive British governments ('ethical foreign policy', anyone?) and my gloom is deepened by the awareness that knowing about this stuff makes absolutely no difference. Those islanders are going to die friendless, hungry, despised and on foreign soil and there's nothing you nor I can do to help.


Adam said...

True, it's too late for these people, but it was already too late back in 1966.

But even though we can't now do anything about it, Wikileaks has changed the game. It's all about accountability. Politicians are cowards on the whole, never willing to take responsibility for their actions. If they think there's even the remotest chance of their decisions coming back to bite them, then they're going to start acting differently. They might even start acting morally, but I accept that's a tall order.

The Plashing Vole said...

I really hope you're right.

Benjamin Judge said...

And more importantly, what are you doing with your old camera...