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How Cuba and the ABLA Let Down Tamils

Genocide in Sri Lanka

by RON RIDENOUR

"Those who are exploited are our compatriots all over the world; and the exploiters all over the world are our enemies… Our country is really the whole world, and all the revolutionaries of the world are our brothers."

– Fidel Castro. (1)

“The revolutionary [is] the ideological motor force of the revolution…if he forgets his proletarian internationalism, the revolution which he leads will cease to be an inspiring force and he will sink into a comfortable lethargy, which imperialism, our irreconcilable enemy, will utilize well. Proletarian internationalism is a duty, but it is also a revolutionary necessity. So we educate our people.”

– Che Guevara (2)

I think that the governments of Cuba, Bolivia, and Nicaragua let down the entire Tamil population in the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, as well as “proletarian internationalism” and the “exploited”, by extending unconditional support to Sri Lanka’s racist government.

Cuba did so—along with the Bolivian and Nicaraguan governments and members of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America)—on May 27, 2009 when signing a UN Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution praising the government of Sri Lanka for “the promotion and protection of human rights”, while only condemning for terrorism the Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which fought the government in a civil war since 1983 until their defeat on May 19, 2009.

During the last year of war the Sri Lankan government illegally and brutally interned nearly half-a-million Tamil civilians; 280,000 of these civilians were entrapped in several “welfare centers” upon the LTTE’s surrender. Half-a-year later, only a few thousand have been released. Their conditions are the opposite of “promotion and protection of human rights”. Hundreds have died and are dying for lack of food, water, basic health care.

Since advocating for and signing the unbalanced HRC resolution, I have found no text or evidence that these progressive-revolutionary-socialist governments of ALBA have criticized Sri Lanka for routinely practicing brutality and neglecting basic life necessities of these illegally interned people. The conduct of Sinhalese-led governments towards Tamils ever since Sri Lanka’s independence from Great Britain, in 1947-8, has always been one of mistreatment and inequality, even genocide.

While ALBA leader Venezuela is not a member of that council, President Hugo Chavez followed suit by applauding Sri Lanka’s victory. (3) I hope that these revolutionary leaders will undo that damage by coming to the aid of the interned and all 2.5 million Tamil survivors of this horrible carnage, and condemn Sri Lanka for its beastly and racist conduct. Tamils national rights must also be recognized, especially by governments representing other indigenous and once enslaved peoples.

In this first of a five-part series, I begin to lay the case that Sri Lanka’s governments practice genocide. I will also speculate about why the four ALBA countries involved in this matter could have decided to ignore this reality, why they disallowed an investigation into the assertion, and why they support such a cruel, chauvinistic regime. In the forthcoming parts, I will sketch the history of the Sinhalese and Tamils; outline the right and necessity for Tamil nationhood; delineate their struggles for equal rights; and show the geo-political power game being played out between the west and its’ sometimes antagonistic counterpart regimes in China and Iran; and conclude with the present state of affairs for Tamils.

Human Rights Council Resolution S-11/1: Assistance to Sri Lanka in the promotion and protection of human rights

Upon the end of the war, 17 countries on the 47-member Human Rights Council called for an extraordinary session about the Sri Lankan situation. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, spoke for an “independent and credible international investigation” into the reports of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law on both sides of the civil war.

“For its part, the Government reportedly used heavy artillery on the densely populated conflict zone, despite assurances that it would take precautions to protect civilians”…and the “reported shelling of a hospital clinic on several occasions”…”

“These people are in desperate need of food, water, medical help and other forms of basic assistance…there have already been outbreaks of contagious diseases.”
“The images of terrified and emaciated women, men and children fleeing the battle zone…must spur us into action.”

Pillay’s professional, compassionate and balanced proposal was not tabled or even discussed. Instead 17 members—mostly EU countries and Canada, but also Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and Chile—proposed only that an investigation into these charges of human rights abuse be pursued by the Sri Lankan government itself, that is: the government investigating its brutality, hardly anything radical or effective. This, and the call for “rapid and unhindered access” for humanitarian aid from the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross, was the only significant difference from another resolution proposed by the majority, mostly Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries. Chile was the only NAM member to vote against the majority, which wanted no investigation at all. And the “rapid and unhindered access” for humanitarian aid was reduced to: “provide access as may be appropriate”, thereby giving Sri Lanka’s government the power to use food/water/medicine as a weapon against their enemy: the Tamil people and not the now defeated LTTE.

Sri Lanka was present at the HRC sessions as an observer. It had been a member from 2006 to 2008 when it lost reelection as one of the six Asian State members. Poignantly overlooked by most NAM members assembled a year later, it had been severely criticized by Tamils around the world and by internationally respected Nobel Peace Prize winners Desmond Tutu and Adolfo Perez Esquivel.

“The systematic abuses by Sri Lanka government forces are among the most serious imaginable. Torture and extrajudicial killings are widespread [as is] kidnappings of its own people,” said Tutu in May 2008 when opposing its seat on the Human Rights Council.   

A year later, the HRC majority unfastidiously praised Sri Lanka for continuing “to uphold its human rights obligations and the norms of international human rights law”. The key promoter of the majority resolution was, to my dismay, Cuba—the homeland of my heart and where I had lived and worked for the government for eight years.

The Cuban ambassador to the Council, Juan Antonio Fernández Palacios—who also spoke on behalf of the NAM—praised Sri Lanka’s governments over the years, and “congratulates” it on “putting an end” to the armed conflict. A key sentence is: “Sri Lanka’s sovereign right to fight terrorism and separatism within its undisputed borders must be respected.” The words “separatism” and “undisputed borders” will be dealt with at length later. But no one familiar with the history of Sinhalese and Tamils for decades since independence and centuries before could have chosen to speak of “undisputed borders”. Tamils had a homeland, two kingdoms, for centuries before the Sinhalese came to the island and for centuries afterwards. 

Cuba also acted as a special advocate for Sri Lanka as an “interlocutor”, in addition to Egypt, India and Pakistan. The resolution about Sri Lanka was actually its own draft, which Cuba tabled. (4)

Just before the vote, the Bolivian HRC ambassador, Ms. Angélica Navarro Llames, made it clear she was perturbed by the manner in which many of the 17 countries had presented their resolution and for insisting upon a special meeting just a week before the scheduled one. She objected to “neocolonialist attitudes”. The Bolivian then spoke of LTTE terrorism used against the people and the government and people, and defended its right to fight for its sovereignty.

Resolution S-11/1 adopted by the majority (29 members for, 12 against, 6 abstentions). Here are pertinent excerpts: 

“Reaffirming the respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and its sovereign rights to protect its citizens and combat terrorism, condemning all attacks that the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) launched on the civilian population and its practice of using civilians as human shields…

“Welcoming the conclusion of hostilities and the liberation by the Government of Sri Lanka of tens of thousands of its citizens that were kept by the LTTE against their will as hostages, as well as the efforts by the Government to ensure safety and security for all Sri Lankans and bringing permanent peace to the country…

“Emphasizing that after the conclusion of hostilities, the priority in terms of human rights remains the provision of the necessary assistance to ensure relief and rehabilitation of persons affected by the conflict, including internally displaced persons, as well as the reconstruction of the country’s economy and infrastructure,

“Encouraged by the provision of basic humanitarian assistance, in particular, safe drinking water, sanitation, food, and medical and health care services to the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] by the Government of Sri Lanka with the assistance of the United Nations agencies…

“1. Commends the measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the urgent needs of the Internally Displaced Persons;

“2. Welcomes the continued commitment of Sri Lanka to the promotion and protection of all human rights and encourages it to continue to uphold its human rights obligations and the norms of international human rights law;…

”5. Acknowledges the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to provide access as may be appropriate to international humanitarian agencies in order to ensure humanitarian assistance to the population affected by the conflict, in particular IDPs…”

In Favour: Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Uruguay, Zambia; Against: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland;

Abstaining: Argentina, Gabon, Japan, Mauritius, Republic of Korea, Ukraine.” (4)

I will show in upcoming articles how pts. 1, 2 and 5 cited here have never been the reality: Sri Lanka has not respected Tamils lives or their rights nor provided them their “urgent needs.”

Terrorism and Genocide

Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was first dubbed a terrorist organization by India, in 1992. Ironically, it wasn’t until 1998 that Sri Lanka’s government so characterize them that way, and it did so only after the US did, in 1997. On May 30, 2006, the EU placed LTTE on its terrorist list and banned the organization. It made it a terrorist crime to economically or military aid LTTE and it froze all LTTE bank and financial assets in Europe. The EU appeared to be even-handed by calling upon the Sri Lankan government to end its “culture of impunity” and to “curb violence” in its areas of control. At the time of LTTE’s defeat, 32 countries had defined them as terrorists.

Never having been in Sri Lanka or South Asia, it is difficult for me to know whether LTTE was a decidedly terrorist organization or not—that is, one which seeks to terrorize civilians. After reading many accounts of atrocities, such as killing hundreds of civilian Sinhalese in their homes, on buses and trains, I conclude that this once Marxist revolutionary organization restored to terrorism.

At the same time, it must not be forgotten, or acceded to, that, according to the world’s greatest state terrorist, the United States of America, any liberation movement, which it does not agree with, is “terrorist”, and therefore illegitimate. Other terrorists, such as the government of the separatist state of Kosovo, are no longer considered terrorist although its drug-smuggling paramilitary organization had been so described even by the US. Superpowers support or oppose autonomy-independence when it suits their interests. This is also the case with Ireland, Basques in Spain, and Palestinians.  

Furthermore, the US systematically practices terrorism in its permanent war—invading or “intervening” militarily in 66 countries, a total of 159 times since World War Two. (5)

We must lament the unacceptable methods the LTTE committed against many people, and do so without ignoring the history of why and how it was born. Nor must we reject out-of-hand the basic rights and needs of the Tamil people. Their plight must not be abandoned, especially by governments and organizations grounded in anti-imperialism and equality amongst peoples.

Sri Lanka’s history since independence is one of conducting genocide against the Tamils. Genocide is defined by the UN, and Sri Lanka ratified its promise to adhere to it on October 12, 1950.The Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted December 9, 1948 and entered into force, January 12, 1951, states (6):  

Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. 

Destroying “in whole or in part” an ethnic group is certainly what Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese governments, as well as Buddhist monks, have been doing to the Tamils for six decades. Evidence will be forthcoming. There is so much evidence that even a former US deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan Administration filed a 12-count indictment against S.L. defense secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse and army commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka for “perpetrating genocide against Tamil civilians.”

The suit was filed by Bruce Fein, in February 2009, in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California. (6)

The case can be filed in the US because G. Rajapakse is a naturalized citizen and Fonseka holds a resident green card. They are charged with responsibility for: “3,750 alleged extrajudicial killings, with 10,000 suffering bodily injury and more than 1.3 million displacements,” which, according to Fein, “far exceed displacements in Kosovo which led to genocide counts before the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.”

Fein noted that G. Rajapakse said in a BBC interview that, “if you are not fighting the Tamil Tigers you are a terrorist and we’ll kill you.” The attorney represents Tamils Against Genocide. He believes that G. Rajapakse will be “the best witness of the genocide.”

Why ALBA voted as it did: Some points of contention:

I ask the three ALBA governments, which voted for the above mentioned resolution, to take Sri Lanka’s government to account on the serious charge of practicing genocide against the Tamil people. At the very least, ALBA should be able to see that hundreds of thousands of displaced persons are brutally treated, and that routine discrimination and abuse have been the Tamil’s plight at the hands of Sinhalese. This is a dichotomy to ALBA’s ideology of equal rights for all: in language, in religion, in the economy, in all aspects of life. In fact, the very new constitution of Bolivia recognizes itself as a pluri-nation in which all the languages and religions of all the peoples are recognized equally. The same is the case in Venezuela with its new constitution.

How can it be, then, that these peoples’ governments have fallen in the arms of such an oppressive, racist government? Possible reasons are:

1. Separatism! It is ironic and ideologically insupportable that anti-imperialist progressive and revolutionary leaders in Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia—mainly dark-skinned peoples, and many of them, especially in Bolivia, are aborigines long abused by many whites and creoles—side with the Sinhalese chauvinist elite in Sri Lanka. Perhaps they have not studied the sordid history of Sri Lanka. But more certainly is it that they do not support separatism or dual nationhood within one land mass. Cuba especially has, from its revolutionary start, argued for unity. What Cuba and the others fail to realize or acknowledge is that the Tamil people had tried for decades to achieve equal rights with the Sinhalese, many of whom assert adherence to Marxism, yet to no avail. Most Sinhalese do not wish to unify equally with the other ethnic group. Once peaceful means are exhausted, armed struggle is the only means to achieve liberation, as was the case with Cuba and other Latin American guerrilla movements.

In the case of Sri Lanka and separatism, ALBA governments could be prompted to side with it because, in part, the role of China! The threat of separatism, which has been the desire of many Tibetan Buddhists, is an impelling factor for China’s position of one nation in its own region, and may be how it views the situation of Tamils in Sri Lanka. Here, China sides, ironically, with Buddhists against Hindus-Christians-Muslims.

Bolivia and Venezuela, too, are pressed by separatist demands but they come not from an ethnic group but from a rich class of Whites-Creoles, which has no historic ethnic Homeland.

2. Geo-politics! Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-dominated governments have been supported militarily and economically by many States, some of which are sometimes antagonistic to one another. Some leftist governments and leftist organizations often operate on the notion that the enemy of my enemy is a friend. If that is the way some socialist-communist-revolutionaries view China and Iran, both totalitarian regimes, in regards to US-Europe-Canada-Australia-Japan imperialism when it comes to Sri Lanka they are mistaken. Surely there are economic and geo-political interests on the part of China and Iran in investing and trading with countries in development, including Sri Lanka but also Cuba and all in Latin America. Fortunately most Latin Americans and the majority of their governments have ceased jumping when a US president or general barks, and they are combining in regional alliances and seeking foreign investments and aid from non-traditional partners.

So now since China and Iran have begun to extend their interests into Sri Lanka and thus commend it without any questions of its brutal treatment of Tamils, many leftists and progressive governments could think in the black-white geo-political manner. The US-EU States question, for their own propaganda image, Sri Lanka for possible abuses of human rights against Tamils. Ah, no one with experience or knowledge about the duplicity of the empire and its allies could side with them so one must back the other side.

But China is no longer socialist rather its economy is mainly based on government-sponsored private enterprise with exploitation of labor in the extreme: no union protection, long work hours, low wages, child labor, no say on the job or national and international policies. The working class no longer even has access to full education and health care without paying on a capitalist basis. In fact, workers in most capitalist countries in Europe have better access to health care than workers do in China.

Millionaire capitalists now sit on leadership bodies of the so-called Communist Party, and make important decisions over the heads of workers and the population. China is interested mainly in accumulating capital in the grand old raw capitalist style, and it owns more of the US economy (8%) than any other government or economic entity. China’s economy is intricately interdependent upon US’s capitalism and therewith its imperialist wars.

Iran is run by fundamentalist religious fanaticism. Its economy is basically a capitalist one. Its working class, just as the working class in China, is not a decision-maker. Iran is also a warring partner with US imperialism in its illegal war against Iraq, whose troops are a key factor in the violence against millions of Iraqis. Iran supports their co-religious Muslims in the Quisling government under US domination.  

Is it possible that the developing countries, which back Sri Lanka against the Tamil population, do so out of economic reasons? China and Iran provide needed investments and technology and thus one must not criticize—is that possible, and if so is it ethical, is it consistent with our humanitarian principles and socialist ideology? Cannot one be a trading partner without cowing politically?

Another issue is secularism. The ALBA countries and all truly socialist oriented governments are not and cannot be theocracies! How can secular nation States and organizations consider the Sri Lanka State “democratic socialist” when it declares a religion, and only one, as THE national and official religion?  Secularism is the only common ground by which all can be united.

Conclusion

I concur with progressive Tamils in the Tamil Nadu state of India, who have for decades supported Cuba and the new ALBA formation. The Latin American Friendship Association there has held many solidarity activities for these countries, and published scores of books by Latin American   authors, including Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Upon learning of the HRC resolution, they were appalled. The author of the excerpted letter below is Amarantha Visalakshi. For 25 years, she has translated books about Latin America into Tamil and written some herself.

“We here in Tamil Nadu celebrated the 80th birthday of Comrade Fidel by releasing eight books on Cuba’s achievements in various fields…and are in the midst of our preparation for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution and evaluation of the consolidation of Latin American countries in ALBA…

“We are struck dumb and rendered disheartened and disillusioned by this act [the HRC resolution] by those countries of Latin America on which we have pinned our hopes for the future—Socialism of the 21st century.

“Why do these countries wish for wiping out the Tamils from the Sri Lankan soil where they rightfully belong? What are the sources of information for these Latin American countries to decide against the Tamils and in favour of the racist Sri Lankan government in the UN Human Rights Council?…more than any other time we feel the absence of Che Guevara, the true internationalist, who laid down his life for the oppressed people of the world.”

I also concur with Australia’s largest left-wing organization, the Democratic Socialist Perspective and Socialist Alliance, which publishes the www.greenleft.org.au 
We need “to undertake work to help convince the revolutionary governments of Latin America, including Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia, to cease support for the Sri Lankan government, and to recognize the national rights of the Tamil people. There is a long-run danger if revolutionary governments, for whatever reason, fail to support genuine movements for national self-determination in Third World countries, and endorse repressive regimes on the basis of a bogus `anti-imperialism…´” (8)

RON RIDENOUR has written,"Cuba at the Crossroads"", "Backfire: The CIA’s Biggest Burn", Yankee Sandinistas, and many articles about Cuba.

Notes:

1.Fidel told writer-photographer Lee Lockwood: "Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel", Macmillan, N.Y. 1967.

2. “Socialism and man”, Marcha, Uruguay, March 12, 1965.

3. “Hugo Chavez praises President Rajapaksa’s leadership in defeating LTTE”, Sri Lanka Daily News, September 4, 2009. In this piece, published by a pro-government newspaper, there is not one quotation by Hugo Chavez, who spoke with Rajapakse when they were in Libya. The piece paraphrases what the anonymous writer asserts Chavez said—an example: Chavez apparently said that the defeat of LTTE terrorism “is a glowing example to other countries beset with the same problem,” words of the writer. Chavez allegedly praised Rajapakse for his leadership.

4. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/11specialsession/S-11-1-Final-E.dochttp://portal.ohchr.org/portal/page/portal/HRCExtranet/11thSpecialSession;
http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/270638,un-resolution-commends-sri-lanka-on-human-rights–summary.html

5. http://www.ronridenour.com/articles/2006/0815-rr.htm

6. http://www.preventgenocide.org/law/convention/text.htm.
Although the US signed the 1948 convention, it did not accede to it until November 1988. As of 2008, 140 nation states have acceded.

7.http://www.rediff.com/

8. http://www.dsp.org.au/node/229