Britannia waives the rules

Uncle Sam rules the waves

Diego Garcia is an island in the Chagos Archipelago, lying in the Indian Ocean. It has been inhabited by a Creole people since the eighteenth century, when it became a British colony. In 1966, the island’s 2000 inhabitants were forcibly removed by Harold Wilson’s Labour government to make way for a
US naval base. This base, now home to 2000 American troops, has been central to US imperial strategy in the area. It has provided a major airstrip used for the aerial bombardment of both Afghanistan and Iraq.

The former inhabitants have been forced to live in squalour on the distant island of Mauritius. Some, in despair, have taken their own lives. However, as John Pilger’s remarkable programme, Stealing a Nation, shown on STV on December 7th, revealed, there has also been spirited opposition. This has been led by an electrician, Olivier Bancoult. In 2000 the islanders won a crucial case in the British High Court, which ruled that their expulsion was illegal. However, Tony Blair’s Labour government resorted to the same Crown Powers, originally used to evict the islanders, to overthrow this High Court ruling in 2003. Truly it can be claimed that Britannia waived the rules.

However, Diego Garcia has become the centre of attention again. This island alone escaped the devastation caused by the December 26th tsunami. Why? – because the base, despite its central Indian Ocean location, was tied into the US military supported Pacific Rim tsunami early warning system. Nobody was killed. Ironically, one of the many excuses given for the forced evacuation of Diego Garcia, was its proneness to flooding. This does not appear to have been a problem for the new military inhabitants. Given the necessary finance and technology, it appears that ‘Uncle Sam’ can also rule the waves. But just wait for the likely new excuse, the next time the original islanders contest their eviction – how British and American imperialism’s foresight in moving them managed to save their lives!