|"The Footprint of Freedom"
||[Jun. 4th, 2007|03:13 am]
"Welcome Aboard!" is the title of the US Navy's
web page on Diego Garcia.
"Congratulations" it continues.
Diego Garcia is part of the Chagos archipelago,
situated almost exactly halfway between Africa
and Asia. The island was inhabited by a gentle
Creole nation, who made a living from
supplying coconut oil (which actually powered
London's street lamps), acting as a coaling
station for ships travelling to Australia.
A British Colonial Office film from the 1950's
describes the people as "Born and brought up
... in conditions most tranquil and benign".
There were plans for tourism.
From the wikipedia entry on Diego Garcia
But in the 1960s and '70s, British governments
expelled hese people, and handed the Chagos
islands to the US for military use. This was
done in secrecy, all reference since has
officially referred to the island as if it had
always been uninhabited.
In 1964 the British Government offered
independence to Mauritius, with the condition
that the Chagos archipelago belonged to
Britain. (UN resolution 1514 already
guaranteed all colonial people inalienable
rights to independence.) Parliament was
The Washington Post first revealed that,
in 1975, the UK government received a
$14M discount on Polaris nuclear
submarines, in exchange for leasing
the islands to the US military. This had
not been approved by Congress. There
was no mention of any population.
The US Navy website's reference to
Diego Garcia continues:
"You have been selected to join one of the Navy's
finest operational commands anywhere in the
world: Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory
(B.I.O.T.). If you're looking for a professional
challenge, a close-knit team, unbelievable
recreational facilities and exquisite natural
beauty, then you are coming to the perfect place!"
numerous and we are
facilities to make life
"On behalf of everyone on Diego Garcia,
I hope you have a safe and pleasant
journey to the "the Footprint of Freedom."
And indeed, life seems pretty comfortable for
the service personnel whooping it up:
Sadly, no native of this "footprint of freedom"
has been allowed to appreciate "the exquisite natural beauty" of their island since 1965.
hear reports of
from Diego Garcia,
during the course
of military action
against Iraq or
Source: Bits of news
The islands are invariably described as uninhabited
- which is true, now. Oddly enough, the Navy's web-
site's telling of the history of Diego Garcia entirely
fails to mention the people who lived there, other
than to say "Plantations on Diego Garcia were
closed in 1971, following a decision to establish
the U.S. Navy Supprt Facility based on the 1966
Exchange of Notes between Great Britain and
the United States."
1967 Coconut Factory Workers
So there were simply plantations, subsequently
closed, and that's that? Not quite. GlobalSecurity.org
goes into much further detail of the island's history:
But curiously enough, they too neglect to mention
what actually happened to the original inhabitants.
Besides being a military base, Diego Garcia also
holds an unknown number of detainees, "terror
suspects", in a CIA facility called Camp Justice.
Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake has described
"very large hangers" (warehouses) visible on
The 30-acre site below is called a "temporary
housing area", but not just for personnel
supporting the Operation Enduring Freedom,
as GlobalSecurity appear to claim.
Very little is known about the involuntary inhabitants.
It is subject to even less scrutiny than the notorious
So what happened to the native people?
They were driven out. Not actually heaved
out at gunpoint - instead terrorised out.
Food ships stopped arriving, and with
no dairy products, oil, sugar or salt, they
still managed for a while.
There were rumours that they would be
bombed. Those who did leave - even
(as they thought) temporarily - were
not permitted any transport back.
They were sent
to live in slums
in the Mauritius,
for pigs and goats.
Then came the plan to kill all the dogs.
"Operation Stampede" was swinging
into action, to remove the people from
their island. The dogs are very important
to Chagossians - they regard them as
almost part of the community.
British Diplomats worked with US military
In 1971 to poison the dogs, but that was
slow work. So they rounded up hundreds
of dogs into the coconut packing sheds,
backed heavy vehicles up and connected
pipes to the exhaust. Those that did not die
were finished off in a huge pyre, and
survivors tossed back in. About 800-900
dogs were killed in this way.
A troubled last manager of the Diego
Garcia plantation, Marcel Moulinie, talks
about this. He said they had tried to kill
the cats too, but couldn't catch them.
"The children cherished their dogs",
says Lizette to John Pilger a few years
ago. She was a 4 year old in the 1950's
British documentary. "Nothing was the
same after that. We were covered
Those who still refused to leave were
eventually - and illegally - forced out.
Following a cattle-transport standard
shipping, they were dumped on Mauritius
2500 miles away.
They were not even
fed for 5 days of the
journey, and had no
shelter and little
water. The people
were bewildered and
terrified, according to
Cassam Uteem, the
former president of
They had lived very close to nature,
and had never seen cars or even used
bicycles. No British official helped them
to integrate. Some camped on the docks,
waiting to be taken home.
The current Mauritius
president, Sir Anerood
Jugnauth, has threatened
to leave the commonwealth
in protest at the "barbarous"
treatment of the people
of the Chagos Islands.
These were a couple of thousand British
citizens. No less British than the 2000
Falkland Islanders - an equal size of
population to Diego Garcia. But for the
Falklands, Thatcher considered a war
costing vast amounts of money and
many hundreds of lives to be worthwhile.
They were far less
white than the
Instead of spending
vast sums of money
and thousands of
lives in their defence,
these people up.
These British citizens petitioned through
legal channels, and were summarily
turned down. An appeal presented
to the British High Commission in
1975 was rejected, on the grounds
that it has nothing to do with the
British government - "concerns"
should be addressed to the
In 1981, hundreds of Chagossian women
organised a sit-in at the British High
Commission in Fort Lewis, and began a
The High Court proclaimed
in 2000 that the 1965 ruling
to expel the islanders was
illegal, but victory was short
The Blair government
immediately issued an
ordinance that returning to
Diego Garcia (where most
of them lived) was prohibited.
Louis Bancoult celebrates momentary victory
But they could return to some of the
other islands. A foreign office study
of 2002 decided the islands too hostile,
and flooding, storms, seismic activity -
even the notion the islands may be
sinking - made them uninhabitable.
Not that this seemed to concern the 4000
US military personnel, the tidal wave of
December 2004 had not touched them.
but it was clearly too dangerous for the
people who had lived there for hundreds
The islanders won another victory in
the high court last week (end of May
2007), but it remains to be seen
whether the British government will
do the right thing even now.
The government allowed 102 original
inhabihants, headed by Olivier Bancoult
(two pictures above) for a visit, but then
foreign secretary Jack Straw (an old
Trotskyist turned neo-con) said, "It
is not practical" for a permanent return.
The last time the islanders won a high
court case, it was turned down by decree
of the Royal Prerogative. This pre-dates
the Magna Carter of 1215, and is the
last refuge of a cowardly executive.
Will Brown act as Callahan, Thatcher,
Major and Blair have done, and pretend
these people under his stewardship
do not exist? So far the signs are not
promising. He wants to extend
detention without trial, and increase
surveillance on citizens. Even before
he takes power, on 27/6/07 .
We shall watch, judge, and report on
how well the UK government meets
its rhetoric on protection and upholding
the rights of law abiding citizens, and
how it compromises the same for
its subservience to power and
Thank you for your time.
- Besides those indicated in-line above,
I have drawn on John Pilger's work
"Freedom Next Time!", isbn 0-593-05552-7/
978-0-593-05552-6 / Bantam Press.