Important Note: The Committee for a Workers’ International has received a copy of a vile communication put out by Sinhala chauvinist hate-mongers in the wake of the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(see pic2). Amongst the portraits of those they want killed are NGO activists, Indian politicians and five Sri Lankan politicians including Siritunga Jayasuriya, Secretary of the United Socialist Party and a honarary president of SST. To find out more please visit : http://socialistworld.net/eng/2009/05/2301.html. To read the appeal Siritunga Jayasuriya made on behalf of SST on 7th of April please visit http://www.stoptheslaughteroftamils.org/?p=135.
The aftermath of the bloodbath
Since the capture of Kilinochi town on 2 January this year, over 20,000 people have been slaughtered by the chauvinist Sri Lankan government. Over 400,000 people, trapped in the tiny area under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) without food, medicine or shelter, were surrounded by the military and constantly bombed. Human Rights Watch reported that the army “indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas, including hospitals”. While ruthlessly arresting, attacking and killing anyone who raised any dissent in the south, the government continues to refuse to allow any humanitarian agencies or independent media anywhere near the warzone.
Despite all the horrific attacks and the mass slaughter which has taken place over the last five months, president Mahinda Rajapakse announced that he had “liberated” the country from terrorism and declared ‘victory’ on 18 May 2009. While thousands of Tamils in Sri Lanka and outside the country grieved for the immense loss of life, the government declared Wednesday 20 May a public holiday to celebrate the victory. The final few days before the government-sponsored ‘victory celebration’ was the bloodiest in Sri Lanka’s history, with thousands of innocent people killed. Even the UN, which refuses to take any action against the Sri Lanka government, called it a “bloodbath”. On 19 May 2009 the right-wing European Union also called for an independent war crimes investigation.
But with the end of the war, nothing has changed for the Tamils in the north who are facing a major humanitarian crisis. Over half a million are still internally displaced. Proper hospital and health facilities have not been made available for the hundreds of thousands of injured people. Over 300,000 are still detained in low facility camps. As schools, hospitals, houses and all the infrastructure have been completely destroyed by the military, those who fled to the south have nothing to return to. The many people who lost family members and relatives in the war have not been given a chance to grieve. Instead they are imprisoned in so-called ‘refuge camps’ and put through a horrific ‘screening’ that can only create further psychological damage to those who are in desperate need of care.
Not only has this war brought huge suffering of the people, but the suffering economy offers no cause for celebration. The Rajapakse government has spent over $5 million a day prosecuting the war. In 2009 defence expenditure was increased to 200 billion rupees ($1.82 billion)! The high cost of the war, together with the effect of the global financial crisis, has taken the country to the brink of bankruptcy. Senior economist Dr Sirimal Abeyratne has warned of an acute economic crisis. He also pointed out that: “the global financial meltdown is yet to hit Sri Lanka and when it does we would be in serious trouble.” “The island tea and garments export industries have taken a battering, while remittances from its army of overseas workers are also down and tourism is week” reports the Financial Times on 19 May. Growth of GDP has seen a steady decline since 2006, falling to 2.6% this year (down by 5.1% from 2006). According to the central bank of Sri Lanka, gross official reserves stood at $1.7 billion in December 2008, sufficient just for 1.5 months of imports. Public debt was at 78% by the end of 2008, with inflation is ranging upwards from 14%. The Economist estimates that the budget deficit will rise this year by 6.7% of GDP, while GDP growth is expected to slow to 2.6%. The value of the rupee is also expected to fall.
In a desperate attempt to bail out the economy the central bank asked for a $1.9 billion loan from IMF in March 2009. This led to suspicions about the actual state of the economy. The central bank governor was criticised for misleading the country on the state of its finances.
Bearing the brunt of this crisis are the poor in Sri Lanka. 2008 has seen an unprecedented rise in prices for essential food items. The department of census and statistics published figures showing a 78.2% price rise for white rice, a 72.5% rise for bread, a 78.6% rise for milk powder, and a staggering 122% rise for coconut oil. Almost all items have seen a double digit price rise. This has hit the rural poor. Even the government statistics, that do not include the north and east, the country’s poorest regions, report that 41.6% of its population is living on less than $2 a day. The government has done nothing about the acute poverty that exists in some southern regions.
The majority of the recruits for the Sri Lankan army come from poor regions. The government is yet to announce how many army personnel died in the war. Prior to the war it promised large sums of money for each army personal death. The large number of solders traumatised by the brutal war will be in need of assistance. The government will not be able to come up with the huge sums to keep its promises without taking money from public services. The military is the largest employer in the country with one active troop for every 132 citizens (one in 40 working for the defence department). It is impossible to keep this large military machine running without large defence expenditure as we have seen in recent years. In order to maintain the cost of keeping the North and East under complete military control, spending for the public services will inevitably be reduced. So-called plans for ‘development’ in the north east and welfare of all the poor and workers in the country will be scrapped.
After the declaration of the end of war all Colombo share index rose, but this failed to inspire any enthusiasm among the investors. The so-called ‘peace dividend’ will not be sufficient to save the economy. Attracting foreign investment and developing the tourist industry will not be easy in the current climate of global economic crisis. Even if the government managed to secure some investment it will never be enough for full economic recovery. In order to secure money for the war, the government had created ties with Iran, and China which created uneasiness among traditional donor countries and other western capitalist governments.
Iran, was the first to congratulate the president for ‘winning the war’, is reported to have granted $450 million dollars and over $1 billion for an oil refinery. It also emerged that China donated more than $1 billion for a coal power plant. India is also spending millions on coal power plants and other various projects. This regional economic interest has helped Rajapakse’s brutal war in the past months. However, the country’s major exports used to be to India, UK and other economically developed countries. Not only that export market declined, but revenue from exports has collapsed since the free trade agreement with India. India, being a major beneficiary of the FTA, will not be pleased about China’s involvement in the economy. Furthermore, none of these countries will be able to support Sri Lanka as they are hit hard by the global economic meltdown. Even the tiny loan Sri Lanka is expected to get from the IMF is not enough to help the recover. The IMF has already listed several ties with the loan, one of them being the revaluation of the rupee, which will spark further price rises and in turn increased poverty.
The poor people in the south are made to believe that the end of war will bring prosperity. They will soon find out that the cost of war has plunged them further into poverty. The government is expected to carry on its war mania until the next election, in which they expect a landslide victory. But need will soon surpass nationalist propaganda. The government will not be able to hide the failing economy under the phraseology of war and nationalism. Workers’ struggle will soon develop in the south. Sri Lankan working class has a tremendous history of struggle that will be reinvented soon.
‘War on Terror’ – justification of state terror after 9/11
George Bush’s childish reduction of social complexity to good and evil after 9/11 has taken centre stage in the US and UK and has been copied by right-wing governments around the world. The ‘you are either with us or with them’ mentality is used, not only to intensify the terror but also to clamp down on any dissent. George Bush Junior, managed to secure a second term, despite the weak mandate the first time he stood, when he appeared to actually have received fewer votes than his opponent Al Gore. In the neo-colonial world, where many unstable governments face insurgencies, quickly ‘adopted’ the ‘war on terror’ to massacre their opponents.
In Sri Lanka in particular Bush’s approach provided an easy way out for the struggling right wing. The current Rajapakse government only received a narrow mandate when first elected, which was aided by the LTTE calling for a boycott of the elections by Tamils. Considering the number of people who didn’t vote in that election, the majority of the masses did not support the warmongering policies of Rajapakse. However, that government began to implement its chauvinist policies. The ‘war on terror’ is used to attack democratic rights throughout the country. Journalists who write against the government are ruthlessly murdered. Defence minister Gotabaya Rajapakse insists: “you are either with us or with them” to justify the terror he has unleashed on any opposition in the south. The defence ministry’s phraseology is a carbon copy of the Bush administration’s phraseology regarding Iraq. It is clear to them that if Bush and Blair can get away with millions of Iraqi deaths, surely the Rajapakse administration can get away with thousands of Tamils deaths. For them to be brought to justice would mean that Bush and Blair could also be brought to justice.
Despite slaughtering thousands of people, Rajapakse has managed to secure majority support among the Sinhala population. With stooge elections in the north and east he may even secure a landslide victory in the presidential election due next year.
Since Sri Lankan independence subsequent right-wing governments have struggled to stay in power and have attacked the Tamils’ rights to secure majority support. The demand for equal rights and better living conditions by the Tamils has led to the demand for the right to self determinism. The left in Sri Lanka, throughout the history, supported the Tamils’ right to self determinism. Starting from the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) and now the United Socialist Party (USP) have always stood for the Tamils’ rights and worked closely with Tamils in struggle. Since the beginning of the armed struggle in the early 1980s, the left-wingers among the Tamils have been alienated as right-wing middle class Tamils took the leadership of the struggle. This gave legitimacy to right-wing governments’ divide and rule policies in Sri Lanka.
Historically the Sinhala and Tamil masses have struggled together to secure rights in that country. The Sinhala and Tamils poor masses and workers have stood together in the fightback against oppression and exploitation. It is only the Sinahala ruling elite and the Tamil middle class who benefited from the division created among the Sri Lankan struggling masses. Now the Sinhala-Tamil division has never been higher. Many are afraid that the desire for vengeance among the remaining LTTE cadres may be unleashed on the ordinary Sinhala masses.
But this divisive regime of Rajapakse has plunged the Sinhala masses into more poverty. Their attempts to fight back have also been clamped down on. This government has successfully suppressed many working-class struggles in the south. It argued against the general strikes all workers actions that we seen in recent times, claiming this kind of action is not necessary and will only aid the terrorist LTTE, which in turn infringe the national security.
The government brutally and violently represses all left-wing activists. Siritunga Jayasuria, general secretary of the USP and chair of the Civil Monitoring Commission, formed to monitor the many ‘white van disappearances’ in the south, has been forced go semi-underground to save his life. He has now received a death threat from the right wing thugs. Despite the economic crisis and the rocketing prices and increasing unemployment, workers were unable to take any action to defend their living standards and working conditions, with such threats of right-wing, chauvinist attacks in the name of ‘national security’.
Is the defeat of the LTTE an end to Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict?
The Sri Lankan government’s systematic campaign tries to create the impression that bringing the war to an end will subsequently mean an end to the conflict itself. With the help of the JVP and other chauvinist forces, the current government has waged a massive propaganda war along communal lines.
Capturing the LTTE-controlled area is not an end of conflict. It is foolish to expect that Tamil people will give their unconditional support to the Rajapakse government after its victory, based as it was on the brutal killing of thousands of innocent civilians.
The causes of the conflict still remain unsolved. The government has not proposed any political solutions. All it is saying was that the north will have an ‘eastern style’ solution! This is a watered down version of implementing the 13th amendment introduced by the Indian government during its occupation in 1987. Under this implementation the chief minister will be elected (possibly by stooge elections) by the people of the ‘Northern Province’. But neither the chief minister nor his administration will have any power. All appointments and administrative decisions will be made only by the ‘executive president’. Every single decision has to be in compliance with the president. The provincial administration will not have any regional power at all.
This is a tactic of the president to put an armed group in charge of the provincial administration in order to control the territory directly. There will not be any democracy or freedom for poor people in these areas.
Even the complete implementation of the 13th amendment will be opposed heavily by the chauvinist forces in the parliament. The president’s brothers, family, distant and immediate, and his friends occupy the leading government positions. Communal and extreme right-wing thugs also have a heavy presence in the parliament. The JVP has opposed implementing the 13th amendment since 1987. Recently this has been their major campaigning point. However, some middle-class Tamils in the country and in the diaspora have already shown interest in collaborating with the government for a little piece of power. Some are even asking for a ‘free trade zone’ in the east.
Clearly, none of this will solve the problem that the poor masses and the workers are facing. None of the government’s strategies worked for the poor provinces in the south. This government has plunged more people into poverty and misery.
Sri Lanka’s so-called ‘war on terror’ has actually been a massacre of innocent people.
The right-government cannot continue their threat of ‘terror’ to suppress workers’ rights. The cost of killing poor Tamils should not be forced down onto the heads of poor Sinhala masses. Sinhala workers and poor must not bear the brunt of the horror that the Rajapakse clique has unleashed. Sinhala workers must resist and a fightback against this chauvinist government is essential in order to secure all the democratic rights that have been so severely undermined in recent times.
The government so far has used the national reserves and the international aid to fund the war. It is expected to continue to maintain a high defence budget by borrowing more money. Not only will these loans not be used for providing much-needed public services, but it is expected that there will be an intensification of cuts in services as neoliberal policies are implemented, as dictated by the donors. This must be opposed. All aid must go to the rebuilding the lives of those affected by the war. Defence expenditure must be reduced and all the money should go to the poor and working masses. No to cuts in wages or services.
The slaughter of thousands does not qualify the right-wing chauvinist ruling elite to demand that the Tamil masses surrender their rights. The Tamils’ rights have certainly been attacked and they have been driven into penury on an unimaginable scale. A mass movement of the Tamil masses is the only way to fight this oppressive elite. But given the atrocious conditions created by the war with over 300,000, including children, detained in camps, mass action seems a distant future. However, it is important to fight for fundamental rights and democratic rights to create the conditions whereby the masses will be able to have their say freely.
All the workers must demand for all the so-called ‘rehabilitation camps’ to be closed down. Tamil refugees should be allowed to decide their own future. All refugees must be released from any army control. All the displaced should be housed properly with aid going directly to the needy. Following the tsunami that devastated Sri Lanka in Rajapakse was accused of thieving tsunami aid for his election campaign. Thousands of those affected by the tsunami still live in poverty and still wait to be resettled. Not only did this government plunder tsunami money, but it also poured billions of rupees of public money into war. We cannot let that happen again. All the aid should go the victims through their own elected representatives.
Any stooge elections must be opposed as just more military exercises to install paramilitary groups in power in the North and East regions. Genuine democratic elections in the north or east can only be held when Tamil people have restarted their lives properly and when they are able to feel free to say what they want and free from any intimidation. Now they have gone through a horrific war. Post traumatic assistance must be given to all the victims of war.
Any political solution imposed by the government must be opposed. No ‘staged’ political solution will have any meaning unless the fundamental needs of the society are met. Freedom of press must be allowed. The right of people to freely organise and the right to stand in the election must be respected.
Trade unions and workers organisations must be rebuilt and their rights must be safeguarded throughout the country. It is through these organisations and the workers’ movement that the trust between all communities in the country can be rebuilt and the rights of all workers and poor can be won.