Green Imperialism: the Diego Garcia 'Marine Reserve'

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The conservationists pay lip service to the fact that the Chagossians exist. But standing up to imperialism is strictly off the agenda.

In quantitative terms, the forced deportation of the people of Diego Garcia may reasonably be considered an imperialist crime of lesser consequence. The initial victims amounted to a mere 1,700, not including their beloved dogs who were taken from them and gassed. Yet the idea that a defenceless people of an island paradise could be tossed aside in their entirety, only to be replaced by a US military base that is now used to extend suffering across the Middle East fires me up like few other things can. As John Pilger explained in his excellent documentary:

“There are times when one tragedy, one crime, tells us how a whole system works behind its democratic façade and helps us understand how much of the world is run for the benefit of the powerful and how governments often justify their actions with lies.”

Diego Garcia has popped up recently due to the British government’s consultation about the creation of a marine protected area around the Chagos archipelago. The consultation made clear that: “Any decision to establish a marine protected area would be taken in the context of the Government’s current policy on the Territory … i.e., there is no right of abode in the Territory”.

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Related article:
Open letter to Greenpeace — Don’t support colonialist crimes on Diego Garcia!
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It is quite clear then that anyone who participates is collaborating with British imperialism. The environment card has long been used as a poor excuse by the British government to prevent resettlement. We are also meant to believe that the operation of a massive US base hasn’t had an environmental impact because the troops eat KFC and don’t go fishing.

Those most deeply complicit are grouped together in what is called the Chagos Environment Network. The government consultation document was not only prompted by CEN but also cites them. One of the organisations behind the Chagos Environment Network is the Pew Environment Group, part of a massive think tank and advocacy organization with multi-billion dollar resources. Naturally the CCT and CEN websites look pretty swish: they got money.

Having been involved in grass roots activism, I know that even tasks like putting a decent website together can be challenging for well intentioned but cash and time poor groups.

For instance, although I’ve never been involved in Chagossian stuff, I remember hearing something about the troubles that were endured in relation to setting up www.letthemreturn.com and sure enough, the website for the national campaign in support of the Chagos islanders appears not to exist right now. Unfortunately, there are presently no powerful organizations with a $5 billion dollar endowment willing to campaign for the rights of poor creole people living in Crawley.

Without digressing too much, this is all part of a bigger question which is: “what strategies are being adopted by business when it comes to environmental issues”

We know that climate change among other environmental problems cannot be seriously addressed without posing a major threat to the capitalist status quo.

We also know that, at least prior to the recent climategate crap, capital was trying to come to terms with the IPCC consensus on anthropogenic (human) global warming in order to reduce the fallout for capitalism.

A key indication of this trend was the demise of the Global Climate Coalition and the defection of its key members (Daimler, Ford etal) to a Pew body, the Pew Centre on Global Climate Change. In fact, the co-option of all sorts of these “post-materialist” issues has been a key strategy, conscious or not, of capital since the beginnings of the neo-liberal project.

Naturally, the conservationists pay lip service to the fact that the Chagossians exist. But standing up to imperialism is strictly off the agenda. According to CEN supporter Tony Juniper:

“Irrespective of arguments about fish, the protection of the natural features of this outstanding area must be achieved with justice for the Chagossian people.”

What is obviously meant to be a admirable statement in fact shows that the Chagossians are really an afterthought in all of this. If we were to rank white people, turtles, fish, and black people in a hierarchy of importance we can take a pretty good guess as to who would go where. Thankfully, the CEN has said that conservation will be done “without prejudice” for the Chagossians, no doubt in the same spirit as the Balfour Declaration.

Juniper makes clear that the issue is of quite limited importance to him, with this flippant statement:

“One thing to bear in mind, however, is that any resettled Chagossians would have very little time to live there. In as little as a couple of decades the islands will become vulnerable to rising sea levels.”

What a bizarre little shit Juniper is. The capitalists screw the world environment up, resulting in rising sea levels, reduced diversity and depleted fish stocks. And who do the bourgeois greens and arrogant conservationist establishment think should pay the price to set things right? The poor and the oppressed.

The sheer hypocrisy of cleansing islands of their population and then nobly declaring them a nature reserve as the British government ignores court decisions by employing Royal Prerogative should make any decent human being sick to their stomach.

Britain has no right to these islands. The Chagos Environment Network equally has no right to offer its pronouncements on what should be done with them. For all principled people the position to take is crystal clear: end the occupation and resettle and provide reparations for the Chagossians, who as the rightful inhabitants must have full sovereignty over their land, sea and environment.

[This article was first published in the London Left blog under the title "Diego Garcia and the 'marine reserve'"]