True Anti-imperialists Must Stand By Tamils

A leading Uncle Tom Tamil, Tamara Kunanayakam, will perhaps be once again heading the Sri Lankan government’s case for itself at the 25th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), March 3-28, when a resolution critical of the government for human rights abuses against Tamils will be introduced.

Kunanayakam’s article in Colombo Telegraph is filled with internal governmental intrigue, which makes it difficult to determine her exact status Regardless of her current government position she is a splitting figure in the international geo-political scene.

The Permanent Peoples Tribunal (PPT), the successor of the Bertrand Russell war crimes tribunal (Vietnam) of 1966-7, recently determined the Sri Lanka government to be guilty of perpetuating genocide against the Tamil people over a long history, not the least the current Mahinda Rajapaksa government for which Tamara Kunanayakam works as a diplomat.

The PPT also found that the United States and Britain were genocidaire accomplices for the military and political support they had given Sinhalese governments in its discrimination, mass murder, rape and other forms of torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Kunanayakam’s mother was an Indian Tamil, a Hindu. Her father was an Eelam Tamil, a Christian and member of the Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party, which is now part of the United People’s Freedom Alliance government of Rajapaksa and his family.

In the 1980s Kunanayakam (T.K.) defended her people against pogroms led by Sinhalese Buddhist monks and backed by government politicians, police and army. She spoke against the 1983 pogrom, Black July, in which hundreds of Tamils were murdered, some set on fire alive. Over 50 prisoners were murdered in their cells. She protested as a consultant at the World Council of Churches. The then conservative United National Party (UNP) President J.R. Jayewardene branded her as a “terrorist agent”.

In 1987, T.K. spoke against illegal detentions and torture of Tamils at the then Human Rights Commission, a predecessor to the current Human Rights Council where the converted Uncle Tom now speaks for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party-led Sinhalese government, a neo-liberal capitalist government that calls itself socialist. Before her conversion, she spoke the truth about the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). She said it is an “ugly blot on the statute book of any civilized country”.

The PTA of 1978 provides the police broad powers to search, arrest, and detain “suspects”. It is modeled after the British PTA of 1974 aimed against Irish liberationists. Jayewardene, also known as “Tricky Dick” after his favorite US President Nixon, made the PTA permanent in 1982 and it remains extant today, five years after the end of the civil war.

But since seeing the light of defending Sri Lankan chauvinist governments, T.K places herself as a supporter of their massive discrimination against Tamils by law (unequal rights in obtaining education and jobs, unequal status of non-Buddhist religions and the Tamil language), plus routine murders and disappearances, rapes and other torture carried out with impunity—essentially apartheid. And she also now supports the PTA.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party, of which Rajapaksa is president, is only an unchallenged progression of the same chauvinist policies, akin to South Africa’s former apartheid. In fact, in June 2007, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s brother, Gotabhaya, a US citizen and Minister of Defence advocated “deporting” Colombo based Tamils, such as Kunanayakam’s family, to the LTTE-held territory in the north and east. In fact, at least 500 ethnic Tamils from Colombo were deported.

“The forcible deportation of the ethnic Tamils from Colombo to the Northern and Eastern parts is reminiscent of The Holocaust,” stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights.

Since the end of the war, apartheid is practiced even more in the north and east as Sinhalese military and civilians take over more and more of Tamils’ homes, businesses, even gravesites and places of worship. Sinhalese chauvinists are copying both racist Boers and racist Zionists.

When she became ambassador to Cuba (2009-11), Kunanayakam travelled to Venezuela, in order to convince the then Chavez-led government not to offer assistance to Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka. In this campaign she named me as a promoter of terrorist activities. She stated that I was an agent for both the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which was on the US terrorist list, and the United States, which has long been the major terrorist and imperialist nation of the world, and which I have opposed with deeds and words for 53 years.

In her latest Colombo Telegraph piece, Kunanayakam appears to be an angry, anti-imperialist leftist. She lashes out at the Sri Lankan “ruling class” for having “disseminated misleading information for personal gain, which she contends is useful for those threatening the nation. This “nationalist patriot” is warning the ruling class about the designs of the US-UK imperialists. She even has a strategy “to counter the imperialist threat”.
This assumed leftist language also makes her popular in Cuban government circles. She helps fool the government because of US imperialism’s long-held blockade against it, and its use of violence, sabotage and terror against Cuba. Since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war (May 2009), the US/UK wish to make “human rights” noises against the Sri Lankan government, which has turned over to China an important port (Hambantota) for commercial and naval activities in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars in weaponry/communication/intelligence sold or donated to it in the last stages of the civil war.

China became a serious competitor to the US/UK/Israel/India/providers of military hardware. Western powers feel chagrined. The US has wanted another important bay port at Trincomalee; competition is strong.

The hypocrisy of Kunanayakam is not unusual in most governmental circles but coming from a Tamil makes her quite a special prize for both Sri Lankan Sinhalese chauvinist leaders and Cuban government leaders. This can happen, partially, because Tamils in the western Diaspora allow her to carry forth the anti-imperialist, pro-Cuba sword, while they make polite chat with the imperialists hoping they will “do the right thing” and create an independent, international investigation into war crimes.

Tamara Kunanayakam is allowed to fill the void of a real left, of authentic anti-imperialists, of authentic anti-capitalist revolutionaries.

As a Tamil she helps the image of the Sri Lankan capitalist government with its socialist rhetoric and its coalition parties with false names such as “Communist,” “Trotskyist,” “Maoist,” and “Buddhist.”

While many, even most, Tamils in the long struggle for liberation were socialists or communists of one stripe or another, certainly pro-Cuban revolution and anti-imperialists, they have given up or hidden those notions since the defeat of the LTTE and the massive destruction of life, liberty, possessions of most Tamils in the north and east. (Kunanayakam is a Colombo-based Tamil, where in the latter years there has not been much brutality used against Tamils). Another pro-Cuba spokesperson for Sri Lankan genocide and T.K. associate is Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, who, like Kunanayakam, was an ambassador for Sri Lanka at Geneva. He recently wrote against the new Northern Provincial Council for adopting a resolution calling for the UN to establish an international war crimes investigation, which is supported by most Tamils in the north and east, as well as in the diaspora.

Jayatilleka has written a favorable book about Fidel Castro, and he wrote comments to an article I wrote criticizing Cuba for its support of the Rajapaksa genocide government, “Cuba Hosted Sri Lanka Pres/War Criminal”, June 22, 2012.

I concluded my piece:

I am sickened by the Cuban government’s hypocritical support of Rajapaksa and his family regime and, consequently, the immoral acceptance of the genocide against a minority people. I am certain that if Che Guevara were around he would rant and rave, and that is what I ask all solidarity supporters of Cuba to do.

To which Dayan replied: “Che Guevara never ‘ranted and raved’, except according to demented Miami propagandists.” Dayan purports expertise on Che and is well received by the Cuban government: “I happen to be the only Asian whose essay on Che’s 40th death anniversary was written on invitation and published in the Granma, the organ of the central committee of the Cuban Communist party’s central committee.”

No doubt that Cuba’s government unfortunately views this Sinhalese chauvinist as an ally. I was also viewed as an ally having been invited by the Minister of Culture, in 1987, to work for the foreign publishing house, Editorial Jose Marti, and later for the foreign news agency, Prensa Latina. I lived and worked in Cuba from 1988 to 1996, and have written hundreds of articles and six books about Cuba and its revolution. I still support the Cuban revolution, and as such must now criticize it for reversing its economic direction towards capitalism, and especially for abandoning its internationalist solidarity record when it comes to Sri Lanka since it negates the plight of the Tamil people by uncritically backing the Sri Lankan governments. Cuba is, in part, motivated to do so because of the rhetoric of anti-imperialism, which Kunanayakam and Jayatilleke represent.

But Jayatilleke has a racist streak, as Visvanathan Sivam wrote about the “friend of Che Guevara”, who insulted “the Tamils as people behaving like monkeys. He talks as if the Tamils are living at the mercy of the Sinhalese and they have no other alternative. He failed to realise that the Tamils were a nation and they lived in a kingdom until the British merged them with the Sinhalese in 1833 in the island of Ceylon.”

(See what the “anti-imperialist” “pro-Cuban” had to say about Tamils here.)

Sri Lanka is capitalist and pro-US

Let’s get some hard facts straight. Sri Lanka’s economy and politics is capitalist, and its greatest ally both economically and militarily for decades is the United States of America. And Cuba knows that too.

Rodolfo Reyes Rodríguez, Cuba’s Permanent Representative to United Nations Office at Geneva, argued at the 19th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) that the United States acted contradictorily for presenting a resolution asking Sri Lanka to implement its own mild report, Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and slightly criticizing the government for not addressing human rights abuse, but only that which occurred during the end of the civil war between the government and the LTTE.

Rodríguez ridiculed the US position given that, as he said, 40% of military hardware sold to Sri Lankan governments between 1983 and 2009 (the duration of the war for liberation) came from it, and some from its closest allies the UK and even more from apartheid Israel.

“Why do they doubt Sri Lanka after having sold so many weapons?” Rodríguez inquired.

It is not known just how much in total sums the West has given/sold, but according to the US’s own establishment, the publicly released data is tremendous.1

A US Government Center for Defense Information chart shows that the US sold (or donated) $143 million in military aid to Sri Lanka’s military in the 17-year period. US foreign military sales, in 2007, were $60.8 million—the greatest amount for any single year—plus $1.44 million was spent on military training and financing. Green Berets were used since 1996 in “Operation Balanced Style” to train soldiers.

Economic and Military sales and assistance continued despite the fact that the US admits that the Sri Lanka government and its paramilitary allies practiced torture, murder, disappearances, child recruiting and other brutalities.2

Contrary to claims that the US cut off military sales or assistance, it has not done so. Between 2007 and 2009, the US sold a few cutters, radar systems, and 300 trucks. It also sold helicopters, some of which were made in Canada. (Canada also sold small arms amounting to less than $1 million in 2007-9.) The US did cut back sales in 2009 but the 2010-12 fiscal budget called for nearly $3 million in Foreign Military Financing and International Military Education and Training.

As the final massacring was occurring in the spring of 2009, the US-dominated International Monetary Fund was negotiating with Sri Lanka a $2.6 billion “stand-by arrangement” to the genocidal government “to support the country’s economic reform program.” Just two months after the war the IMF granted the life-line loan.

The US State Department’s April 6, 2011 “Background Note on Sri Lanka” shows that the US has steadily supported Sri Lanka militarily and has benefited economically from trade.

“Exports to the United States, Sri Lanka’s most important single-country market, were estimated to be around $1.77 billion for 2010, or 21% of total exports. The United States is Sri Lanka’s second-biggest market for garments, taking almost 40% of total garment exports.” (The UK is second.)

“U.S. assistance has totaled more than $2 billion since Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948… In addition the International Broadcast Bureau (IBB)–formerly Voice of America (VOA)–operates a radio-transmitting station in Sri Lanka. The U.S. Armed Forces maintain a limited military-to-military relationship with the Sri Lanka defense establishment.”

Even as it publicly expressed some criticism of Sri Lanka for not implementing its own investigation into possible human rights abuse, the Obama administration backed a $213 million World Bank loan for Colombo development.

Given that the Human Rights Council will soon be meeting again to evaluate how much impunity for war crimes the Sri Lankan government can maintain, Colombo has hired the Thompson Advisory Group to lobby for its global strategic interests. Two major Sri Lankan political figures are currently in Washington to lobby. Their U.S. advisors have sent out a letter to congressmen to hear the “distinguished” presidential chief-of-staff Lalith Weeratunga and the governor of the central bank A.N. Cabraal. Here is an excerpt from the letter-of-invitation, January 21, 2004.

“China is making inroads already in Sri Lanka but our distinguished visitors wish to make sure that relations with the United States are improved even more strongly.”

While on the one hand, Sri Lanka appeals to capitalist partners, and is in reality a capitalist economy and state, it also wishes to appeal rhetorically to socialist allies as somehow being “socialist”. But the so-called socialist government provides only 13% of employment, mainly in utilities, public transportation, education and health. Production is in private hands, including major multi-nationals. This includes nearly all tea and rubber plantations, and spices, garments, tourism, industry.

Child labor (12 years old plus) is rampant in the tea plantations. The majority are girls and women (75-85%), mostly Tamils originally from India and also native Sri Lankans. They live in horrible windowless Line Rooms. Rape is a common experience for these female Estate Tamils.
Poverty is the plight of 42% of the people today (under $2 a day); extreme poverty (under $1 daily) for six percent.

These conditions are not what would occur if the economy were truly socialist oriented, and one in which workers of all ethnic groups would control the means of production rather than capitalists, or the state.

The SLFP has a long history of discriminating against Tamils, including genocide. From 1956 onward, the SLFP party was the main campaigner for the “Sinhala Only” law, and was the government in 1961 when it took full effect. There ensued terrible pogroms against Tamils for peacefully protesting the measure in 1956, 1958 and 1961. Bertrand Russell was one of several thousand demonstrators against the law, in 1961, in London.

The 1971 SLFP government sought and received military aid from imperialists US/UK, in order to viciously squash the insurrectionist Sinhalese organization, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).

SLFP governments routinely seek and acquire military aid when putting down Tamils. And Rajapaksa took mass murderer, war criminal George Bush’s advice not to complete a peace agreement with the LTTE when there was a ceasefire, in 2004-5.

If Tamils in India and in the western Diaspora keep up the pressure, if leftist organizations, grass roots groups, representatives of other oppressed peoples seeking liberation (such as Palestinians, Kurds in Turkey, Basques, Irish…) would join in united fronts for liberation for one and all, then we might be able to bring some real hope for Tamils in Sri Lanka, and the other victims.

Be not fooled: The US-UK do not want true accountability, or a Tamil Eelam homeland for the oppressed minority, but the spotlight is turned on and peoples’ power could stoke the light, isolating “anti-imperialist” phonies such as Kunanayakam and Jayatilleka, and bring, at least, some relief to the down-trodden Tamil people.

I recommend that leftist-progressive organizations and websites, and especially solidarity groups with Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua (ALBA countries) make these governments aware that they need to return to their original principle as internationalists who support the oppressed everywhere on earth, and cease supporting unquestionably the genocidal government of Sri Lanka.

  • Updated 7 February.
    1. See my book, Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka, chapter five, for more statistics. []
    2. See the US Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report of March 6, 2007. []

    Ron Ridenour is a veteran journalist and author of nine books, the latest is Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka. Read other articles by Ron, or visit Ron's website.