“BRITAIN AND THE EMPIRE: Falklands and Chagos – A Tale of Two Islands
The eviction of the Chagossians
There are times when one tragedy, one crime tells us how a whole system works behind its democratic facade and helps us to understand how much of the world is run for the benefit of the powerful and how governments lie. 11
At the height of the Cold War the search was on for a US military base location capable of facilitating control of the main Indian Ocean shipping lanes and the approaches to the Persian and Arabian Gulfs. In 1961, by arrangement with the UK Foreign Office, this search brought Rear Admiral Grantham of the US Navy to Diego Garcia to survey its suitability. The visit was the precursor to a series of highly secret, jointly planned events and agreements that would, by 1973, see the entire indigenous population of the Islands dispossessed and forcibly deported to Mauritius over 1,000 miles away. John Pilger described the attitude of British officialdom throughout the period as one of “imperious brutality and contempt” for the Chagossians, a description amply evidenced in his award winning 2004 documentary “Stealing a Nation” 12] and in official documents subsequently released by the UK and US governments.
Terms for a US lease on the prospective military base area were negotiated and agreed at $1 per year. They required the islands to be ‘swept and sanitised’ so as to be handed over uninhabited. In return, the UK was to receive continued support for its so-called ‘independent nuclear deterrent’ and a £14 million discount on the supply of its submarine launched Polaris ICBM system. As part of its 1968 UN mandated independence demands and in ignorance of the US/UK negotiations, Mauritius agreed to sell the archipelago to the UK and it became the new ‘British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The deal was thus completed and the torment of the Chagossians began. From then onward, the Islanders were subject to what amounted to officially sanctioned psychological warfare. Among the many pressures brought to bear on a hapless population, a few stand out in their utter callousness:
On orders from the then Governor Sir Bruce Greatbatch, the Islanders were required to deliver their pet dogs (some 1,500 in total) to a large building with no explanation of the reason. Once delivered they were sealed in and gassed with the exhaust fumes from two US military jeeps and under the supervision of American and British officers.
Anyone who embarked on a visit to Mauritius for medical treatment or other necessity was forcibly barred from returning.
The regular supply ship bringing post, fresh milk, dairy products, sugar, salt, oil, medications and other basic supplies was barred from docking at the islands.
By 1973 only some 250 of the indigenous population remained. Allowed to take just one suitcase each, they were forcibly embarked into the holds of the SS Nordvaer, on top of a cargo of bird fertiliser (the decks being reserved for horses) and transported to the Seychelles where they were held in prison cells before being transported to Mauritius. There, in similar fashion to the relatives, friends and fellow Chagossians who had preceded them, they were dumped penniless on the quayside. The Mauritian authorities were later paid £650,000 to compensate for the assistance required of them. ”