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More dirty work - in the Atlantic

Between 1965 and 1972, the British government expelled, deported or forced out the indigenous people of the Chagos Islands, and particularly Diego Garcia, known as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). This was because it had signed a "defence" agreement with the United States, leasing the islands to the US for an intelligence, military, and naval base and, later, a nuclear and fuelling depot for long-range bombers. The BIOT is located strategically in the centre of the Indian Ocean, so controlling it provides power and influence in the whole of Southern Asia and much of the Middle East. (See "Dirty Work in the Indian Ocean", Socialist Standard, September 1996.)

History may never actually repeat itself exactly, but the present situation on the island of Ascension, midway between Africa and South America in the Atlantic Ocean, is very similar. In 1956, the British government leased to the United States Wakefield Airfield, now a top-secret base on Ascension. According to the Observer (12.02.06), it is one of the Pentagon's most important military communications hubs; and is also used for troop deployments. Cable & Wireless and the BBC also have facilities on the island.Furthermore, Ascension is 1,000 miles off the oil-rich coast of West Africa.

About 1,100 people live on Ascension Island, some indigenous, many of them from St. Helena 750 miles to the south, and most of them British citizens. According to the Observer of the same date, after the Human Rights Act was adopted by the British government in 1998, the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, published a White Paper with the aim of bringing democracy to the island, as well as establishing a right of permanent abode, and full property rights, for all residents.Previously, although many of the islanders were born there, they were, and still are,only allowed to remain as long as they have jobs.

In 1999, the British government pledged that this would change. Following Ascension's first general election in 2002, a local council was formed which went on to create a national park on the extinct volcano in the centre of the island. There was a plan to encourage eco-tourism to take advantage of the unique plant and seabird species, first discovered by Charles Darwin in 1844. Many of the islanders bought shops and other small businesses. But it was all to no avail.

In January this year, the Foreign Office minister, one Lord Triesman, wrote to the Islanders informing them that the government had changed its plans, and that "they would not have a right of abode or right of tenure". They would be thrown out if necessary. Says the Observer:

"The Foreign Office is accused of covering up the true reason for its change in heart. Many blame the Pentagon for pressuring Britain. They believe the US wants to expand its military operations on the island and objected to plans to increase tourism. Washington does not want its activities to be subject to unwanted scrutiny. The west African coast has become of increasing strategic interest to the US, with discoveries of oil that have turned countries such as Equatorial Guinea into wealthy trading partners."

And Lord Triesman, who has allegedly bowed to the Pentagon's wishes, or dictates? He is better known as David Triesman who, as a sociology student at the University of Essex in the summer term of 1968, was suspended, but was later reinstated following a student occupation of the university. And who wrote an essay, "The CIA and Student Politics", in a Penguin Special book, Student Power,Problems, Diagnosis, Action, in which he exposed the CIA for financing and largely controlling the International Student conference and British NUS, adding: "The generation developing in this country will not want to pay mere lip service to the international struggle against imperialism, colonialism and racism; it will be in conflict with capitalism as the parent of these enemies."

It would seem that the good Lord Triesman has since changed his mind regarding American Imperialism, the CIA and capitalism.

PETER E. NEWELL