USA under Assault: How Tamil Activists Secure Attention, 2009 and Today

Michael Roberts, courtesy of Colombo Telegraph, where the title is different and where a range of blog comments may eventuate

 At the height of Eelam War IV, as the Wikileaks material reveals, American officials in Colombo as well as Washington and New York were bombarded with email demands and/or information from ardent Tamil advocates concerned about the deteriorating situation of the LTTE and the populace corralled within Thamiīilam’s declining terrain. The very diversity of fervent messages had an impact on the thinking of key American policy makers in 2009. The extremism of the vast majority of messages was immediately dismissed. But, in unplanned manner, these missiles opened the door for the US personnel of the State Department to give credence to the claims of the moderate few. This is the implication one can draw from Blake’s Despatch No. 314 of 20 March 2009. BLAKE -slguarian.org Robert Blake-Pic fr srilankaguardian.org

I go further. In explicit conjecture I contend that the same process has been at work in the past few years, especially at the moments when the UN bureaucracy was witch-hunting Sri Lanka in the interests of the desired regime change and/or reform in the island. So, it is a continuing process proceeding now, TODAY.NAVY P-hourdose.comNavy Pillai–Pic from hourdose.com Zeid finger wagging Prince Zeid, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in assertive mode 

The American policy makers are directed in part by the liberal-arts thinking developed in US academic institutions, working within the limits set by USA’s definition of its interests. Since the early years of this century “Responsibility to Protect” (or R2P) has been the new flag-bearer of hardline intervention with a moral façade. In relation to Sri Lanka this line of pressure was ratcheted up after the Government of Sri Lanka under the Rajapaksa clan defied the Western world and defeated the LTTE at war in April-May 2009 (Peiris 2007, Roberts 2015a).

Despite reservations about the LTTE among US functionaries, American realpolitik was guided by lines of policy set out by the US embassy staff in Colombo in the early 1980s as the pathway for the easing of Sri Lanka’s conflict situation: namely, devolution under a federal scheme (Gamage 2011).

That may have been a reasonable notion THEN in the 1980s. But, to any knowledgeable observer in the period 2000-09, such a notion was manifestly out of place because the Sri Lankan Tamils were under the control of a fascist party led by Velupillai Pirapāharan (Hoole 2001: 423-40; Bavinck 2014: 97, 158, 191, 211, 294, 325). How could a provincial unit be set up under the guidance of former Tiger personnel nurtured in fascist ways and military activity! But that is precisely what the Political Attache of the US Embassy in Colombo, Michael Owens, was pointing towards on 6th May 2009. This arose in the course of a public communique indicating USA’s desire to negotiate an LTTE surrender to a third party via a “limited amnesty” as a step that would initiate “the beginning of a political process” (in Gamage 2014).[1]

That mumbling bumbling public disclosure by Owens and the US Embassy in 2009 was not an aberration. It was in line with several American policy pronouncements in 2006-08 from such personnel as Richard Boucher and Robert Blake. Visiting Lanka in 2006 as Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Boucher told a press gathering that in order “to achieve its full potential Sri Lanka needs a final political settlement (see Boucher 2006). “Sri Lanka is a country of great promise and opportunity if the fighting can stop and a political solution can be agreed on that satisfies Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim aspirations,” said Ambassador Blake when addressing an audience in Chennai in October 2008 (Roberts 2015d). With the entry of Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State in December 2008 such inclinations would have received a further boost. Clinton does not believe in half-measures.

BOUCHER 22- Richard Boucher –Pic from likesuccess.com BLAKE speaks out -CT Blake-Pic from www.colombotelegraph.com

Understood within such a context, then, Despatch No. 314 of 20th March 2009 from Blake in Colombo is a revelation. “The Tamil Diaspora is vocal, internet-savvy and heavily influenced by hard-line views … Ambassador and a number of Embassy officers receive e-mails from the diaspora on a daily basis, most of them expressing points of view similar to those of the demonstrators. At times these e-mails include fake or exaggerated claims posted on pro-LTTE websites”

That evaluation is discretion personified. But Blake then goes on to say that

  • Ambassador and other Mission staff have made a point of engaging those who have written. In reply, we stress the USG’s commitment to a viable long-term political solution that meets the aspirations of all of Sri Lanka’s communities.” … and that
  • While the most vocal elements of the Diaspora are often the most hard-line, the Tamil community overseas is not homogeneous. The Norwegians speak to the more moderate elements of the Diaspora in an attempt to engage the community as a whole.”

Thus, one sees here that some moderate Tamil voices in the diaspora as well as Sri Lanka managed to get their foot in the American door. Seeds could be planted in powerful US office desks fashioning American policy. Let me stress again that in my conjecture the Tamil extremists and moderates were not working in concert. What I have identified in the course of the researches among Wikileaks data is an unplanned consequence of some significance for the broad Tamil cause.

Note that only two days previously, on the 18th or 19th March 2009 the US Ambassador had warned the Foreign Minister Bogollagama at a face-to-face meeting that he “strongly cautioned the government not to enter the safe zone forcibly” and stated that “if there were civilian casualties the government of Sri Lanka would be accused of war crimes” (Roberts 2015e). As we know, this programme was instituted after the war ended, with Sri Lanka being targeted for its temerity via the machinery of the UN bureaucracy marshalled by USA – with the “UN Panel of Experts” as the initial strike force (Roberts 2015a & 2015f).

This is not to suggest that the Tamil advocates exerted a decisive impact. Rather it points to some threads of influence then in 2008/09. In a geo-political order where Chinese influence within the Rajapaksa government was a major concern, the official readings of US interests rather than Tamil insinuations would have been the major force moulding Washington’s decisions. The insidious impact of Tamil advocates would have been interstitial rather than arterial.

VP benign- T-netPirapāharan in benign form –from TamilNet

VP pongai pandals- Chavakac Pongal Pandals for birthday celebrations in Chavakachcheri, 26 November 2015

L 160--FB-Heroes Day Offerings 2012Sweetmeats,  fruit, candy and soft drinks for Talaivar Pirapāharan on 26 November 2012 — perhaps part of the process of deification. See extended comment with this image in Roberts: Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo, Yapa, 2014, p. 207

However, one should not underestimate the capacities and influences arising from the continuation of this process from 2009 to 2015. The ardour, persistence and vigour of the Tamil nationalists of the diaspora and those in Colombo and Jaffna remain unabated. The veneration of Pirapāharan is probably as strong as ever (Jayaweera 2015).. All the signs indicate that Sri Lankan Tamil bitterness runs deep, even boiling over into hatred (TamilNet 2013a). The hate-filled communications to US personnel that continue today from extremists may cause revulsion, but in my surmise these open the door for the threads and seeds cast by more moderate voices. The impact may not be world-shattering, but the drip-drip effect has the potential to weigh significantly in favour of the Sri Lankan Tamil movement for self-determination.

Blake & MR-CT Robert Blake and Mahinda Rajapaksa in different times and climes A classic image courtesy of Colombo Telegraph

                 NOTE

Roberts, Michael 2011 “Death and Eternal Life: contrasting sensibilities in the face of corpses,” 29 June 2011 https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/06/29/death-and-eternal-life-contrasting-sensibilities-in-the-face-of-corpses/

Roberts, Michael 2012 “Velupillai   Pirapāharan: VEERA MARANAM,” 26 November 2012, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/velupillai-pirapaharan-veera-maranam/

VP 11 Pirapāharan pays homage on Maaveera Nal

VP 22 Pirapāharan paying homage to Black Tigers in his halcyon days 

  APPENDIX I = SELECT QUOTATIONS FROM PRESS RELEASE re RICHARD BOUCHER’s VISIT TO SRILANKA, 2006  

I told the President that we welcome the restraint that the government has shown in the face of many provocations by the Tamil Tigers. I told him that we stood squarely behind the government in its struggle to combat terror. …

We talked about the desire of the United States to assist Sri Lanka with its political and economic development. We all know that development can only happen in an environment where peace is coming, or peace is improving, and that to achieve its full potential Sri Lanka needs a final political settlement.

Those of us who are outside this process cannot impose a settlement.…….

I think we all understand that the Tamil community in Sri Lanka has certain rights and certain needs and certain grievances that need to be addressed. I met this morning with a number of representatives of the Tamil community and just talked to them about how things are here and what they felt and what they faced. Although we reject the methods that the Tamil Tigers have used, there are legitimate issues that are raised by the Tamil community and they have a very legitimate desire, as anybody would, to be able to control their own lives, to rule their own destinies and to govern themselves in their homeland; in the areas they’ve traditionally inhabited so I don’t want to confuse the issue of talking to Tamils and understanding legitimate grievances and legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community with not talking to the LTTE. Whether to talk to the Tigers or not is based upon their behavior and if they continue terrorism we won’t. If they abandon terrorism and one’s able to say they are no longer a terrorist organization, then we would find opportunities to consider [dealing with them].

       APPENDIX II = Blake-Washington, Confidential No. 314 of 20 March 2009

SUMMARY: The Tamil Diaspora is vocal, internet-savvy and heavily influenced by hard-line views. Recent demonstrations across North America and Europe showed the diaspora unafraid to label the GSL “genocidal”. In response to hundreds of e-mails received, Ambassador and other Mission staff engage with the Diaspora community by pointing out the steps the USG has taken to help alleviate suffering. Ambassador and other Mission members also use our e-mail correspondence to push back against the more exaggerated claims of “concentration camps” and genocide. Unsurprisingly, the most vocal elements of the community also hold the most hard-line views. However, the Diaspora is not homogenous. Post recommends further attempts to engage the U.S.-based Diaspora to help convey our message on U.S. efforts to help Sri Lankan Tamils. Ambassadir suggests Department organize a DVC for him and Department officials to engage U.S. Diaspora groups. Engagement would also allowPost to prod Tamil groups to play a more constructive role -and apply pressure on the Tamil Tigers to allow civilians to escape the fighting. End Summary.

Tamil Diaspora: Hard-line, Internet-Savvy and Bound Together in Outrage

􀂈2. (U) In the February issue of REACH, a monthly newsletter of the Tamil Youth Organization of Canada, an anonymous article appeared. In it, the author, a second-generation member of the Diaspora wrote, “I sit here in front of my computer, surfing the net, messaging on Facebook, clicking through websites to see if there is any improvement in our situation back home. I feel guilty every day… Am I a Sri Lankan? A Canadian? A Sri Lankan Tamil? A Tamil Canadian? What am I? Or should I simply be a Tamil? I guess we are all eagerly waiting for the day to say “I am a Tamil from Tamil Eelam.” …I drive home with hundreds of thoughts running through my mind… then it all stops when I see a Tamil standing at the intersection, hold a sign ‘STOP Tamil  Genocide’… Do we deserve this? Why did this happen to us? Then I realize, if this is how I feel in Canada… imagine the pain of my people in my home land… running for their lives, bleeding to death, screaming to let them live, hiding so they don’t get raped… hoping to see just one more day… the pain is UNBEARABLE. I feel the power when I am in protest and I see my fellow Tamils scream together for justice. I feel proud to see the youth who are born and raised here, standing together for their brothers and sisters miles away. I feel the solidarity when we are standing soul to soul crying for help.”

􀂈3. (U) Like the author of the article above the Tamil Diaspora, a highly educated, internet-savvy group across Europe, North America, Australia and several other countries has long been a source of funding and hard-line support for the LTTE. As Sri Lanka’s humanitarian crisis has worsened, Diaspora anger and lobbying have increased. One March 16, members of the Tamil community held demonstrations in Toronto (100,000 participants), Brussels (25,000 participants), Geneva (10,000 participants) and New York (200 participants).The demonstrators carried Tamil Eelam flags, pictures of LTTE Supremo Prabakharan and labeled GSL actions “genocidal.”

They described government-run IDP camps as “internment without any freedom.” They demanded that the EU rescind the listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organization and that the U.S. Administration appoint a special envoy.

A Flood of E-mails 4. (SBU) Ambassador and a number of Embassy officers receive e-mails from the diaspora on a daily basis, most of tem expressing points of view similar to those of the demonstrators. At times these e-mails include fake or exaggerated claims posted on pro-LTTE websites. The emails typically focus on: the growing humanitarian crisis (and often call for an immediate cease-fire); the condition of civilians in the “safe zone” and in IDP camps in Vavuniya; and Sri Lanka’s post-colonial history that has been marked by official discrimination, human rights abuses, and mob violence directed against Tamils. Ambassador and other Mission staff have made a point of engaging those who have written. In reply, we stress the USG’s commitment to a viable long-term political solution that meets the aspirations of all of Sri Lanka’s communities. In response to humanitarian issues, we point to the emergency humanitarian assistance the USG has provided, most prominently the $28 million in food assistance delivered through the World Food Programme. UN U/SYG Holmes assessment to the Security Council in February provides a neutral, third-party view of the situation in the conflict zone and in the IDP camps that undercuts the more extreme claims of Sri Lankan Army-run “concentration camps.” In our e-mail replies we have specifically addressed the genocide charge calling it “an overstatement,” while also cataloging the numerous times he and other senior U.S. officials have spoken out forcefully against documented human rights abuses.

Diaspora Not Homogenous: 5. (C) While the most vocal elements of the Diaspora are often the most hard-line, the Tamil community overseas is not homogeneous. The Norwegians speak to the more moderate elements of the Diaspora in an attempt to engage the community as a whole. As the Norwegians have found, though, after the death of LTTE political head Anton Balasingham, there is no trusted confidant in LTTE Supremo Vellupillai Prabakharan’s inner-circle that has significant life experience outside the Vanni. This makes it inordinately difficult to soften the LTTE’s now hardened position on freeing the civilian population.

While Difficult, We Should Engage – 6. (C) Recognizing the difficulty of engagement, Post recommends a redoubled effort to reach out to Tamil groups in the U.S. A number of organizations, including Tamils for Justice, Tamils for Obama and PEARL remain active politically and opportunities to interact with them should be sought. Post is in almost daily contact with such groups by email but they would welcome face to face contact. We recommend several options: – Ambassador would welcome opportunities, either in combination with senior department officials or just with Mission staff, to meet and converse with the U.S.-based Diaspora through a DVC. Such meetings would allow Post to brief the groups on USG efforts to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of the civilian population in the safe zone and our actions urging the government to offer credible political proposals for lasting peace.

–The British have just launched a program, throughInternational Alert and the Berghof Foundation, to engage both the Sinhalese and Tamil diaspora in the U.K. The project envisions: the establishment of a “clearinghouse” that would facilitate the sharing of information, resources and strategic knowledge on Diaspora activities in the U.K.; the development of policy papers that examine political activism of the Diaspora; the establishment of a Diaspora constituency for peacebuilding through Diaspora Dialogue Workshops; and the development of a policy framework for Diaspora engagement building on the lessons learned from similar Diaspora formations in the U.K. British High Commission officials in Colombo indicated to us that the idea for the program was in part an attempt to apply the positive role Irish-Americans played supporting and influencing the IRA to renounce violence to other conflicts. Post believes a similar U.S.-based project merits consideration.

7. (C) In particular, we should try to reinforce our and other efforts to try to bring pressure on the Tamil Tigers through their supporters in the Diaspora to abandon the armed conflict as a means of advancing their cause. For example, the Norwegian Embassy in Colombo is actively looking to engage influential members of the Diaspora who are in direct contact with the LTTE to assist in efforts to pressure the Tiger leadership to release the civilians under their control. Post is continuing to work closely with the Norwegian mission to assist their efforts with the Diaspora where we can. We would also make use of the DVC and other forums for interaction to suggest to Tamils in the U.S. that they, too, could potentially exert a more positive and productive influence on the course of events in Sri Lanka.

BLAKE

     BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bavinck, Ben 2014 Of Tamils and Tigers. A Journey through Sri Lanka’s War Years, Part II, Colombo: VijithaYapa Publications.

Boucher, Richard 2008 Richard Boucher in Press Q and A at SAARC Meeting in Lanka, 3 August 2008, 8 September 2008, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/richard-boucher-in-press-q-and-a-at-saarc-meeting-in-lanka-3-august-2008/

Gamage, Daya 2008 “Barack Obama & Civil War in Sri Lanka; Robert Blake’s Mind-Set; Negating R2P Psychology Build-Up,” 2 November 2008, http://www.asiantribune.com/?q=node/14004.

Gamage, Daya 2011 “Tamil Issue in Sri Lanka: US Policy Development 1981-1995,” 5 June 2011, http://www.asiantribune.com/news/2011/06/04/tamil-issue-us-%E2%80%93-sri-lanka-relations-proper-perspective-part-one-policy-development-

Gamage, Daya 2014 “The American Agenda for Sri Lanka’s National l Issues, 1970s-2014,” 5 July 2014, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/the-american-agenda-for-sri-lankas-national-issues-1970s-2014/

Gowan, Richard 2015 “A Hardline R2P Interventionist? An American Analyst’s Interpretation of Samantha Power,” 22 November 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/a-hardline-r2p-interventionist

Gunatilleke] 2015 “International Pressures & Island Fissures: Gunatilleke faces Ratnawalli,” 5 November 2015 https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/05/international-pressures-island-fissures-gunatilleke-faces-ratnawalli/

Hoole, Rajan 2001 The Arrogance of Power, Nugegoda: Wasala Publications.

Jayaweera, Rajeewa 2015 “Britain’s double standards over Prabhakaran commemoration,” 5 December 2015, http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2015/12/05/britains-double-standards-over-prabhakaran-commemoration/

Jeyaraj, DBS 2011 “KP” Speaks Out, Vavuniya: NERDO.

Ladduwahetty, Neville 2014 Sri Lanka’s Armed Conflict, Colombo.

Marga 2014 Issues of Truth and Accountability. The Last Stages of the War in Sri Lanka, https://www.dropbox.com/s/tdxwntf7wu5andq/The%20Last%20Stages%20of%20the%20war%20in%20Sri%20Lanka.pdf?n=66191473

Peiris, Gerald H. 2007The Responsibility to Protect and External Interventions in the Sri Lankan Conflict,” reprint on 20 November 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/the-responsibility-to-protect-and-external-interventions-in-the-sri-lankan-conflict/

Roberts, Michael 2011 “People of Righteousness target Sri Lanka,” 27 June 2011, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/people-of-righteousness-target-sri-lanka/

Roberts, Michael 2014 “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014, http://groundviews.org/2014/04/10/generating-calamity-2008-2014-an-overview-of-tamil-nationalist-operations-and-their-marvels/

Roberts, Michael 2015a “Targeting Sri Lanka by playing ball with Tamil Extremism,” 24 July 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/wpadmin/post.php?post=17127&action=edit&postpost=v2

Roberts, Michael 2015b “Ambassador Blake in Never-Never-Land: Misreading LTTE Capacity in Early 2009,” 26 August 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/ambassador-blake-in-never-never-land-misreading-ltte-capacity-in-early-2009/

Roberts, Michael 2015c “American Action and Inaction on Sri Lanka, 2008/09: A Critical Evaluation,” 5 September 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/robert-blake-on-u-s-perspectives-on-sri-lanka-at-chennai-24-october-2008/#more-17684

Roberts, Michael 2015d Robert Blake on ‘U.S. Perspectives on Sri Lanka,’ 24 October 2008,” 8 September 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/robert-blake-on-u-s-perspectives-on-sri-lanka-at-chennai-24-october-2008/

Roberts, Michael 2015e “The Realities of Eelam War IV,” 27 October 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/the-realities-of-eelam-war-iv/

Roberts, Michael 2015f “Sturdy Advocacy: Marga’s Questioning of the UNPoE Assassination Job,” 25 November 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=18544&action=edit&postpost=v2

TamilNet 2015a “Occupied Tamil Eelam marks Heroes Day amidst ‘Sri Lankan’ harassment,” 27 November 2015, https://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=38027

TamilNet 2015b “Tamils celebrate Pirapaharan’s 50th birthday,” 26 November 2015, https://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=13&artid=13477

UNPoE Report 2011 Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, March 2011, http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Sri_Lanka/The_Internal_Review_Panel_report_on_Sri_Lanka.pdf

 

 FOOTNOTES

[1] This tentative programme never got off the ground because the SL Army overran the LTTE terrain over the next 12 days. For Selvarasa Pathmanathan’s efforts to rescue the LTTE leadership – attempts that provided the lead-up to Michael Owens’ comment – see DBS Jeyaraj, “KP” Speaks Out, Vavuniya: NERDO, 2011

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Filed under american imperialism, democratic measures, devolution, disparagement, governance, historical interpretation, human rights, Indian Ocean politics, life stories, LTTE, nationalism, patriotism, politIcal discourse, prabhakaran, propaganda, Rajapaksa regime, reconciliation, Responsibility to Protect or R2P, security, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, Tamil Tiger fighters, terrorism, the imaginary and the real, truth as casualty of war, unusual people, vengeance, war crimes, war reportage, world events & processes

3 responses to “USA under Assault: How Tamil Activists Secure Attention, 2009 and Today

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