USA’s Political Programme in Sri Lanka and the Peace Corps Initiative

Daya Gamage, in response to the Thuppahi Invitation to Address Shenali Waduge’s Memorandum

This Pic  does not relate to a Sri Lankan issue; but it captures the tone in which Hillary Clinton pilloried Sri Lanka on 22nd April 2009 when the GoSL government did not abide by USA’s direct orders and proceeded to penetrate the LTTE’s last redoubt beyond Nandhikadal Lagoon — see https://frontline.thehindu.com/static/html/fl2610/stories/20090522261001600.htm

ONE: US Support for Tamil Separatism

In 1984, the CIA and the State Department produced a joint document – a highly classified one – solely on US foreign policy towards Sri Lanka after the LTTE started its terror campaign to bifurcate Sri Lanka followed by the JR Jayewardene administration seeking Washington’s help for military assistance.

The document categorically stated that Washington should not extend military aid/assistance to Sri Lanka. It identified the disturbance in Sri Lanka as a civil war between the majority Sinhalese and the minority ethnic community Tamils. Both the CIA and the State Department contended that if Washington released military equipment and other defense assistance to Sri Lanka such equipment would be used by the GSL against the minority Tamils. Their rationale was that if Washington extends such military assistance to Sri Lanka the United States could face immense difficulty in dealing with ethnic minorities in other countries as such assistance could be construed or interpreted as a standard foreign policy that disregarded minority ethnic communities’ legitimate grievances.

Washington strictly adhered to this 1984 policy decision throughout the Tamil Tiger separatist struggle until the outfit was militarily defeated in May 2009.

This U.S. policy plank was further strengthened when the U.S. Congress refused, cut and totally blocked military assistance to GoSL during the Eelam War IV – August 2006 through May 2009 – using the Leahy Amendment of the Foreign Assistance Act to deny military assistance on the premise that Sri Lanka’s military was engaged in violation of human rights and international humanitarian law (IHL).

Notwithstanding the above foreign policy decisions of successive U.S. administrations, Washington never supported or advocated the bifurcation of Sri Lanka leading to a creation of an independent-separate state for the minority Tamils.  In fact in 1997, the U.S. Department of State designated the LTTE a ‘foreign terrorist organization’ and strictly used federal laws to prevent ‘material support’ to the outfit. The US Department of Treasury proscribed an LTTE front organization Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) when its investigations found that it was providing ‘material support’ to the LTTE sending funds.

Nevertheless, Washington never wanted the LTTE totally annihilated and it used State Department’s Number Two official, Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, and the ‘good offices’ of Norway to try and work out a political solution to Sri Lanka’s ‘ethnic issues’.

In March-April 2009, Washington deployed its good offices to save the leadership of the LTTE. In that endeavour Washington expected the LTTE to serve as a pressure group that would assist USA’s reformative programme for Sri Lanka, a nation which in the State Department’s view  was controlled by Sinhalese nationalism and Sinhalese chauvinism.

Washington never wanted a divided Sri Lanka.

 GamageGamage

TWO: The Peace Corps in Sri Lanka

At any given moment, there were at least twenty-five Peace Corps volunteers in Sri Lanka. These youths were usually graduate students, but there were also a few postgraduate students. They were highly protected by the U.S. diplomatic mission in Colombo; no official, politician, civil society activists were allowed to meet them or engaged in any discourse. They were posted to very rural areas in Sri Lanka in order to encourage English education and other academic work. They were quite knowledgeable regarding the socio-political-economic atmosphere, trends and developments in the localities they worked in. They never interfered in affairs of the institutions, whether government or other, in the localities they were assigned to. It was amazing the interpretive knowledge they had, Many of these PC personnel displayed had the knack of gathering hard-to-get information. The US diplomatic mission in Colombo never allowed them exposed to ‘interested persons or groups’. Embassy officials maintained contact with them and assure their safety and well-being during their tenure of approximately eighteen to twenty four months.

That’s all I am supposed to tell even at this stage of my life.++

*****  ****

++ Daya was one of my students at Peradeniya University in the late 1960s or so. After working in the US Embassy he migrated to USA and is a dual citizen now — hence his caution, though he has been waxing bold in the Asian Tribune and Thuppahi.

THUPPAHI ADDENDA

* Padraig Colman:  “Sri Lanka’s Grim Prospects with Hilary Clinton as President: Looking at Potentialities in June 2016,” November 2016 http://www.slembassyusa.org/press_releases/spring_2009/sl_amb_discusses_26mar09.html

* http://www.slembassyusa.org/press_releases/spring_2009/sl_amb_discusses_26mar09.html

* Michael Roberts: “Realities of War,” Frontline, vol 26/10, 9-22 May 2009, https://frontline.thehindu.com/static/html/fl2610/stories/20090522261001600.htm

Diana Johnstone: “Smart Power International Machinations from the Hilary Clinton Camp,” https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/smart-power-international-machinations-from-the-hilary-clinton-camp/

Richard Gowan: “A Hardline R2P Interventionist? An American Analyst’s Assessment of Samantha Power in April 2014,” 22 Septmber 2015, https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/a-hardline-r2p-interventionist-an-american-analysts-assessment-of-samantha-power-in-april-2014/

Thuppahi: A Critical Bibliography: Challenging the Machinations of the International Powers vis a vis Sri Lanka,” https://thuppahi.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/a-critical-bibliography-challenging-the-machinations-of-the-international-powers-vis-a-vis-sri-lanka/

4 Comments

Filed under accountability, american imperialism, authoritarian regimes, centre-periphery relations, communal relations, economic processes, education policy, ethnicity, foreign policy, governance, historical interpretation, Indian General Elections, life stories, LTTE, military strategy, politIcal discourse, power politics, prabhakaran, security, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, the imaginary and the real, world events & processes

4 responses to “USA’s Political Programme in Sri Lanka and the Peace Corps Initiative

  1. david wei

    Isnt it amazing how so many of these critics of the USA , including the above, CHOOSE to become citizens of the US or its allies. Such articles leave a strong and lingering scent of hypocrisy.

  2. Dear DAVID WEI
    Gamage secured what many wd see as a plum job in difficult times in the US embassy in the 1970s or so. This enabled him to migrate to USA in the 1990s or so [I do not have precise details] – a step which no one familiar with Lanka’s politics of the time would begrudge him.
    Now retired –and older and wiser – he has chosen to deploy his background to comment on SL politics within its wider environment. He is, clearly, sailing close to the wind insofar as may be contravening American laws. This is my surmise.
    This means that his Sri Lankanness overrides his Americanness. What gives you the right to question this? I hold dual citizenship in Australia and Sri Lanka. I favour Sri Lanka always in cricketing contests and in debates on asylum-seekers, etc etc.
    Tell us please where you are located and what your political leanings are when we are, say, addressing big power contests in the Indian Ocean and the seas off China.
    MICHAEL ROBERTS

    • David Wei

      very simply, I was not questioning the degree of his two loyalties, merely pointing out that moving to another country and swearing allegiance to that second country must be seen as colouring one’s opinions on the country one abandoned.
      As for my political leanings are, that’s easy. I have none and have never been a member of a political party.
      I am Australian, have some Sri Lankan ethnicity and have experienced first hand the endemic racism of that country. I am 110 percent loyal to Australia. This doesn’t mean I don’t criticise Australia. I do not comment on the politics of SL partly because I don’t live there and therefore don’t have to bear the consequences of any suggestions I make.

  3. Daya Gamage

    Daya Gamage comments
    If Mr. David Wei read my piece carefully, it was not a criticism of the United States; I endeavor to correct a long-standing notion among many Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka and domiciled abroad that the U.S. was aiming to divide Sri Lanka and allow the ethnic Tamil minority to establish a separate independent state. In my note, I was trying to present the exact picture as I was deeply aware of Washington’s intentions as I worked with them during the northern insurrection (1983 through 1995), and later as an immigrant in the U.S. was closely following the developments until the LTTE was defeated in 2009. I do criticize the foreign policy planks of the United States at the same time clarify some of Washington’s policies that were/are misunderstood. Mr. Wei, these are balances judgments and analyses whether one is a US citizen or not. The job I did, Mr. Wei, is a very challenging one, and Washington recognized me in 1989 with the highest State Department award “Meritorious Honor Award for High Degree of Professionalism’. Thanks Prof. Roberts for the clarification on my behalf – Daya Gamage

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