Anu Muhammad on Micro-Credit in Bangladesh

For the full interview, click.

How do you assess the role and performance of micro-credit? How much has it contributed to the capitalist penetration of rural Bangladesh and its integration in the global network of finance capital?

Anu Muhammad: Micro-credit in different forms has been in practice for long in this region. Dr. Muhammad Yunus (Grameen Bank) and Fazle Hasan Abed (BRAC) could institutionalise it and could attract global attention through its monetary success. Initially, their micro-credit programmes began with the promise of poverty alleviation, gradually its success showed its strength in other areas. Currently, BRAC, Grameen Bank and ASA control more than 80 per cent of the micro-credit market. From micro-credit business these organisations have accumulated a lot of capital and shown that micro-credit can become a corporate success. They have also linked multinational capital with the micro-credit network.

For instance, Grameenphone started its operation by relying on micro-credit, offered borrowers mobile phone as a commodity form of micro-credit, on condition of paying back in installments. Its initial declared aim was to ‘help poor’, ‘alleviate poverty’, now Grameenphone has become the largest company in Bangladesh with 90 per cent of its subscribers being non-poor urban people. Grameenphone is actually an entity of Telenor, Norway. They started with the poor and relied on micro-credit and then at one point migrated to more profitable areas. Grameen Bank has opened many other businesses, has developed joint venture companies with French companies such as Denon and Veolia (a water company), all in the name of poor. Intel and many other companies are coming to Grameen Bank to make use of its wide network through micro-credit.

The same thing is true also for BRAC. BRAC was initially interested more in education, health and other essential public services. With its increasing accumulation of capital through micro-credit, it shifted to the business of textile, printing, education (including setting up of a university). It is also in business with multinational seed company Monsanto. In fact, its focus on education and health care for the poor shifted more towards commercial activity. Thus the micro-credit operation, in its process, has successfully been used as a weapon to make macro business to grow in tandem with global capital.

But question remains, what about the much publicised objective, i.e., poverty alleviation through micro-credit? If we look at the hard facts, compiled from different studies (not sponsored by BRAC or Grameen Bank), we find a new debt trap for the poor people has been created by micro-credit. You cannot find more than 5-10 per cent people who could change their economic conditions through micro-credit. The people who could change their economic conditions were those who had other sources of income. If we closely look into the system of micro-credit it appears clearly as a means to create a debt trap. If you take loan, you have to repay in weekly instalments and it means you have to be active, healthy and working all over the year, which is not possible. In fact, it is impossible for the poor millions, who constantly live in adverse conditions, to keep paying weekly instalments all over the year. If there are any unfavourable circumstances you are bound to be a defaulter. And once you become a defaulter it creates a chain and you have to take loan from another lender/NGO to repay the same. Micro-credit has connected the rural areas and the population with the market but has made done that by pushing them into a chronic debt trap.

Today Dr. Yunus is not talking any more about sending poverty to museum. He has come up with a ‘new’ idea of social business, which is also unclear and seems to be fraudulent. The impact of micro-credit is now well understood by people around, especially millions of victims. However, the IFIs and global corporations seem to be very happy with these experiments, as they find that the poor people can become very useful objects for profitable investment of finance capital. Thus the WB, HSBC, Citibank, and other multinational banks are entering into the micro-credit market. Bangladesh has given a gift to crisis-ridden global capitalism, which has consequently found the market of four billion poor through micro-credit. It is very relevant here to quote the Wall Street Journal, an important part of the global corporate media. It said: “Around the world, four billion people live in poverty. And western companies are struggling to turn them into customers.” (26 October, 2009). Obviously, micro-credit is a very useful instrument to go with this objective.

Leader of War Mongerers, Looters and Exploiters of world people, US President Obama Go Back!


Dear Friends,

At a time when US imperialism has escalated the war against Afghanistan and is even extending this war by assaults by NATO forces led by it against northern districts of Pakistan, leader of warmongers, looters and exploiters of the world people, President of USA, Barack Obama, will visit India in early Nov. 2010. Since Obama came to power, US forces have increased their numbers several times over in Afghanistan. There are innumerable proven instance of deliberate targeting of innocent civilians by these forces in the name of “targeted” attacks on “enemy”. In essence, US imperialism under Obama administration is continuing the Bush era attempt of a permanent base in Afghanistan from where it will interfere in central Asia. India should be in the forefront of opposing the US move. Let us use the opportunity of Obama’s visit to strongly demand that US and NATO forces immediately withdrawn from Afghanistan.

It was 2001 that US imperialism under Bush had launched its current war, which the world people were told was against ‘terrorism’. War was launched first against Afghanistan and later against Iraq. In reality wars were launched to further the quest of US imperialism for hegemony over the world’s oil resources and also to establish military dominance over the world.

In essence, the Obama administration is continuing the aims of Bush era but it has changed rhetoric. US under Obama has made a mockery of his promises of withdrawal of forces from Iraq, keeping a huge army stationed there in the name of ‘aid’ to local troops. While Afghanistan is the main theatre of war, US continues a sharply aggressive stance on West Asia and Central Asia. On Palestine, Obama has no policy different from the earlier one and continues backing Israel against the just fight of the Palestinian people.

The current world economic crisis began in US and the US economy continues to be in the grip of severe unemployment. One of the chief ends of the Obama visit is to push further opening of the markets of our country. He is expected to give a massive push for opening of the retail sector to US MNCs like Wal-Mart, which will directly affect the livelihood of a large section of our people, and which step the Indian people have resisted all along. All this even as Obama administration seeks to protect US markets back home. Obama is championing opposition to outsourcing by US companies; those companies which outsource are to face stiffer taxes. It is also no secret that Obama is going to use the occasion of his visit to push for fresh defence deals with US, aiding the powerful weapon industry. Ahead of Obama visit Indian government has signed the international nuclear liability treaty to dilute the liability of suppliers as stated by Nuclear Liability Act 2010. This is in accordance with the demands of US companies. Let us not forget that Obama administration, like previous US govts, has refused to reconsider the issue of extradition of Warren Anderson, guilty of Bhopal Gas Tragedy, for trial in India.

Obama is coming at a time when ruling classes of India have hitched themselves firmly to the chariot wheel of US imperialism. They aspire to the junior hegemons under US in Central Asia. Ruling classes of India are committed to bowing to the diktats of US imperialism in the economic spaces too. As it is the people of India are reeling under the pro imperialist policies of India’s ruling classes especially the new economic policies being implemented since 1991. The result is visible in the severe price rise which is burdening the common people including the working class. Severe agricultural crisis has gripped the country. Land acquisition by the state for cooperates; MNCs and SEZs have devastated last sections of the peasantry and tribal. Privatization and liberalization are putting health and education further out of reach of common masses. People all over country are resisting these policies in various ways. The furtherance of pro imperialist policies, which is what the Obama visit will signify, will increase the burdens on the common people.

On the occasion of President Obama’s visit to India, let us unitedly demand

US imperialism, Get out of Afghanistan.
Send back Warren Anderson to face trial in India

CPI(M-L), CPI(M-L) New Democracy, CPI(M-L) New Proletariat, Democratic Students Union, Indian Council of Trade Unions, Indian Federation of Trade Unions, Inqlabi Majdoor Kendra, Krantikari Yuva Sangathan, Mool Pravah Akhil Bharatiya Nepali Ekata Samaj, Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan, Progressive Democratic Students Union, Revolutionary Democratic Front, Trade Union Centre of India, CPDM, Bahujan Vam Manch

Ethiopian farms lure Bangalore-based Karuturi Global Ltd. as Workers Live in Poverty

Jason Lutes, Bloomberg

Until last year, people in the Ethiopian settlement of Elliah earned a living by farming their land and fishing. Now, they are employees.

Dozens of women and children pack dirt into bags for palm seedlings along the banks of the Baro River, seedlings whose oil will be exported to India and China. They work for Bangalore-based Karuturi Global Ltd., which is leasing 300,000 hectares (741,000 acres) of local land, an area larger than Luxembourg.

The jobs pay less than the World Bank’s $1.25-per-day poverty threshold, even as the project has the potential to enrich international investors with annual earnings that the company expects to exceed $100 million by 2013.

“My business is the third wave of outsourcing,” Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi, the 44-year-old managing director of Karuturi Global, said at the company’s dusty office in the western town of Gambella. “Everyone is investing in China for manufacturing; everyone is investing in India for services. Everybody needs to invest in Africa for food.”

Companies and governments are buying or leasing African land after cereals prices almost tripled in the three years ended April 2008. Ghana, Madagascar, Mali and Ethiopia alone have approved 1.4 million hectares of land allocations to foreign investors since 2004, according to the International Institute for Environment and Development in London.

Emergent Asset Management Ltd.’s African Agricultural Land Fund opened last year. On Nov. 23, Moscow-based Pharos Financial Advisors Ltd. and Dubai-based Miro Asset Management Ltd. announced the creation of a $350 million private equity fund to invest in agriculture in developing countries.

‘Last Frontier’

“African agricultural land is cheap relative to similar land elsewhere; it is probably the last frontier,” said Paul Christie, marketing director at Emergent Asset Management in London. The hedge fund manager has farm holdings in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

“I am amazed it has taken this long for people to realize the opportunities of investing in African agriculture,” Christie said.

Monsoon Capital of Bethesda, Maryland, and Boston-based Sandstone Capital are among the shareholders of Karuturi Global, Karuturi said. The company is also the world’s largest producer of roses, with flower farms in India, Kenya and Ethiopia.

One advantage to starting a plantation 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the border with war-torn Southern Sudan and a four-day drive to the nearest port: The land is free. Under the agreement with Ethiopia’s government, Karuturi pays no rent for the land for the first six years. After that, it will pay 15 birr (U.S. $1.18) per hectare per year for the next 84 years.

More Elsewhere

Land of similar quality in Malaysia and Indonesia would cost about $350 per hectare per year, and tracts of that size aren’t available in Karuturi Global’s native India, Karuturi said.

Labor costs of less than $50 a month per worker and duty-free treaties with China and India also attracted Karuturi Global, he said. The $100 million projected annual profit will come from the export of food crops, including corn, rice and palm oil, he said. The company also is plowing land on a 10,900- hectare spread near the central Ethiopian town of Bako.

The project will give the government revenue from corporate income taxes and from future leases, as well as from job creation, said Omod Obang Olom, president of Ethiopia’s Gambella region and an ally of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling party.

“This strategy will build up capitalism,” he said in an interview in Gambella. “The message I want to convey is there is room for any investor. We have very fertile land, there is good labor here, we can support them.” The government plans to allot 3 million hectares, or about 4 percent of its arable land, to foreign investors over the next three years.

Surprised Workers

Workers in Elliah say they weren’t consulted on the deal to lease land around the village, and that not much of the money is trickling down.

At a Karuturi site 20 kilometers from Elliah, more than a dozen tractors clear newly burned savannah for a corn crop to be planted in June. Omeud Obank, 50, guards the site 24 hours a day, six days a week. The job helps support his family of 10 on a salary of 600 birr per month, more than the 450 birr he earned monthly as a soldier in the Ethiopian army.

Obank said it isn’t enough to adequately feed and clothe his family.

“These Indians do not have any humanity,” he said, speaking of his employers. “Just because we are poor it doesn’t make us less human.”

One Meal

Obang Moe, a 13-year-old who earns 10 birr per day working part-time in a nursery with 105,000 palm seedlings, calls her work “a tough job.” While the cash income supplements her family’s income from their corn plot, she said that many days they still only have enough food for one meal.

The fact that the project is based on a wage level below the World Bank’s poverty limit is “quite remarkable,” said Lorenzo Cotula, a researcher with the London-based IIED.

Large-scale export-oriented plantations may keep farmers from accessing productive resources in countries such as Ethiopia, where 13.7 million people depend on foreign food aid, according to a June report by Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food. It called for ensuring that revenue from land contracts be “sufficient to procure food in volumes equivalent to those which are produced
for exports.”

Karuturi said his company pays its workers at least Ethiopia’s minimum wage of 8 birr, and abides by Ethiopia’s labor and environmental laws.

‘Easily Exploitable’

“We have to be very, very cognizant of the fact that we are dealing with people who are easily exploitable,” he said, adding that the company will create up to 20,000 jobs and has plans to build a hospital, a cinema, a school and a day-care center in the settlement. “We’re going to have a very healthy township that we will build. We are creating jobs where there were none.”

The project may help cover part of the $44 billion a year that the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says must be invested in agriculture in poor nations to halve the number of the world’s hungry people by 2015.

“We keep saying the big problem is, you need investment in African agriculture; well here are a load of guys who for whatever reason want to invest,” David Hallam, deputy director of the FAO’s trade and markets division, said in an interview in Rome. “So the question is, is it possible to sort of steer it toward forms of investment that are going to be beneficial?”

Buntin Buli, a 21-year-old supervisor at the nursery who earns 600 birr a month, said he hopes Karuturi will use some of its earnings to improve working conditions and provide housing and food.

“Otherwise we would have been better off working on our own lands,” he said. “This is a society that has been very primitive. We want development.”

“The British left India but their colonial mentality remained”

Nepal’s Maoist party Tuesday ended a countrywide three-day general strike and threw an open challenge to India to begin direct talks with it instead of ‘remote-controlling’ the Nepali ruling parties. It also threatened to launch an indefinite general strike from Jan 24.

After paralyzing the country for two days and a half with a general strike that shut down transport, industries, markets and educational institutions, Maoist protesters Tuesday brought out ‘victory rallies’ in many parts of the capital that converged in a meeting in front of the interim parliament.

Watched by hundreds of riot police guarding the parliament building, Maoist chief and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda said talks with the ruling parties were breaking down regularly since the ruling alliance was a ‘robot’ taking its orders from the Indian government.

‘In the past, (after King Gyanendra dissolved the elected government and imposed a handpicked cabinet), the then ruling parties asked us to hold talks with them,’ Prachanda told a mass meeting of hundreds of people in the capital. ‘But we refused, saying we will not hold talks with servants but only with the master (the king).’

Nearly seven years later, after an anti-monarchy movement that deposed the king, Prachanda said that time had come to say the same thing. Only this time, he said, the master was New Delhi.

‘We are ready to go to Delhi and start talks,’ he said.

Prachanda added that civilian supremacy in Nepal ‘had been assassinated by India’.

He referred to the Indian Army chief Deepak Kapoor’s reported statement at a banquet in New Delhi recently that Maoists combatants should not be incorporated into the Nepali army.

‘Is he the governor of Nepal,’ Prachanda asked. ‘Can he order the Nepali people?’ Isn’t the integration a decision to be taken by Nepal’s government and parties?’

Nepal, he said, became semi-colonized by the British rulers of India in the 19th century after being forced to sign an unequal treaty that made the country cede almost a third of its territory.

‘The British left India but their colonial mentality remained,’ he said.

Prachanda is calling for a five-point negotiation with India that will scrap all unequal treaties and make public ‘secret treaties’ detrimental to Nepal’s national interests. He is calling for the resolution of all boundary disputes and the withdrawal of Indian troops from Nepal’s Kalapani region. The Maoist chief is also calling for an end to the ballooning trade deficit between the two neighbours.

He has asked New Delhi to draw a strategy on a war-footing so that Nepal, sandwiched between India and China, can benefit from its proximity to the world’s two fastest growing economies.

The Maoist chief is asking India to treat its smaller northern neighbour as an equal instead of trying to keep it reduced to a ‘puppet’ and ‘robot’.

The Maoists Tuesday also pledged to start a month-long campaign from Christmas Day to ‘awaken the people’.

Prachanda said during the meeting that his party would expose Indian and other foreign agents and the corrupt, including those indicted in a commission that was to have brought deposed king Gyanendra and the other abettors of the royal coup in 2005 to justice but was never made public.

The Maoists have also warned of an indefinite general strike nationwide from Jan 24 if the ruling parties still fail to reach an agreement. (IANS)

Courtesy: Sify

An interview with Benedict Anderson

Benedict Anderson was in Delhi recently to deliver a lecture on his latest work. He “is one of the first and original theorists of nations and nationalisms. His pathbreaking work ‘Imagined Communities’ is an exploration of how various peoples have at a certain juncture in history imagined themselves into nations. An anthropological explorer of various national-liberation movements in East and Southeast Asia, Prof Anderson sees the rise of nationalism as being closely connected with the growth of printed books and with the technical development of print as a whole”. Paramita Ghosh interviewed Anderson for Hindustan Times. FOR THE FULL TEXT

Q: As a man of the Left, what is the future of Marxism in south Asia and in India?

A: Communism has taken a beating in the last 20 years. But it won’t go away if underlying problems in society don’t go away. There has to be new ways to revive it. However, one framework which Marx never anticipated was how the atomic tests would destroy civilisation. The limits of resources are not there in Marxist vocabulary, it comes from Thomas Robert Malthus and it has to be grappled with.

India has three kinds of Communisms. The established left, the CPI M-L and the new Naxalites who are no longer led by college students. They go to the bottom of society.

Q: One of our living realities is the competition between Indian and China amid the babble of economic cooperation. How can Third World solidarity be revived?

A: What solidarity can there be to speak of? There was never a leftist government in India. The Cold War put China on one side and India played a role in between…. Both are rapidly expansionist, they are bound to get in each other’s hair. But it is in everyone’s interest to reduce the power of America.

China wants a ring of friendly countries around it, but it won’t occupy them. It’s not clear what China wants in Africa. I don’t know whether they intend to stay. If the Chinese start moving there, then it might get interesting.

There is, I think, however, a growing acceptance that war will not get you more territory. What threatens nation-states are not external states, but internal collapse. It has happened in Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia. It may happen in India. States can’t get any bigger, but they can get smaller.

Indian capital: Make money or die trying

Below is a very small glimpse of how agressive Indian capital has become today, and why it needs to enter into a coalition and competition with other centres of imperialism. This explains, at least partially, the changed tenor of India’s foreign policy. But what is required to be studied is how much India and its economic lords contribute in exacerbating the trouble. -Ed.

Pouring Money on Troubled Waters


The occasional bloodbath -or 10- hardly dissuades enthusiastic Indian businessmen from setting up shop even in nations where mortality rate is, to put it mildly, comparatively high. Make money or die trying!


The Conflict: Deep-seated poverty, social unrest, racial violence and illegal drug production.

Indian Investment: In 2006, Jindal Steel and Power acquired development rights to 20 billion tonnes of El Mutun iron ore reserves; will invest $1.5 billion initially and $2.5 billion over next eight years–the single largest investment by an Indian firm in Latin America. But, project delayed due to problems in acquiring land rights.


The Conflict: Civil wars; refugee influx from neighboring countries.

Indian Investment: ONGC’s overseas investment arm, ONGC Videsh Ltd, invested $720 million for 25% stake in Upper Nile oil field; signed a $194 million contract to construct 741 km-long multi-product pipeline. ONGC faces international pressure to quit Sudan, on grounds that revenues from oil drilling funds continuation of war by government.


The Conflict: Ethnic/religious tensions; organized crime.

Indian Investment: Pramod Mittal’s Global Steel Holdings bought 80% stake in Delta Steel, Nigeria in 2005, for $30 million. Kidnapping of Indian workers is a threat. Following kidnapping reports in 2007, Indian commission asked Indian companies to scale down operations.


The Conflict: The heart of the world’s bloodiest strife

Indian Investment: Sun Pharmaceuticals invested $100 million in Taro Pharma; holds 36% in the company. However, its $454-million proposal to acquire Taro came unstuck. India-Israel Initiative for industrial R&D, a bilateral framework to provide financial assistance for joint R&D ventures between Indian and Israeli companies, has been created.


The Conflict: Cold war battlefield; now Taliban’s hunting ground.

Indian Investment: India has pledged around $1.2 billion in several reconstruction projects. Power Grid Corporation is involved with Rs. 500 crore in the Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul power transmission project. India completed construction of 218-km Zaranj-Delaram Highway in South-Western Afghanistan despite attacks by Taliban.


The Conflict: Nuclear nontouchable. Indian presence in Iran has been under scrutiny due to Balochistan conflict.

Indian Investment: India is to build a 4,000 MW gas based power plant in Iran. State-owned NTPC is likely to build the station and Power Grid Corporation of India may set up the accompanying transmission network to wheel the electricity from Iran to India. The proposed station may cost upwards of Rs. 20,000 crore.

Sri Lanka

The Conflict: A long-standing Tamil ethnic strife that ravaged the economy came to an end this year.

Indian Investment: Indian companies are helping in the reconstruction. Bharti Airtel plans to invest around $200 million there. IndianOil is the largest Indian investor. L&T is to build Sri Lanka’s tallest building costing $150 million. National Thermal Power Corp plans coal power plant at Sampur. Several Indian public sector banks have been in the country for long. ICICI is a new entrant.

This article appears in the December 4 issue of Forbes India, a Forbes Media licensee.

Sri Lanka: Post-War Internment Hell (V)

Ron Ridenour

First Article
Second Article
Third Article
Fourth Article

“The impunity with which the Sri Lankan government is able to commit these crimes [referring to 2009 war atrocities, including brutal internment of 300,000 Tamils] actually unveils the deeply ingrained racist prejudice that is precisely what led to the marginalization and alienation of the Tamils of Sri Lanka in the first place. That racism has a long history – of social ostracism, economic blockades, pogroms and torture. The nature of the decades-long civil war, which started as a peaceful protest, has its roots in this,” wrote author Arundhati Roy.

“’This is something similar to what occurred in Gaza or worse, because neither observers nor journalists had access to the war zone,’ stated a UN source who asked for anonymity. The army acknowledges that 6,200 soldiers and 22,000 guerrillas died in the last three years of the longest civil war in Asia. The UN affirms that between 80,000 and 100,000 persons died in the conflict,” wrote Elisa Reche of Prensa Marea Socialista.

“During the war,” Reche continued, “the army had 200,000 troops. Now with peace, 100,000 are being incorporated… A strange peace it is that requires more troops than in actual combat.”

More troops are needed because systematic ethnic cleansing is now the order of the day for the Tamil people. Their Homeland will be obliterated by introducing more Sinhalese settlers. The same strategy, as John Pilger pointed out, that Israel uses against Palestinians.

This is what M.K. Bhadrakumar, an ambassador for India who served in Sri Lanka and other countries, wrote about the day after Sri Lanka declared victory.

See, they have already solved the Tamil problem in the eastern provinces… The Tamils are no more the majority community in these provinces. Similarly, from tomorrow, they will commence a concerted, steady colonization program of the Northern provinces where Prabhakaran reigned supreme for two decades. They will ensure incrementally that the northern regions no more remain as Tamil provinces… Give them a decade at the most. The Tamil problem will become a relic of the bloody history of the Indian sub-continent.

Ethnic cleansing goes hand-in-hand with the policy of imprisoning and mistreating hundreds of thousands of Tamils. For more than a year before its military victory, the Sri Lanka government enticed Tamils, wishing to flee the war zone, into so-called “welfare” centers or villages. Tens of thousands became “Internally Displaced Persons” (IDP), and are thus subject to United Nations regulations concerning decent living conditions, food and water, freedom of movement and the right to leave and rejoin families. All these rights and necessities have been denied them.

“Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy,” President J.R. told the Daily Telegraph, (UK) on July 11, 1983.

A quarter-century later, the current president is striving to fulfill his predecessor’s genocidal intentions. Mahinda Rajapakse has claimed that no IDP is held against his/her will and all are treated well. However, the few United Nations visitors—there are no official investigators into abuses since the Human Rights Council majority blocked such a possibility—who come to observe have quite another picture.

When UN’s political chief, Lynn Pascoe, visited camps in September he said people were not free or well treated… “this kind of closed regime goes directly against the principles under which we work in assisting IDPs all around the world.”

Rajapakse told Pascoe another tale about “free movement”. He said that detention was necessary because the army was clearing the area for mines, and it was still looking for guerrillas hiding among civilians. However, as the UN resident coordinator reported, and Amnesty Internationalquoted: “Under international humanitarian law, captured combatants…may be held pending the cessation of hostilities. Once active hostilities have ceased, prisoners of war must be released ‘without delay.’”

At of July, there were 9,400 individuals with purported links to the LTTE held separately from the rest of the population. They have not been released nearly half-a-year after internment.

Amnesty International also reported that the camps are clearly militarized. The 19-member Presidential Task Force established in mid-May “to plan and coordinate resettlement, rehabilitation and development of the Northern Province” is headed Major General CA Chandrasiri, who was also appointed governor of the province. All inmates are enclosed by barbed-wire fences, guarded and brutalized by well-armed soldiers.

“Arrests have been reported from the camps and Sri Lankan human rights defenders have alleged that enforced disappearances have also occurred,” wrote Amnesty.

“Sri Lanka’s history of large-scale enforced disappearances dating back to the 1980s, and the lack of independent monitoring… raises grave concerns that enforced disappearances and other violations of human rights may be occurring… Previous research [shows] that [persons] suspected by the government of being members or supporters of LTTE are at grave risk of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, and torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.”

“Although the government calls these facilities ‘welfare villages,’ they are effectively detention camps…” Amnesty International also reported that not only are people not free to move as they wish, women and girls are raped by soldiers, and people live in sewage, disease-infested conditions, with little food and water and medical attention. They die in droves because of these imposed conditions.

Women and children are especially mistreated, which was the subject that James Elder, spokesperson for UNICEF, complained about to Sri Lankan authorities, who then expelled him from the country. Elder described the “unimaginable suffering” of children caught in the fighting, including babies he had seen with shrapnel wounds.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had refrained from criticizing Sri Lanka’s government, leveling his critique only at LTTE for carrying out atrocities. But when he briefly visited one camp less than a week after the end of the war, he said:

“I have traveled around the world and visited similar places, but this is by far the most appalling scenes I have seen…I sympathize fully with all of the displaced persons,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told CNN after visiting Manik Farm, the most presentable of Sri Lanka’s squalid and dangerous internment camps for Tamils civilians. The UN Chief has also promised international action regarding the heavy shelling of civilian populations during the recent fighting.

Out of the 280,000 IDPs after the end of the war (there were nearly one-half million over a year’s period), only between 15,000 and 40,000 had been released by November 1. Half of them, perhaps, have been ransomed. The Sunday Times wrote about “human trafficking at the internment camps.” Relatives were made to pay camp authorities in order to secure their release.


A week after the end of the war, the LTTE communicated that several of its leaders were killed, but the organization would continue struggling for an independent Tamil Eelam in peaceful ways. July 22, the LTTE announced that its chief of international relations, Selvarsa Pathmanathan—known as KP—was made the new leader, and that a new strategy for a “free Tamil Eelam” would occur. On August 8, England’s The Independent wrote that Pathmanathan was under arrest by Sri Lanka and held incommunicado.

For us solidarity activists, left-wing organizations, and governments considered to be progressive-socialist-communist-revolutionary, I believe that our task must be to press for the lives and rights of the Tamil people. Australia’s Democratic Socialist Perspective and Socialist Alliance said it well in its October 2009 international situation report:

Now the Tamil struggle has entered a new phase. The immediate campaign must focus on defence of basic human rights, release and resettlement of the Internally Displaced Persons currently held in SL government concentration camps, an end to murders, torture, rapes, and provision of basic housing, food and drinking water to the Tamil people under brutal occupation.

As a solidarity activist, who advocates the right to resist and the necessity to conduct armed struggle once peaceful means fail to induce oppressive and terrorist governments to engage in a process aimed at peace with justice, I condemn all perpetrators of terrorism and demand they change tactics to ones that are morally in accordance with our ideology for socialism, for justice with equality.

I find that most, if not all, armed movements commit acts of atrocities, even acts of terror in the long course of warfare. This has sometimes been the case with FARC and PFLP, for instance. But I support them in their righteous struggle. They are up against, as was the more brutal LTTE, much greater military and economic forces that practice state terror endemically. Remember the ANC in South Africa’s war for liberation. They committed much the same.

The main reason why I am on their side, why I have been a leftist solidarity activist and writer for nearly half-a-century is a matter of basic ethics. I define ethics in this way: Life shall not be abused or destroyed by our conscious hand—without being attacked, invaded, oppressed beyond bare. A moral person, organization, political party, government acts in daily life and in the struggle for justice with that ethic in mind. These are my thoughts on morality.

1. We act to so that no one person, race or ethnic group is either over or under another.

2. In combat against oppressors and invaders, we do not kill non-combatant civilians nor forcefully recruit them, or use them as hostages.

3. We struggle to create equality for all.

4. We abolish all profit-making based upon the exploitation of labor or the oppression of any person, group of people or class. Instead, we build an economy based upon principles of justice and equality, one in which no one goes hungry, sharing equitably our resources and production.

5. We struggle to create a political system based upon participation where all have a voice in decision-making of vital matters, in local, national and international policies.

6. We struggle to eliminate alienation in each of us.

After following liberated Cuba for half-a-century, having lived and worked there for eight years, I find that during its guerrilla struggle, which fortunately only lasted two years, it acted in a moral manner. Cuba’s revolutionary armed struggle was exceptional in this way. The Vietnamese struggle against the invaders of France and the USA was so conducted as well. There are a few other examples: the original Sandinistas is, perhaps, one.

I think that the key reason why so many millions of people the world love and respect Che Guevara is because of his moral stance, of his example as a just revolutionary leader. I conclude this all-too-long essay with these oft-quoted words from Che’s Socialism and Man.

At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love… Our vanguard revolutionaries must idealize this love of the people, the most sacred cause, and make it one and indivisible… one must have a great deal of humanity and a strong sense of justice and truth in order not to fall into extreme dogmatism and cold scholasticism, into an isolation from the masses. We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.

The Sri Lankan National Question and the People’s Right to Self-Determination



Post-war Sri Lanka has taken new directions in its political form with the LTTE militarily defeated and the liberation struggle of the Tamils facing a major setback. Against this backdrop, triumphalism of the Sinhala majoritarian chauvinism in its different forms is placing new constraints on the resolution of the Sri Lankan national question. Its impact has been almost instant.

The latest line of the NGOs and ‘civil society spokespersons’ is the idea of “non-devolutionary constitutional reform”. Newly coined terms are used to persuade the government that it could introduce constitutional reforms with little consideration for the rights and aspirations of the people. On the other hand the Tamil nationalists among the diaspora remain stuck to the mythical notion of Vaddukoddai resolution and claiming that separate state Tamil Eelam is the solution for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. Both approaches contain their fair share of vested interests.

Although the thirty-year civil war is over, the causes of the conflict still remain to be addressed. The national question, remains the main contradiction in Sri Lanka, and unresolved. Chauvinistic oppression and denial of the basic rights of the minorities remain strong, the oppression being two-fold, political and military. The reluctance of the government to propose a political solution has serous long-term implications.

While a just solution to the national question should be based on ensuring the right to self determination of all the nationalities in Sri Lanka, the term ‘right to self determination’ itself is being interpreted by different political actors, each in a way to suit its own agenda. Thus there is a need to understand the concept of the right to self determination and examine its role in finding a solution to the Sri Lankan national question.

Right to self determination

The concept of the right to self-determination has its origins in the Russian revolution. The founding of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922 brought together more than 120 distinct peoples, each with its own language and culture, who had been oppressed by the fallen Russian Czarist Empire. This great achievement was made possible by the 1917 October Revolution. Elimination of national oppression and arriving at a correct position on what was then known as “the national question” would not have been possible without a profound struggle.

Marx’s analysis of the Irish question was a pioneering contribution to the understanding of self-determination for oppressed nations. Marx, who initially doubted the ability of the Irish nation to achieve independence on its own or even the need for it, expected that the Irish nation and workers would be liberated when the English working class overthrew the English bourgeoisie. His view was based on the idea that the English workers living in an advanced capitalist country were best placed to overthrow capitalism in the colonizing country of Britain. By the late 1860s, on recognising the virulent racism and chauvinism among the English workers themselves against the Irish people, he supported the right to independence of the Irish nation as the best means for the Irish workers to fight capitalism. He urged the English workers to stand up for Irish independence.

Marx further argued that an English workers’ party, representing workers of an oppressor nation, was duty bound to support an oppressed nation’s independence. This attitude became a central aspect of Lenin’s stand on the national question in relation to oppressed nations. Lenin was later to write: “The policy of Marx and Engels on the Irish question serves as a splendid example of the attitude the proletariat of the oppressor nations should adopt towards national movements, an example which has lost none of its immense practical importance”. Lenin, in upholding the Marxist approach, had to struggle repeatedly against other socialists who were opposed in principle to the right to national self-determination.

Lenin explained the right to self determination thus: “The right of nations to self-determination means only the right to independence in a political sense, the right to free, political secession from the oppressing nation. Concretely, this political, democratic demand implies complete freedom to carry on agitation in favour of secession, and freedom to settle the question of secession by means of a referendum of the nation that desires to secede. Consequently, this demand is by no means identical with the demand for secession, for partition, for the formation of small states. It is merely the logical expression of the struggle against national oppression in every form. The more closely the democratic system of state approximates to complete freedom of secession, the rarer and weaker will the striving for secession be in practice; for the advantages of large states, both from the point of view of economic progress and from the point of view of the interests of the masses, are beyond doubt, and these advantages increase with the growth of capitalism. The recognition of self-determination is not the same as making federation a principle. One may be a determined opponent of this principle and a partisan of democratic centralism and yet prefer federation to national inequality as the only path towards complete democratic centralism”.

It was after Lenin explained and defined the right to self determination that others, notably Woodrow Wilson, defined the right to self determination as the right of peoples to govern themselves. Right to self determination implies that no one can legitimately govern a people without their consent. Wilson promulgated the right to self-determination in his “Fourteen Points” speech. The fundamental difference between Wilson and Lenin was that the latter accepted the right to secede, if it becomes impossible to stay together so that self determination meant the right to secede but not necessarily the act of secession. Lenin illustrated this with the example of the right to divorce, which does not mean that every marriage should be dissolved but ensures that every person gets into the contract of marriage while reserving one’s right to divorce. Without the right to divorce, marriage does not guarantee the survival of marriage. The right to separate makes the relationship more equal and stable than without. Lenin thus argued that by giving the right to secession the nations or nationalities in a union explore possibilities to coexist.

In the later years, the right to self determination acquired political as well as legal meanings, with the political principle having a wider scope than the legal. Article 1 (2) of the United Nations Charter, drawn up in 1945, stipulates that the UN is to “develop a friendly relationship among nations based on respect of the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and to take other measures to strengthen universal peace”. Further, the principles of self-determination were embedded in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of the 1966. These covenants affirmed self-determination as a “right of peoples” and guaranteed it by treaty laws. The impact of these UN ratifications of the right to self determination were more political than legal; and for political reasons the right to self determination is being interpreted and explained in different ways.

Right to self determination in Sri Lanka

The Marxist Leninist position on the national question in Sri Lanka, as elsewhere, has been unambiguous. It has historically identified the development of chauvinism and its development into national oppression, and recognised the development of the national contradiction into the main contradiction in Sri Lanka. Marxist Leninists have always maintained that ensuring the right to self determination of all nationalities in Sri Lanka should be the basis for the solution to the national question. Any proposal for a solution undermining the right to self determination of the nationalities in Sri Lanka is of dubious value.

The class and class interests that constitute the essence of the national question in Sri Lanka are not readily visible. Thus, limiting one’s search for solutions to the existing political framework, the executive powers of parliament within it, and to legislation will not permit one to appreciate the national and class aspects of the national question or the need to recognise the right of the nationalities in Sri Lanka to self determination. Hence claims of finding a solution within the existing framework will fail to address the root causes of the conflict and the issues involved. It has to be recognised that during the last thirty years, the contradictions among nationalities which constitute the main contradiction have grown and need to be addressed in a way that satisfies all the communities. Thus, when the government or the spokespersons for the “civil society” talk of non-devolutionary reforms, they implicitly declare that they are unwilling to accept the people’s rights as the cornerstone of the solution.

The Marxist Leninist position, to be valid, should look closely at the development of the national question, which has entered a phase where national oppression involves local and foreign elements. When a nation, a nationality or a community is oppressed as a social group, inevitably its struggle against oppression will be based on its identity. Marxist Leninists hold that to deny the right to such struggle is to support social oppression. It is on this basis that they have supported anti-colonial liberation struggles as well as liberation struggles of oppressed nationalities and social groups.

Tamil nationalism in all its forms and identities is a product of history. The evolution of Tamil identity into a Tamil national identity was due to various social, economic and historical factors. Tamil national identity itself has kept changing, and its form today is markedly different from the one that preceded it. In the 1970s Tamil nationalist leaders propagated the notion of a “separate state of Tamil Eelam” and passed the Vaddukoddai resolution in 1976 for opportunistic parliamentary political reasons. The solution for the problems faced by the Tamils cannot be based on that resolution. To be fair, any solution put forwarded on behalf of the Tamils should duly recognise the rights of the other minorities, especially the Muslims and Hill Country Tamils. But the Vaddukoddai Resolution calling for a separate state of Tamil Eelam failed to address the issues of the Muslims and Hill Country Tamils. Notably, until recently, Tamil nationalist parties have been reluctant to seek solutions based on ensuring the right to self determination for all the nationalities.

The concept of the right to self determination is not a product of bourgeois democracy but of the revolutionary ideology of the working class. The national question in the post-colonial era qualitatively differs from that in the colonial era; and self determination needs to be seen in a broader perspective than at the dawn of the 20th Century when the question mainly concerned an oppressor nation and an oppressed nation. One should also take a historical view of how imperialism has used session to advance its hegemonic interests. Tamil nationalists calling for secession, based merely on the right to self-determination, have their interests tied up with the imperialist agenda. While Marxist Leninists accept the right to secede, they do not see secession as a panacea for national conflicts. They have, in particular, warned against the prospect of imperialists using secession to serve their interests, the recent example being Kosovo. Thus seeking secession as solution for the Sri Lankan national question is not likely to be in the interest of any nationality.

The need of the moment is to ensure the right of all the nationalities in Sri Lanka to self determination. Sections of the Tamil Diaspora and Tamil media propagate the view that the right to self determination is merely a right to secession. This is misleading and harmful. The right to self determination is much more than the right to secession. Tamil nationalists as well as Sinhala chauvinists continue to mislead the masses on the principle of right to self determination. Meanwhile, some Tamil parliamentary politicians talk about “internal self determination” as a solution to the national question. This once again is an effort to dismantle the concept of self determination and in the process reject the right of the nationalities in Sri Lanka to self determination.

At this point it is important to reiterate the stand of the Marxist Leninists on secession. The use of secession as an imperialist tool does not make it right to oppose the right to secession. The right to secession is an integral part of the right to self determination and not a licence to secede at will. If at all, it is a proven way to avert secession and conflicts between nationalities. The vested interests of Sinhala chauvinism and Tamil narrow nationalism ensured that they always undermined people’s struggles for social justice. Their conduct in the past and present merely confirms their aim to retain their political power by dividing people and denying the rights of the nationalists.


The right to self-determination cannot be applied blindly or be imposed on a nationality or an ethnic group. A nationality struggles for its right to self-determination or for secession when its identity or its very survival is threatened. Struggles of oppressed nationalities are complex and continuously evolving, with no two struggles alike. In several instances, including Sri Lanka, issues have been made more complex by foreign intervention driven by hegemonic intentions. The situation in Sri Lanka is worrying, with rights of the nationalities under great threat, and upholding the rights of the minorities has become a momentous task. It is time for the progressive forces to unite and fight for the right to self determination of all nationalities, to ensure a just solution to the Sri Lankan national question.

Courtesy: New Democracy 35 – Theoretical Organ of New Democratic Party (Sri Lanka)

The Terrorists: International Support for Sri Lanka’s Racist Discrimination (IV)

Ron Ridenour

First Article
Second Article
Third Article

The Geneva Declaration on Terrorism, passed May 29, 1987 by the UN general assembly, points out that the main perpetrators of terrorism are governments striving to keep down parts of their populations or other peoples. In this document, at that time, the main culprits are the United States, Israel, South Africa and the many dictatorships in Latin America at that time.

State terrorism manifests itself in: 1) police state practices against its own people to dominate through fear by surveillance, disruption of group meetings, control of the news media, beatings, torture, false and mass arrests, false charges and rumors, show trials, killings, summary executions and capital punishments;

The terrorism of modern state power and its high technology weaponry exceeds qualitatively by many orders of magnitude the political violence relied upon by groups aspiring to undo oppression and achieve liberation.

…peoples who are fighting against colonial domination and alien occupation and against racist regimes in the exercise of their right of self-determination have the right to use force to accomplish their objectives within the framework of international humanitarian law.

This document applies to the situation of the Sri Lankan governments since 1983 as well as to the LTTE, and the proportions of the use of violence are as written by the general assembly. The LTTE did, however, after time, go beyond the framework of international humanitarian law.

One voice regarding terrorism and what lies behind these atrocities appears so credible to me, and so tragic in itself, that I quote him extensively to show that all warring parties in Sri Lanka acted as terrorists. Here are some of the last words of Sri Lankan journalist Manilal Wickrematunge Lasantha, a Sinhalese, who predicted his assassination shortly before it occurred, on January 8, 2009. His newspaper, The Sunday Leader, published his own “obituary” three days later.

Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty…

Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy… Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united…

…we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urged government to view Sri Lanka’s ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens…

The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations ever to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma [the teachings of Buddha, which lead to enlightenment] is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship…

What is more, a military occupation of the country’s north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect…

It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government’s sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.

The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, Mahinda [Rajapakse, the president] and I have been friends for more than a quarter century… “Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you…”

When Lasantha’s dramatic editorial appeared, he had already been murdered on his way to work by four men on motorcycles. The probable conspirator behind the execution was Lasantha’s “friend’s” brother, war secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, a naturalized citizen of the USA. In December 2008, he had censored the Sunday Leader from publishing any criticism of his actions. He had earlier threatened the careers and lives of other journalists.

A week before Lasanth’s murder, G. Rajapakse’s army captured the capital of the de facto Eelam state, Kilinochchi. LTTE guerrilla army fled but not all the civilians had evacuated before the government’s troops entered and butchered scores or hundreds. On August 25, 2009, England’s Channel 4 News broadcast footage showing Sri Lankan forces executing nine Tamils stripped naked. One of the military’s soldiers had filmed this atrocity on his mobile telephone. Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (Sinhalese and Tamils) obtained the film and presented it to Channel 4, which showed it after verifying its authenticity.

The United States government praised Sri Lanka for its military offensive. The US embassy in Colombo issued this statement: “The United States does not advocate that the Government of Sri Lanka negotiate with the LTTE…”

Following this crushing defeat, the LTTE was reduced to an area of a few square kilometers. Many thousands of civilians had left their homes to reach so-called No Fire Zones, which the S.L. army began setting up on January 20th. Conditions were sub-human (and they continue to be so for over two-hundred and fifty thousand interned civilians in various camps as of this writing), and they were (are) forced to remain. Amnesty International—more often than not a reliable observer of international conflicts, one of the few NGO’s that does not take money from any government or political party—recently published a report about these camps. Sri Lanka is violating rules established by the United Nations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, applying to displaced persons.

Here is an excerpt from a civilian inmate.

“Knowing that many civilians were not able to move, the government restarted shelling. They even hit the No Fire Zone so even that small area was not protected…When we heard the supersonic Kfirs [Israel jets] overhead we used to rush to the bunker and hide…That was our life for months just squatting in bunkers.”

Amnesty stated: “The Government of Sri Lanka exacerbated this isolation by restricting access by outsiders to the conflict area. In September 2008, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaska issued a directive ordering all humanitarian and UN agencies to leave the Vanni and remove all equipment and vehicles.” This order also applied to journalists, opposition politicians and humanitarian organizations.

John Pilger described Sri Lanka’s isolation strategy this way:

The Sri Lankan government has learned an old lesson from, I suspect, a modern master: Israel. In order to conduct a slaughter, you ensure the pornography is unseen, illicit at best. You ban foreigners and their cameras from Tamil towns like Mulliavaikal, which was bombarded recently by the Sri Lankan army, and you lie that the 75 people killed in the hospital were blown up quite willfully by a Tamil suicide bomber.(John Pilger, “Distant Voices, Desperate Lives,” New Statesman, May 13, 2009.)

From 2006-7 onward President Rajapakse was spending nearly one-quarter ($1.5 billion) of Sri Lanka’s national budget of $7.5 billion (2008 figures) on war. By January 2009, the Sri Lankan military, refortified especially by Israel, Pakistan and China, had recaptured much of the Tamil Homeland. From the end of 2008 to Sri Lanka’s military victory over LTTE, it had indiscriminately bombed Tamil civilians even in the “safe zones” where the government had told them to flee. Many thousands were killed.

After the fall of Tamil Eelam’s de facto capital, it still took the far superiorly armed and manned army four and one-half months to defeat the guerrilla army. There were few close contact battles. The LTTE fighters and civilians in the remaining Homeland area were subject to shelling from the air and by long-distance artillery. Amnesty International reported:

Eyewitness accounts of the final months of the war painted a grim picture of deprivation of food, water and medical care; fear, injury and loss of life suffered by civilians trapped by the conflict… both the LTTE and Sri Lankan government forces committed violations of international humanitarian law… The LTTE forcibly recruited children as soldiers, used civilians as human shields against the Sri Lankan army’s offensive, and attacked civilians who tried to flee. The Sri Lankan armed forces launched indiscriminate attacks with artillery on areas densely populated by civilians. Hospitals were shelled, resulting in death and injuries among patients and staff.

Sri Lanka’s military achieved victory by murdering any Tamil “in its way”, and because of the extensive military force provided to it by many capitalist and so-called socialist states. Here are the major players:

1. India has provided weaponry, radar and training to Sri Lanka’s military since 1987. It often hides what aid it gives or sells since so many of its citizens are against S.L.’s brutality against Tamils. After a period of providing little military assistance, it increased its aid at the end of 2008 when the government launched its all-out offensive. As late as April 2009, India sent three fast attack boats and a missile corvette (INS Vinash), part of $500 million in total aid. It has also turned over LTTE fugitives to S.L. India sees its traditional role as the dominant nation in South Asia being replaced by China’s fast-growing presence, which is another reason for its support to Sri Lanka’s Buddhist government despite the fact that 80% of India’s 1.2 billion people practice Hinduism with less than 1% Buddhists. On the world plan, India hip hops from one antagonist force to another. There is no clear direction.

2. The United States of America has been arming and financing Sri Lanka for most of the civil war period. The Indian Ocean is a vital waterway in which half of the world’s containerized cargo passes through. Its waters carry heavy traffic of petroleum products. The US signed a ten year Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) with Sri Lanka on 5 March 2007 which provides, along with other things, logistics supplies and refueling facilities. The US already has Voice of America installation at Tricomalee, which can be used for surveillance. From at least the 1990s, the US has provided military training, financing and weapons sales averaging $1.5 million annually. During the cease fire, in 2002, this sum went down to $259,999 for military training only. Bush was especially glad for Sri Lanka’s terrorism, and encouraged Colombo to resume the civil war, in 2006, which his government financed with $2.9 million. The Pentagon provided counter-insurgency training, maritime radar, patrols of US warships and aircraft. At the end of Bush’s second term, the US was forced to cut back on aid given that it was bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq. That, coupled with critical public opinion, organized by the Diaspora, of state terrorism and systematic discrimination of Tamils, prompted congress to make noises about abuses of human rights by not only LTTE but also about the use of children in “paramilitary forces of the Sri Lankan government.” Nevertheless, in 2008, $1.45 million in military financing and training was granted the government out of a total of $7.4 million in total aid. The US made noises about killing a ‘humanitarian crisis’ when the Sri Lankan army was about to finish the war but it never took affirmative action to bring the war to an end. It’s howling about human rights is only a veiled threat to the Sri Lankan government, that it should not do anything prejudicial to its interests, that is, keep China at bay.

3. Israel was officially re-awarded diplomatic relations, in May 2000, after Sri Lanka had severed them, in 1970, in protest at Israel’s continued illegal expansion into Palestinian territory. Nevertheless, Israel continued to operate inside S.L. out of a special interests office set up in the US embassy. Under the table, however, Sri Lanka’s successive regimes embraced Israel’s military advisors, a special commando unit in the police, and Mossad counter-intelligence agents—who sought to drive a wedge between Muslims and Tamils. After S.L. military defeat at Elephant Pass, it appealed to Israel for military aid. Israel sent 16 of its supersonic Kfir fighter jets, some Dvora fast naval attack craft, and electronic and imagery surveillance equipment, plus advisors and technicians. Israel personnel took part in military attacks on Tamil units, and its pilots flew attack aircraft. Tigers shot down one Kfir. Just before the end of the war, Prime Minister Wickremanayake was in Israel to make bigger deals with Israeli arms supplies.

4. U.K./EU In 2005, British arms export rose by 60%, according to John Pilger (12). In 2008, £1.4 million in arms export was approved. France sent patrol boats, and other EU countries continued but reduced military aid. The EU had never been required to offer much aid given that its major allies were so much engaged.

5. Japan has long been Sri Lanka’s greatest economic donor until China overtook that position in 2008-9. Japan has sold technology and offered generous loans, but it has also outright donated millions more every year. In 1997, for instance, it granted $52 million outright but $26 in technical cooperation. In 2001, aid was at $310 million. It also paid for the government television station, Rupavahini. While Japan’s aid, sales and loans are not directed at defense, these huge sums allow the Sri Lanka governments to use more of its budget for war. This is the case as well with several other Asian countries.

6. Iran “We don’t need your money (with all those strings)”, a Sri Lanka treasury functionary purportedly told World Bank officials last year. “The international community” (US-EU governments) had begun to cut back on aid and even to ask questions about treatment of Tamil civilians, whose cries were being heard from the Diaspora. So, Sri Lanka played one power against another: India-Pakistan/China, US-China, Israel-Iran/Libya—the West-NAM. In 2008-9, Iran provided $1.9 billion in credit to build an oil refinery, in order to process S.L.’s crude oil, and it donated $450 million for a hydropower project. Iran is US’s most important inside ally with the Quisling Iraq government. And Libya has most recently been approached for a $500 million loan by Sri Lanka. Libya is with and against Iran.

7. Pakistan came into the Sri Lanka debacle, in 2008, at the encouragement of China. At the beginning of 2009, it provided $100 million in military assistance loans; it gave Chinese-origin small arms, and offered pilot training for S.L.’s new Chinese aircraft. Pakistan is also an ally of the US in its terror war “against” terror. Its governments are part of the war against Afghanistan, which has spread throughout most of Pakistan and split the population. Here have we a country allied with Cuba and ALBA et al. in NAM at the same time a partner with the world’s greatest terrorist state.

8. China entered the picture in 2005.China is the world’s no 2 oil consumer after the United States. China has stepped up efforts to secure sea lanes and transport routes that are vital for its oil supplies. In April 2007, just one month after the US’s ACSA deal with SL, China’s Poly Technologies supplied $36.5 million arms to Sri Lanka. A $150 million contract was given to China’s Huawei, which has close links with the Chinese intelligence wing MSS, to build a country-wide infrastructure for communications. In 2008, China invested five times over what it did in 2007. Its biggest investment is a vast construction project at Hambantota on the southern coast, which it will use as a re-fuelling and docking station for its navy. “Ever since Sri Lanka agreed to the plan, in March 2007, China has given it all the aid, arms and diplomatic support it needs to defeat the Tigers, without worrying about the West,” wrote The Times (London). China acts without asking questions about the treatment and conditions of workers and minorities. In April 2007, S.L. made a deal to buy Chinese ammunition and ordnance for is military. China gave it six F7 jet fighters after a Sky Tiger raid that destroyed ten military aircraft, in 2007. One Chinese fighter was soon shot down by Tigers. China has also given or sold on credit: an anti-submarine warfare vessel, gunboats and landing craft, battle tanks, anti-aircraft guns, and air surveillance radars. In June 2009, after the conclusion of the civil war, it signed an $891 million agreement for the Norochcholai Coal Power project. Chinese companies were granted an Economic Zone for 33 years. Huichen Investments Holdings Limited is to invest $28 million in next three years in the Mirigama Zone. For the first time a specific area was given to a foreign country. China is making major inroads into Sri Lanka, causing concern in the US-India Axis.

In the last few months of the war, Sri Lanka’s military used China’s weapons to systematically bombard what was left of the Tamil Eelam homeland. British media reported that 20,000 Tamil civilians were killed just in the last five days. Yet President Rajapakse claimed that “not one Tamil civilian was killed by military shelling.”

According to the pro-imperialist The Times (London), “aerial photographs, official documents, witness accounts and expert testimony” tell a story of the Sri Lankan’s “fierce barrage” of three weeks constant shelling in a five-kilometer area where 300,000 Tamil civilians were. The Times’ estimated that about 1,000 civilians were killed each day for three weeks until May 19. With most of the leadership dead, and tens of thousands civilians slaughtered, the LTTE surrendered.

One of The Times’ sources for these figures, and that responsibility lay with SL military, is the Catholic priest Amalraj, who was there until May 16. At the time of article, May 29, 2009, he was interned in the militarized Manik Farm camp along with 200,000 others.

Even the editor of the pro-imperialist Armed Forces of the UK magazine contended that it was not the Tigers who fired upon their own people but that is was the Sri Lankan government, which used imprecise air-burst and ground-impact mortars to annihilate anything alive.

The Times piece ended on this sad note: S.L “was cleared of any wrongdoing by the UN Human Rights Council after winning the backing of countries including China, Egypt, India and Cuba.”

For other articles by the author visit his website.

The New Farm Owners

Corporate investors lead the rush for control over overseas farmland

GRAIN, October 2009

Click here for the table accompanying this article

With all the talk about "food security," and distorted media statements like "South Korea leases half of Madagascar’s land,"1 it may not be evident to a lot of people that the lead actors in today’s global land grab for overseas food production are not countries or governments but corporations. So much attention has been focused on the involvement of states, like Saudi Arabia, China or South Korea. But the reality is that while governments are facilitating the deals, private companies are the ones getting control of the land. And their interests are simply not the same as those of governments.

"This is going to be a private initiative."

– Amin Abaza, Egypt’s Minister of Agriculture, explaining Egyptian farmland acquisitions in other African nations, on World Food Day 2009  

Take one example. In August 2009, the government of Mauritius, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, got a long-term lease for 20,000 ha of good farmland in Mozambique to produce rice for the Mauritian market. This is outsourced food production, no question. But it is not the government of Mauritius, on behalf of the Mauritian people, that is going to farm that land and ship the rice back home. Instead, the Mauritian Minister of Agro Industry immediately sub-leased the land to two corporations, one from Singapore (which is anxious to develop the market for its proprietary hybrid rice seeds in Africa) and one from Swaziland (which specialises in cattle production, but is also involved in biofuels in southern Africa).2 This is typical. And it means that we should not be blinded by the involvement of states. Because at the end of the day, what the corporations want will be decisive. And they have a war chest of legal, financial and political tools to assist them.

 "What started as a government drive to secure cheap food resource has now become a viable business model and many Gulf companies are venturing into agricultural investments to diversify their portfolios."

– Sarmad Khan, "Farmland investment fund is seeking more than Dh1bn", The National, Dubai, 12 September 2009

Moreover, there’s a tendency to assume that private-sector involvement in the global land grab amounts to traditional agribusiness or plantation companies, like Unilever or Dole, simply expanding the contract farming model of yesterday. In fact, the high-power finance industry, with little to no experience in farming, has emerged as a crucial corporate player. So much so that the very phrase "investing in agriculture", today’s mantra of development bureaucrats, should not be understood as automatically meaning public funds. It is more and more becoming the business of … big business.

The role of finance capital

GRAIN has tried to look more closely at who the private sector investors currently taking over farmlands around the world for offshore food production really are. From what we have gathered, the role of finance capital — investment funds and companies — is truly significant. We have therefore constructed a table to share this picture. The table outlines over 120 investment structures, most of them newly created, which are busy acquiring farmland overseas in the aftermath of the financial crisis.3 Their engagement, whether materialised or targeted, rises into the tens of billions of dollars. The table is not exhaustive, however. It provides only a sample of the kinds of firms or instruments involved, and the levels of investment they are aiming for.

Private investors are not turning to agriculture to solve world hunger or eliminate rural poverty. They want profit, pure and simple. And the world has changed in ways that now make it possible to make big money from farmland. From the investors’ perspective, global food needs are guaranteed to grow, keeping food prices up and providing a solid basis for returns on investment for those who control the necessary resource base. And that resource base, particularly land and water, is under stress as never before. In the aftermath of the financial crisis, so-called alternative investments, such as infrastructure or farmland, are all the rage. Farmland itself is touted as providing a hedge against inflation. And because its value doesn’t go up and down in sync with other assets like gold or currencies, it allows investors to successfully diversify their portfolios.

We are not farmers. We are a large company that uses state-of-the-art technology to produce high-quality soybean. The same way you have shoemakers and computer manufacturers, we produce agricultural commodities.”

Laurence Beltrão Gomes of SLC Agrícola,
the largest farm company in Brazil 

But it’s not just about land, it’s about production. Investors are convinced that they can go into Africa, Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet bloc to consolidate holdings, inject a mix of technology, capital and management skills, lay down the infrastructures and transform below-potential farms into large-scale agribusiness operations. In many cases, the goal is to generate revenue streams both from the harvests and from the land itself, whose value they expect to go up. It is a totally corporate version of the Green Revolution, and their ambitions are big. "My boss wants to create the first Exxon Mobil of the farming sector," said Joseph Carvin of Altima Partners’ One World Agriculture Fund to a gathering of global farmland investors in New York in June 2009. No wonder, then, that governments, the World Bank and the UN want to be associated with this. But it is not their show.

From rich to richer

"I’m convinced that farmland is going to be one of the best investments of our time. Eventually, of course, food prices will get high enough that the market probably will be flooded with supply through development of new land or technology or both, and the bull market will end. But that’s a long ways away yet."

– George Soros, June 2009

Today’s emerging new farm owners are private equity fund managers, specialised farmland fund operators, hedge funds, pension funds, big banks and the like. The pace and extent of their appetite is remarkable – but unsurprising, given the scramble to recover from the financial crisis. Consolidated data are lacking, but we can see that billions of dollars are going into farmland acquisitions for a growing number of "get rich quick" schemes. And some of those dollars are hard-earned retirement savings of teachers, civil servants and factory workers from countries such as the US or the UK. This means that a lot of ordinary citizens have a financial stake in this trend, too, whether they are aware of it or not.

It also means that a new, powerful lobby of corporate interests is coming together, which wants favourable conditions to facilitate and protect their farmland investments. They want to tear down burdensome land laws that prevent foreign ownership, remove host-country restrictions on food exports and get around any regulations on genetically modified organisms. For this, we can be sure that they will be working with their home governments, and various development banks, to push their agendas around the globe through free trade agreements, bilateral investment treaties and donor conditionalities.

 "When asked whether a transfer of foreign, ‘superior’, agricultural technology would be welcome compensation for the acquisition of Philippine lands, the farmers from Negros Occidental responded with a general weariness and unequivocal retort that they were satisfied with their own knowledge and practices of sustainable, diverse and subsistence-based farming. Their experience of high-yielding variety crops, and the chemical-intensive technologies heralded by the Green Revolution, led them to the conclusion that they were better off converting to diverse, organic farming, with the support of farmer-scientist or member organisations such as MASIPAG and PDG Inc."

– Theodora Tsentas, "Foreign state-led land acquisitions and neocolonialism: A qualitative case study of foreign agricultural development in the Philippines", September 2009

Indeed, the global land grab is happening within the larger context of governments, both in the North and the South, anxiously supporting the expansion of their own transnational food and agribusiness corporations as the primary answer to the food crisis. The deals and programmes being promoted today all point to a restructuring and expansion of the industrial food system, based on capital-intensive large-scale monocultures for export markets. While that may sound "old hat", several things are new and different. For one, the infrastructure needs for this model will be dealt with. (The Green Revolution never did that.) New forms of financing, as our table makes plain, are also at the base of it. Thirdly, the growing protagonism of corporations and tycoons from the South is also becoming more important. US and European transnationals like Cargill, Tyson, Danone and Nestlé, which once ruled the roost, are now being flanked by emerging conglomerates such as COFCO, Olam, Savola, Almarai and JBS.4 A recent report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development pointed out that a solid 40% of all mergers and acquisitions in the field of agricultural production last year were South–South.5 To put it bluntly, tomorrow’s food industry in Africa will be largely driven by Brazilian, ethnic Chinese and Arab Gulf capital.

Exporting food insecurity

Given the heavy role of the private sector in today’s land grabs, it is clear that these firms are not interested in the kind of agriculture that will bring us food sovereignty. And with hunger rising faster than population growth, it will not likely do much for food security, either. One farmers’ leader from Synérgie Paysanne in Benin sees these land grabs as fundamentally "exporting food insecurity". For they are about answering some people’s needs – for maize or money – by taking food production resources away from others. He is right, of course. In most cases, these investors are themselves not very experienced in running farms. And they are bound, as the Coordinator of MASIPAG in the Philippines sees it, to come in, deplete the soils of biological life and nutrients through intensive farming, pull out after a number of years and leave the local communities with "a desert".

 "Entire communities have been dispossessed of their lands for the benefit of foreign investors. () Land must remain a community heritage in Africa."

– N’Diogou Fall, ROPPA (West African Network of Producers and Peasant Organisations), June 2009

The talk about channelling this sudden surge of dollars and dirhams into an agenda for resolving the global food crisis could be seen as quirky if it were not downright dangerous. From the United Nations headquarters in New York to the corridors of European capitals, everyone is talking about making these deals "win–win". All we need to do, the thinking goes, is agree on a few parameters to moralise and discipline these land grab deals, so that they actually serve local communities, without scaring investors off. The World Bank even wants to create a global certification scheme and audit bureau for what could become "sustainable land grabbing", along the lines of what’s been tried with oil palm, forestry or other extractive industries.

Before jumping on the bandwagon of "win–win", it would be wise to ask "With whom? Who are the investors? What are their interests?" It is hard to believe that, with so much money on the line, with so much accumulated social experience in dealing with mass land concessions and conversions in the past, whether from mining or plantations, and given the central role of the finance and agribusiness industries here, these investors would suddenly play fair. Just as hard to believe is that governments or international agencies would suddenly be able to hold them to account.

 Some companies are interested in buying agricultural land for sugar cane and then selling it on the international markets. It’s business, nothing more”

Sharad Pawar, India’s Minister of Agriculture, rejecting claims that his government is supporting a new colonisation of African farmland, 28 June 2009

Making these investments work is simply not the right starting point. Supporting small farmers efforts for real food sovereignty is. Those are two highly polarised agendas and it would be mistaken to pass off one for the other. It is crucial to look more closely at who the investors are and what they really want. But it is even more important to put the search for solutions to the food crisis on its proper footing.


1 – It was not South Korea, but Daewoo Logistics.

2 – See GRAIN, "Mauritius leads land grabs for rice in Mozambique", Oryza hibrida, 1 September 2009. (Available in English, French and Portuguese.)

3The table covers three types of entities: specialised funds, most of them farmland funds; asset and investment managers; and participating investors. We are aware that this is a broad mixture, but it was important for us to keep the table simple:

4 – COFCO is based in China, Olam is based in Singapore, Savola is based in Saudi Arabia, Almarai is based in Saudi Arabia, and JBS is based in Brazil.

5 – World Investment Report 2009, UNCTAD, Geneva, September 2009, p. xxvii. Most foreign direct investment takes place through mergers and acquisitions.