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Sri Lanka after the tsunami
USP campaigns for democratic relief and reconstruction programme
THE GROTESQUE picture of devastation is slowly emerging and haunting us. In the context of 40,000 reported deaths in Sri Lanka, the United Socialist Party (USP) has suffered big losses of its forces.
Siritunga Jayasuriya, General Secretary, United Socialist Party, (CWI, Sri Lanka)
In the recent meeting of the extended central committee of the party it was reported that at least 86 sympathisers of the USP have died.
The brunt of the tsunami was borne by the eastern part of the island. The principal town Pottuvil has seen the worst disaster in its living memory, nearly 2,000 houses have been swept away without trace.
Most of the eastern part of the island of Sri Lanka is inhabited by Tamil-speaking Muslims, and is historically a very poor and neglected area. In the last 20 years of war the people of this region are neither accepted by the south as they are Tamil speaking, nor do the northern Tamils completely accept them as their own as they are Muslims.
Hats off to the self-sacrificing and heroic USP comrades of Pottuvil. Within hours of the disaster they swung into action to save people from dying in the debris and the swamp that was left by the killer tsunami.
The USP of Pottuvil literally saved nearly 120 families from death, by going to the island created by the devastation. As the only bridge was cut off due to inundation, the comrades, led by Abdul Jabbar, made makeshift catamarans to reach the other end and gave food and water to many children, women and elderly and saved them from starving to death.
It was only due to the fighting efforts of the comrades of the USP that the government agencies involved in relief work were forced to go to these areas to give succour.
Tsunami in the south
THOUGH THERE was a delay in the arrival of the monster tsunami in the south by 30-40 minutes, it was as deadly there as anywhere else. The entire southern coast, starting from south of Colombo (Morotuwa) to Hambantota and including Yala the National Animal sanctuary, is the tourist belt. Many poor Sri Lankans eke out a living based on the tourist industry on the very shores of the Indian ocean.
One cannot imagine the devastation that has taken place. Middle-sized boats used in fishing in deep sea have been thrown onto the roads and very few can be salvaged. Homes have been reduced to rubble, the scene of children's toys, clothes and books stuck and clinging on to the near by shrubs and trees haunts the passers by.
The now infamous and ill-fated "Samudra Devi" (Queen of the Sea) train as it reached Akurala, near Hikkaduwa, was hit by the monster wave. It threw the 12-carriage train, along with the railings, one hundred metres away, killing up to 2,000 passengers.
It took the government agencies such as the police and medics 24 hours to reach that place; if an early aerial response had come to their rescue, many lives could have been saved.
Destruction and discrimination
THE USP made a special effort to visit the affected areas of the north. With a team of other left leaders, NGOs and the press, the USP went up to Mullathivu to see for itself the volume of the damage caused by the tsunami on the already war-ravaged Tamil people.
It must be emphasised that for the USP this was not the first visit to the north since the ceasefire between the LTTE (the separatist Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam) and the government. The USP, as a political party of all working people, has already established its credentials by standing on a socialist programme in past elections in this area.
The visiting team first went to Jaffna and was met by the political leaders of the LTTE at the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation.
We had fraternal discussions to gauge the extent of the damage and also the discrimination that they face in relation to the supply of aid and relief items to the northern peninsula. To rub salt on the already war ravaged people the Sri Lankan government decision to send the army to manage the relief camps is seen as an affront to the Tamil people.
The team experienced no difficulty in going to the war areas. The Tamil authority that is in charge of the north did not obstruct the team from doing its own relief work to the people.
The most arduous journey was travelling to the jungles of Mullathivu which is considered as the stronghold of the LTTE. But it must be said that the people in general and the LTTE in particular, have suffered much damage by the tsunami.
The entire Mullathivu town which was once considered as the fisherman's rich town of the north has been completely washed away. All the buildings, schools and other dwellings have landed in the sea; there is no mark of habitation left. The extent of the monstrosity of the tsunami here can be gauged by the broken necks of the Palmyra trees which are usually ten metres tall.
WHILE THE tsunami has brought death and destruction to the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim ordinary working poor, the rich and elite are trying solve their crisis through the tsunami relief.
The Sri Lankan government was on the brink of a financial precipice. It had just three weeks of foreign exchange left. The government had no money to meet the increased salary promises to the state sector employees. Interest payments of $55 million were hanging by a thread.
For president Chandrika the tsunami has been more than a blessing in disguise to this SLFP-led, communal JVP-infested government. Because of the massive inflow of foreign aid, the weak Sri Lankan rupee, which was dropping dramatically, has recovered by 20% against the British pound and 10% against the US dollar in the last week.
Even though the international media are talking about the fast recovery, nothing concrete has been started.
The actual relief for the affected people is yet to be seen on the ground. What foreign aid and medical relief is coming, is being siphoned by the JVP (a Sinhalese chauvinist party) and SLFP (a capitalist party) supporters in their areas to further their influence.
This capitalist government, strengthened by the tsunami, has already started covert war games. While giving the task of managing the relief camps to the army is bad enough, the invitation to the American, British and Indian armies to come to Sri Lanka for 'humanitarian aid' is an indirect act of war against all Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people.
This weak capitalist regime of Sri Lanka is on a dangerous and self-destructive course. It is incapable of solving the fundamental problems of the ordinary people such as poverty, unemployment, disease, lack of proper and safe housing etc; and is historically and continuously depending on the forces of imperialism to do their policing.
IN THIS critical period of the history of Sri Lanka, the United Socialist Party demands:
- No to the foreign (American, British and Indian) armies which have arrived in the name of tsunami aid.
- The tsunami aid which is a product of the sacrifices of the working people around the world should go to the needy people directly, as quickly as possible.
- All the reconstruction and relief distribution should be in the hands of democratically-elected committees of the affected people and the trade unions.
To their shame the Sri Lankan capitalist class, including both the opposition UNP and the ruling UPFA, are united in their war efforts. We demand this parliament scraps the present defence budget and diverts these resources to the rehabilitation efforts of the tsunami victims.
We demand the Left and the trade unions of Sri Lanka rise up and come to to the aid of tsunami-affected people. This should be done by engaging the working class, the peasantry, fisherman, plantation workers and by those affected by the tsunami, in a national convention of the working people of Sri Lanka.
This convention should discuss the issue of the democratic distribution of the aid and the rehabilitation of the people. It should also discuss the dangerous trend of imperialist interests that are developing in the Sri Lankan society and to take the necessary step to stop such a disaster which will be much more dangerous than the tsunami.
In The Socialist 22 January 2005: