Gotabhaya Rajapaksa: A Perspective from a Friend in the US
Posted on August 26th, 2019

Dr. Stephen Long, Los Angeles, California Courtesy The Island

After spending most of my adult life in Hawaii and then Southeast Asia, I returned to the US and settled in Los Angeles in 1998. About two weeks after my move a couple with whom I am very close invited me to an evening event at their amazing new art gallery on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood. The gallery specialized in museum-quality Asian and Buddhist art, and I wound up spending a lot of time there over the next few years.

Two or three weeks before my arrival in Los Angeles, my gallery-owner friends had met Ven. Walpola Piyananda. He was driving down La Brea and was startled to see a large seated Buddha statue in the display window facing the street. He told his driver to park the car and then he walked back for a closer look. My friend Cari, the co-owner, saw the orange-robed monk peering in her window and became very excited; she immediately stepped outside to invite him in. She guided him through their collection of Buddhist art and then asked him if he would come to an upcoming event and bless their gallery, friends, and customers. He agreed, of course, and his appearance that evening was the first of many over the years to come.

During the event I spent most of my time with Bhante Piyananda and the other monks he brought with him to participate in the blessing ceremony. As a Western Buddhist I had missed the company of monks since my move to the States, and it gave me great pleasure to be by their side and to get to know them; during the event I practically ignored everyone else just so I could spend more time with Cari’s special guests. At the end of the blessing ceremony, after the monks had tied pirith nool around the wrists of all hundred or so grateful guests, I escorted the monks to their car. While walking to his vehicle Bhante invited me to attend meditation at their temple that Friday night. I accepted and wound up spending the next twenty-plus years not only in Friday meditation, but in close association in many other ways with Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara and their resident hamudurawos. This relationship turned out to be one of the most important in my life. After a while I was blessed by being asked to teach Sunday School for the temple teenagers, which turned into being my favorite weekly activity for the past twelve years, and counting.

I was also blessed by being able to get to know many members of the Sri Lankan expatriate community in Los Angeles – and by being able to get to know the beautiful country of Sri Lanka itself. Over the years I have visited Sri Lanka several times for extended periods, and I have forged many wonderful friendships with people there – as well as with Sri Lankan expats in the US. Over time I developed a very keen interest in Sri Lanka, which I consider to be one of my “adopted countries.” I have studied it (and its culture and politics) robustly. I have come to care deeply about Sri Lanka and its people, and have developed strong, protective feelings about that magical island and its well-being.

One of the expats I have had the pleasure to get to know is Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. He moved to the Los Angeles area a few years before I did, in 1991, after he retired from twenty years of service in the Sri Lankan military. I know there has been some talk about Gotabhaya “running away” from his home country, but from the way it was explained to me, nothing could have been farther from the truth. As I understand it, when Gotabhaya left Sri Lanka the Premadasa government was undergoing a “purge” of the military, and 600 Sri Lankan government policemen were killed when they were ordered to surrender to the LTTE and refused. It seems that if Gotabhaya hadn’t left when he did, his name might have been added to the list of names of slaughtered officers, many of whom he knew personally. Disillusioned as he undoubtedly was with the political climate at home, Gotabhaya never intended to stay away from Sri Lanka forever; he always knew that he would return to his birth country and serve the people when the time was right – way before his brother Mahinda was elected to the Executive Presidency.

When I met him he was working as a computer engineer in the IT department of Loyola Marymount University. He excelled in his work, and in the course of his tenure there he developed a broad and diversified cosmopolitan worldview. He had colleagues and friends that hailed from all backgrounds, races, and religions; Loyola University itself is a Jesuit and Marymount Roman Catholic institution that is named for Ignatius Loyola, a 17th Century Catholic saint. He became an unofficial ambassador for Sri Lanka, and his associates learned about his homeland from one who personified many of its best qualities.

When he lived in Southern California, Gotabhaya stayed in close contact with his Sri Lankan Buddhist roots, and he was a frequent visitor to Bhante Piyananda’s Dharma Vijaya temple on Crenshaw Boulevard. He was not only a visitor, he also served for a time on the temple’s Board of Directors. He actively participated in many of the temple’s activities: religious, community-based, cultural, and humanitarian.

In 1995 Gotabhaya gave Bhante Piyananda the idea to set up a scholarship program for medical students in Sri Lanka. He knew that there was a shortage of doctors back home, and that many of the medical students were in dire financial straits. Since its inception, over 100 medical students have benefited from this fund, and each one was and is given 5,000 rupees per month, which goes a long way even in these times to defray necessary expenses. I myself met a few of these students on a visit to Sri Lanka, and I am still close friends with one of them, Dr. Wikum Chathuranga, who is now married and practicing in his hometown of Ambalangoda. Wikum has told me many times how grateful he is to Bhante Piyananda and the scholarship fund for having helped him survive his impoverished years at Colombo University.

Gotabhaya also introduced the idea of providing academic scholarships to monks in Sri Lanka who sought to earn college degrees. Bhante Piyananda liked the idea and immediately went to the Southern California Vietnamese Buddhist community for help. This vibrant community’s generosity has funded 76 well-deserving monks so far – including my good friend Ven. Kalabululande Dhammajothi, an extremely hard-working monk at Dharma Vijaya who is currently working on his Master’s Degree at University of the West in East LA.

Recognizing the need for eye care in Sri Lanka – particularly for senior citizens – Bhante Piyananda established Vision Vijaya, a program that sends thousands of pairs of eye glasses to Sri Lanka every year. Bhante Piyananda enlisted the help of the local Lion’s Club chapter, and over time a great deal of money has been raised and free eyeglasses have been donated. I will never forget being at Sri Mahaviharaya in Pamankada one day when seniors were lined up in long queues throughout the temple to see the eye doctor and get free prescription glasses. Gotabhaya actively participated in this program while he was in Los Angeles – along with his wife Ayomi – and he was instrumental in raising a considerable amount of funds for the thrice-yearly drive that supported it.

Gotabhaya was also involved in the temple’s monthly “feed the homeless” project, and he personally went to skid row to offer food and interact with the homeless people in Downtown LA. It was there that he learned first-hand that many of the homeless were military veterans, and being a veteran himself, their plight touched his heart. This was where he came into contact with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, a psychological disorder that affects many returning war veterans in the US. He realized that PTSD was undoubtedly impacting the lives of many of the soldiers who were relentlessly fighting the merciless LTTE back home. He resolved that one day he would do something about Sri Lankan veterans with mental illness and PTSD – and he did.

When the tsunami struck Sri Lanka in 2004, Gotabhaya encouraged all of the monks in the US to collect funds to help the victims

. He personally collected US$25,000 from his colleagues at Loyola Marymount University, and he donated this money to Ven. Piyananda who was spearheading relief efforts. With the help of the money Gotabhaya raised, and funds our friends at the Hollywood Artists Alliance raised, Bhante Piyananda hauled in $250,000 and was able to build 37 new homes in the devastated Ambalangoda Galaboda Watta area. He took me to see these homes when they were completed, and I felt so proud of him, of Gotabhaya, and of all of those who supported the “Motherland” during its time of tragedy and great need.

In 2005 Gotabhaya returned to Sri Lanka to help with his brother’s presidential election campaign. When Mahinda won, he appointed Gotabhaya Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, and he tasked him with winning the war against the LTTE terrorists. Thanks to his “direct line” of communication with his brother the President, he was able to complete his task in only three years, something no one had been able to accomplish in nearly thirty years. His previous military and administrative experience had provided him with the discipline and organizational skills required to get the job done.

Because of my intense interest in Sri Lankan affairs, I kept up with the war and political news and started writing articles in support of the Government – and against the LTTE, which was well-funded by members of the Tamil Diaspora in Canada, the US, and other parts of the world. As an unpaid volunteer writer, at least 60 articles with my by-line were published in the Sri Lankan newspapers, in the Asian Tribune e-zine, and in other publications. My articles routinely attacked the well-connected lobbyist for the diaspora, Washington DC former Deputy Attorney General, Bruce Fein, and his group called “Tamils Against Genocide.” As a result, I was attacked back, and for a time it seemed that I was actually on the LTTE “hit list.” During this critical time, it seems that I was one of the only voices that championed the Rajapaksa Brothers and their war efforts in the international media.

When Ven. Piyananda and I visited Sri Lanka in 2006, not long after the presidential election, he and I both observed that the Government was getting massacred in the international press. Since “all wars are now fought in the media,” we saw the dangers facing Sri Lanka in the court of public opinion. We spent a few days writing a memo to President Rajapaksa about this subject, and we outlined various ways they could fight back in this critical aspect of warfare.

We went to see Gotabhaya and shared the memo with him; he completely agreed with our opinions, but was understandably too busy to get involved in this important task. He asked me to find someone who could effectively help tell the Government’s side of the story. I reached out to a friend in the media in New York City and asked for assistance, and within a few days I had three resumes’ from highly-qualified “spin doctors.” Since Gotabhaya was extremely busy running the war efforts, we presented the résumés to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We were told that, unfortunately, the money for an expense like that “wasn’t in the Government’s budget.”

This was the start of another great tragedy for Sri Lanka because the international media – with the help of Bruce Fein (reportedly paid $100,000 per month) and unlimited funds from the Tamil Diaspora – continued to viciously attack and ultimately defeat Sri Lanka on this important battlefront. The ripple effect in the West for this decision (e.g. the UNHRC in Geneva) continues to haunt the Sri Lankan Government to this day. After all, there was only so much I could do as the lone “journalist” who wrote and got his articles published on a very limited scale. I am quite sure that this situation will be addressed proactively in the next administration.

The reason I am mentioning this media aspect of the terrorist war is because I want the reader to understand the tremendous bias that was generated against Gotabhaya by the Tamil diaspora’s lobbying/disinformation campaign. It became a veritable “rumor mill,” with Bruce Fein and others spewing falsehoods about Gotabhaya and his execution of the war. Stories about atrocities committed by Government soldiers, Tamil genocide, racial revenge, and others were fabricated out of whole cloth by the terrorist campaign to discredit him and turn him into a monster. Not only do they not fit the profile of the man I know personally, none of these spurious allegations are true. Since I was in Sri Lanka at the very end of the war, I witnessed the compassion with which Gotabhaya and the armed forces conducted themselves during the final days. As always, please “consider the source” when evaluating the news that was reported in the international media about that first week of May, 2009.

When the war was almost over, in the fall of 2008, I wrote an article entitled, “Preparing for the Next Crisis: When the Troops Come Home.” In this article I warned of the dangers of winning the war and facing the prospect of thousands of soldiers trained in weaponry returning home with nothing to do and without any way to earn an income. Apparently this article got the attention of Gotabhaya because when the war ended in May of 2009 he created a program that kept the soldiers on the Government payroll. These soldiers became actively employed on various public works projects that included the rebuilding or restoration of approximately 1,000 places of worship on the island. He also made sure his soldiers received proper mental health care, and were properly treated for symptoms of PTSD.

Speaking of “public works projects,” Gotabhaya’s exposure to the beautiful communities of Southern California, such as Santa Monica, Pasadena, Pacific Palisades, Beverly Hills, and others, gave him many ideas for beautifying Colombo. When I visited the country after the war I couldn’t believe the difference in the city landscape. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was clean, orderly, presentable, and ready to take its place in the “new Asia” that had emerged while Sri Lanka was left behind fighting its bloody civil war for 30 years. I was impressed by what Gotabhaya had accomplished, and disappointed when I visited the next time, which was well into the new administration. Suddenly it was if the city had relapsed into some terminal illness with no doctors at hand. It was dirty, foul, and the improvements that Gotabhaya had made had fallen into complete disarray. I am sure that when Gotabhaya wins the upcoming election he will put the same emphasis on beautification and return the city – improve the city – to meet 21st Century urban world standards.

Speaking of the “upcoming election,” and as someone from the “outside” who has been paying close attention to Sri Lanka for more than two decades, I give my whole support to Gotabhaya winning it; I truly believe that he is the most qualified individual to become the next president of my “adopted country” home. I hope the country’s voters will remember his many accomplishments – not just ending the terrorist war – and trust their vote to him. I know that many in the country think he persecuted the Tamils, has racial bias, has too heavy a hand, and lacks the diplomatic skills to navigate the troubled international waters. I heartily disagree with all of these opinions, and can say, from first-hand knowledge, that Gotabhaya will rise to the occasion and be an excellent president – for all the people of the land. He has the discipline; he has the managerial experience; he has the compassion; he’s the only one who can bring the fragmented elements of the country together; and he has a very clear vision for the future. The next time I visit Sri Lanka I look forward to personally congratulating Gotabhaya on his victory.

9 Responses to “Gotabhaya Rajapaksa: A Perspective from a Friend in the US”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Bravo, Dr. Long! I could not agree with your assessment of Gotabhya Rajapaksa more! May he TRUIMPH in the coming Presidential Election and long minister to all Sri Lankan citizens as President!

    Also, you have my heartfelt thanks for adopting my resplendent motherland and my long suffering people as your own!

    Obathumata Theruwan Saranai! Dharmaya Vijayagrahi Wewa!

  2. Gunasinghe Says:

    Thanks Dr Long. Some scum bags in Sri Lanka starting slinging mud at him after wining the war with leadership. He is a good man with love for his motherland.

  3. DR M D P DISSANAYAKE Says:

    Fine article. This is hard core evidence of the brutal manner in which President Premadasa killed or attempted to kill his enemies. It is no wonder, in Sri Lanka for the first time, when a Leader had died, the entire country celebrated, lighting crackers, distributing milk rice, banana, sweets etc.

    Premadasa was a thug. Preamadasa was a ruthless bas…. Not only Gota, he would have killed many others. Anyone not in his class was virtually destroyed.

    His son, the way he speak in public like an angry man. I hope Sri Lanka will be safe from Premadasa clan.

  4. Lionel Says:

    Big thanks for LankaWeb editor for quoting this article, as requested.
    We should not have a harsh attitude towards the opponents. Let them have their own policies in this race. Also, though farther (RP) was one of the worst leaders we ever had, son (SP) may be quite different. Let the people decide their destiny.
    Three positive things we can see from GR so far;
    1. No need to wear the national attire to cheat people.
    2. No need to raise the voice to maximum and loose the vocal chords on stage. Use the normal tone and explain the policies to audience in normal tone.
    3. Trust on the educated people.
    Though it is the bitter truth, one thing people in Sri Lanka should understand. Doesn’t matter who comes to power next. It is impossible to develop a country unless people are ready to accept the reality and go through hardships and work hard for al least for the next 3-4 years.

  5. Lionel Says:

    Missed the point number 1 in the above comment. Should read as:

    1. No need to wear the national attire to cheat people.

  6. dhane Says:

    Premadasa was a thug. Preamadasa was a ruthless bas…. Started killing from former UNP general Secretary Harsha Seneviratne, followed with Photographer [forgot the name] who photographed Hema ridding on horse, Ricard de Zoysa, Premakeerthi Alwis and many more finding his place to the Presidential candidate. There was a talk when JR was considering contesting 3rd term Premadasa visited Ward Place residence of JR one earlier morning abused in utter filthy language when Mrs JR was stunned. So we can see what son Sajith is doing same today.

  7. Mario Perera Says:

    Lionel,

    With reference to your point 2: . No need to raise the voice to maximum and loose the vocal chords on stage. Use the normal tone and explain the policies to audience in normal tone.

    Gota has gone public as being a very irascible and hot tempered individual. EXAMPLES ABOUND.
    Just watch his ‘hardtalk’ interview with the BBC and how he lost total control of himself on the issue of Fonseka and the White Flag accusation. With red hot face he screamed ‘treason’ at Fonseka and threatened to execute him. This mind you before an international audience while on the premier British network, the BBC.

    There is also the recording of his telephone conversation with Frederica Jansz that went viral. The Sunday Leader article: ‘Gota Goes Berserk.’ says it all. In this article Rajapaksa was placed on record having used foul language on Jansz including threatening her with possible death.
    Subsequently Jansz fled the country with her two children.

    Recently even a monk referred to this in-seated temperamental trait of Gota.

    Many are his actions a defense secretary which are of an extremely irascible and uncontrolled nature. We remember how he placed army units around the Hotel where Fonseka and his allies were putting up when the election results were declared. We also remember how army units were placed around Hultsdorf the day Mohan Peiris was illegally set on the Chief Justice chair. All this was a totally unnecessary WANTON display of power.

    Temper tantrums are a common feature of the Rajapakse family. We remember the Akuressa incident viewed over 120,000 times on a single website, shows MahaRaja brandishing a clenched fist at an interlocutor and being led away by his security cordon seething with rage.

    Leopards do not change their spots however much they are coated with white paint.

    Mario Perera, Kadawata

  8. Dilrook Says:

    Why did SLPP accept SB Dissanayake and Dilan Perera back into their fold?

    Shows desperation on the part of all of them. People rejected them in 2015. I guess the next regime will be “people’s rejects in 2015”. In a similar fashion, 2024 regime will be “people’s rejects in 2019”. Any reject can get back to power if they hang around long enough.

    e.g. Ranil

  9. Ananda-USA Says:

    WHAT! NOT ENOUGH SMOOTH TALKING from Gota!?

    While SMOOTH TALKING Ali Baba like Chief Thieves RIP OFF the Nation WHOLESALE with IMPUNITY, placating people with soothing palliatives and cart loads of irrelevant nonsense while the Nation sinks into the morass, those Leaders who have FOUGHT and RESCUED the Nation from IMMINENT DISINTEGRATION, while those SMOOTH TALKERS happliy hid under their beds offering to chop into pieces and deliver the motherland to its enemies, are expected to MIMIC the SMOOTH TALKERS!

    DAMN their IMMENSE CONTRIBUTIONS to the Nation! Just DELIVER on the SMOOTH TALKING!

    I would rather have a STRONG TALKING STRONG ACTING RECOGNIZED Leader, efficient and capable of delivering what we want, and DEDICATED to the RIGHT PRINCIPLES, rather than a bunch of ACCOMPLISHED SMOOTH TALKING PARA-GATHI CROOKS who handover the Nation to its ENEMIES with one hand while ROBBING it of its National Assets with the other!

    Moreover, RIGHTEOUS ANGER in a National DEFENDER AGAHAST at TREACHERY, is not a NEGATIVE TRAIT! I call it BACKBONE!

    sad to say, Mario and Dilroook are now in their NATIONAL ELECTION MODE, frantically digging up and hurling as much MUD as possible at Gota, exaggerating every miniscule NEGATIVE molehill into a terrifyingly mountainous THREAT while diminishing every toweringly POSITIVE mountainous aspect of his character into a vanishingly small molehill!

    This is Election SPIN DOCTORING, PURE & SIMPLE!

    The SAME thing happened in 2015, with the able assistance of the now SEEMINGLY ABSENT and DISCREDITED Lorenzo the LTTE undercover operative who unabashedly took PERSONAL CREDIT at LankaWeb for Single-Handedly Ousting Mahinda Rajapaksa from the Presidency! Those who are not yet suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s would do well to REMEMBER his ANTICS here!

    Be that as it may, one thing we can say for sure is that National Elections do bring the hidden ARROWS and SPEARS out from those who have carefully groomed their web-persona during NON-ELECTION years! Et Tu Brute’!

    C’est La Vie in Sri Lankan Politics!

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