Posted on December 2nd, 2020


Sri Lanka’s strategic military location in the Indian Ocean    and the value of Trincomalee to the USA was well understood by the Sri Lanka intelligentsia in the 1950s.  The intelligentsia knew that Trincomalee harbor could comfortably hold the 7th Fleet of the US Navy. This was mentioned regularly in drawing rooms in the 1950s. I recall hearing such conversations as a child. But the possibility of America actually doing so was glossed over. That was not discussed and the general public was not told.  

American power is based on alliances not colonies. US has some 60 treaty allies today. In the 20th century, US was mainly interested in the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and South East Asia.   Five of the seven US security alliances were with Asia-Pacific partners.  US also had defense pacts with sixty nine countries. Sri Lanka was not one of them.

The US was always    deeply interested in Sri Lanka, because of Sri Lanka’s strategic position in the Indian Ocean but America was not in a hurry to capture Sri Lanka. However,   when China started its rise as a superpower, US decided to project a more powerful image of itself.

Wiswa Warnapala says in his autobiography that in 1985 Wiswa was invited to visit USA on an International visitor programme.  The aim was to brief us on the superior US war   weaponry. The focus was on military hardware. The tour included the military complexes and the industrial centers engaged in the production of armaments. The tour gave us a good glimpse of the arsenal in the US .All aspects of their military superiority was shown to us to make sure that we understood the military might of the US.

With the rise of China, in the 1980s, the western focus changed. The Indian Ocean was a part of China’s new Maritime Silk Route so the Indian Ocean became vitally important. Sri Lanka’s strategic position in the Indian Ocean which had always been important now became urgently important, said K. Godage. 

In 2010 US Senate was told that Sri Lanka is strategically positioned along key shipping lanes. ‘Sri Lanka is strategically located at the nexus of maritime trading routes connecting Europe and the Middle East to China and the rest of Asia.

All of China’s and Japan’s energy resource from the Persian Gulf transits Sri Lanka and the island has the potential to control or impede the free flow these resources to China. Half the world’s container traffic also passes through Sri Lanka and the island has the potential to block this as well.   

In view of strategic importance of Sri Lanka to the US, an alliance should be maintained with Sri Lanka.  US foreign policy should be recast for the purpose.’ Sri Lanka could be used to further US interests in the Indian Ocean, said US advisors. 

For US policy makers and military planners Sri Lanka   became a top geopolitical priority. White House and Pentagon are trying urgently to figure out how ‘not to lose Sri Lanka ‘. And also how we can use Sri Lanka to further US national security interest in the Indian Ocean, said analysts.    

It is best to go carefully with Sri Lanka, said advisors. US should adopt a less confrontational approach.  It should follow a subtle and a sophisticated approach, since the political game had changed in Sri Lanka.  The formulas which were used in the past 20 years are now dead.

In early 2012 US officials in  Colombo met 15 or so business executives representing companies that were  importing from or exporting to US . The US embassy wanted regular feedback about security related matters in this country. The meeting was sponsored by the Overseas Security Advisory Council of the US State Department which looked after US business interest.

There was some urgency. It was observed in 2014 thatIf Sri Lanka has this same stability for the next five years then it will be difficult to   achieve US ambitions.  A weaker Sri Lanka is easy to dominate’.  

Mahinda Rajapaksa, President from 2005-2015 was not prepared to give in to the US. He had refused to bow down to US pressure to stop the war on LTTE.  Also he had established links with China   and was   planning a big military deal with Russia, which had offered a credit line for arms, ammunition, helicopters and land mine clearing. Rajapakse was becoming a serious obstacle to US interests in the Indian Ocean region.  He had to go.    Rajapakse gave them the opportunity by calling for elections in 2015. 

US had tried and failed to introduce a puppet leader at the Presidential election of 2010, but at the 2015 election, US succeeded. A puppet leader was elected as ‘common candidate’ and US took control of Sri Lanka. The Yahapalana government was a puppet government controlled by the USA.

Sri Lanka had a highly publicized, triumphant visit from US Secretary of State, John Kerry, In May 2015. The Secretary of State is the highest ranking member of the US Cabinet. Other officials followed.

Nisha Biswal, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, had visited Sri Lanka six times by July 2016.  Alice Wells, who replaced her, was in Sri Lanka in August 2017, Thomas Shannon, [US Deputy Secretary Defense], Tom Malinowski [US assistant Secretary for democracy and Human rights] and US Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, also visited Sri Lanka. There is a photograph of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera holding hands with Biswal and Malinowski.

Samantha Power, US ambassador to the UN, visited in November 2015. She said USA was deeply committed to supporting Sri Lanka’s efforts at peace, reconciliation and accountability.    She feels a strong sense of responsibility towards the beleaguered people of all communities of Sri Lanka. She considered Neelan Thiruchelvam her friend. She said that Mahinda Rajapakse, when President, had brusquely brushed aside her overtures to initiate a meaningful dialogue. Gotabhaya and Basil Rajapakse had been even worse. They had been brazenly unpleasant.

US supporters in Sri Lanka were pleased about the arrival of the USA. America is very important to us, said Minister Harsha de Silva. 25% of our exports go to US and 70% of that is garments. Changes in US trade policy have a large repercussion on Sri Lanka, because of our dependency on the US economy, he added. Within months of Yahapalana government coming to power, the application form for a fixed deposit in a state bank asked ‘are you a US person’.

Others were not pleased. They saw the Yahapalana government as a puppet government of the USA. They spoke of the ‘USA led conspiracy that installed the present government’.  ‘The government is pursuing a Western agenda  and is hell bent on destabilizing post-war Sri Lanka’, said A.J.M. Mussamil.

Yahapalana  government is following a course of action that is likely to result in a foreign dominated, bankrupt, dependent economy that places enormous burdens on the people, and destroys Sri Lanka’s independence and sovereignty, making us a semi-colony of the USA and its allies,   said Tissa Vitarana.

The current government appears to be highly dependent on the West for its political survival, said critics.  Yahapalana government is   a ‘fully pro-Washington regime’ said Tamara Kunanayagam. Tissa Vitarana said that Ranil Wickremesinghe was going to make Sri Lanka a puppet of the USA like the Philippines. Mangala Samaraweera is America’s poodle and the West’s darling, said Rajeewa Jayaweera.

After the 2015 election, USA planned to entrench itself comfortably in Sri Lanka. US immediately started to convert Sri Lanka‘s economy, administration and society to suit the needs of the USA.

USA had a new Constitution drafted and ready. Keheliya Rambukwella said in 2017. A new constitution has been prepared by the US and given to the   Yahapalana government .Almost everybody had accepted the draft except a bunch led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, complained US.

From 2015 to 2019 the US started many projects in Sri Lanka which were intended to entrench US thinking. Two batches of senior judges visited US in August 2018 and April 2019. The US State Department made provision for a Resident Legal Advisor in Colombo to provide anti-corruption and asset recovery training and also support the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC).

The Yahapalana government was given three instructions (a) weaken the state, (b) ruin the economy and (c) crush the people. Then a dissatisfied, angry, restless society will be created, which will be encouraged to protest. A state of chaos will result. The west will then be able to move in, probably using Right to Protect” (R2P). 

Yahapalana accordingly, tried to destroy every important segment of the public life of the country. Sampur power plant was cancelled, to precipitate an energy shortage. Train transport was disrupted by strikes.  The economy was to be drastically changed. Yahapalana planned to revise the Customs Ordinance, Inland Revenue Act, Audit Act and reduce the powers of the Central Bank.

 An economic programme was prepared by a team led by Ricardo Haussmann of Harvard University, funded by the Open Society Foundation of George Soros. This was unveiled at Sri Lanka Economic Forum of 2016, with Joseph Stieglitz of Harvard participating. Local economists criticized the plan and wanted it dismissed. They said it was infantile.

In agriculture, State refused to buy paddy from the local farmers. Their paddy was stored at Mattala airport. Rice was imported. Villagers at Moragahakanda complained that all they needed was just one more round of water and their harvest would be ok. The engineers had sent water, but an order had come from high up, to close the sluice.

The local pepper and onion industry faced drastic fall in prices since onions and low grade pepper were imported. Yahapalana planned to sell the Maha Illuppalama seed farm to a Bangladesh firm. The acreage owned by the Regional Tea plantations was to be limited to 5000 acres.  Glyphostate and Paraquat vitally important chemicals were banned.

Ministry of Rural Economic Development imported pregnant milch cows, carrying highly contagious and deadly diseases, which were new to Sri Lanka. The dairy farmers were thenadvised to get rid of the Sri Lankan animals they already had.

The free health service was to be replaced by an insurance based service. Eye surgeons in government hospitals could operate only on patients who get lenses from the Health   service. Also, they could not use equipment loaned by the private sector. The number of cataract surgeries per day at the National Eye Hospital, Colombo, dropped from 80-100 surgeries to 23 per day.

 A useless Russian drug   for terminal cancer was imported but a drug which would help cure breast cancer at the early stage was not. Doctors transfer list was delayed. Their vehicle permit was not given, schools were not provided for their children when doctors went on transfer.

The regulations governing cosmetic products were removed.   Skin whitening creams containing mercury amounts very harmful to the users came in. “There is one cream which has 10,000 times more mercury than the permitted amount, said critics.

Education was affected in several ways. Principals due to for promotion were not given their appointment letters. Salary arrears of principals and teachers were not paid. Vouchers were given instead of free school uniform material. External degrees could not exceed the number passing internally.

The Elevated Highway Project from Rajagiriya to Athurugiriya was to be built over a lake and paddy fields avoiding settlements. Yahapalana   chose another route which went over750 land lots, affected 1,010 families and would demolish 120 shops and business places. Residents wanted to know why the RDA chose such a highly residential area for a highway.

There was a clear anti Buddhist slant. Buddhism was to be suppressed.  I do not think this was in the Washington agenda. It would have been introduced by the anti –Buddhist NGOs in Sri Lanka.

Bhikkhus were imprisoned and elephants were impounded, so that temples and peraheras would be affected. The best teachers of Dharmaraja and Mahamaya were transferred out.  Dharmaraja and Mahamaya are the two leading Buddhist schools in Kandy. This anti Buddhist activity resulted in angering the Maha Sangha who then emerged as a formidable anti Yahapalana force.

USA was not that admired and welcomed in Sri Lanka as the US thought.  There was always considerable anti-USA feeling in Sri Lanka. Critics seem to outnumber admirers. A NGO attitude survey done   in the year 2004, found that the Sri Lanka respondents were suspicious of America. America was searching for a centre to block China, they said.    It would be a mistake for Sri Lanka to rely too much on USA. Other countries that sought Washington assistance found that they were invaded and occupied.

 America always creates problems in any country it involves itself in, said Shenali Waduge in 2011.  USA has been directly and indirectly involved in coups, invasions, regime changes from Iran in 1953 onwards, she added. USA supported   dictators like Pinochet, Marcos, Suharto, Somoza, and Pol Pot. Saddam Hussein was initially a CIA agent. Osama Bin Laden was initially nurtured by the US and had financial interests in the US.

The US was the world’s worst offender when it came to human rights, critics continued. Look at the enormous number of persons the US army has killed in its wars. The chemical Agent Orange in Vietnam resulted in severely disabled children. ‘Island’ editorial in 2016 said ‘If the US solves its own problems without being a problem to other countries, it will help solve most of the problems the world is facing’.

Yahapalana government rapidly became unpopular. It was seen as the run up to yet another bout of foreign rule. When Yahapalana took power in 2015, there was an immediate comparison with 1815. Sri Lanka is definite that it does not want another bout of foreign rule. They think that three rounds of it, Portuguese, Dutch and British is more than enough. They do not want to be under the USA.

Therefore, things did not so as smoothly and easily in Yahapalana as US thought it would. The Yahapalana administration did not crush the public into silence as the US hoped. Instead it infuriated the public and acted as a wakeup call. Wait till the next election comes” the public said.

From a triumphant, highly visible start in 2015, with prominent visits by Secretary of State John Kerry and other high ranking officials, the USA went into low profile.  Departments like USAID continued working and US officials   came in, but without much publicity.

The public reaction to the Yahapalana victory was immediate. The electorate realized what had happened as soon as the 2015 election results were announced and the next day, they flocked to the private residence of Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom they had rejected at the polls. They insisted that Yahapalana must go and Rajapaksa should take over.

There were huge meetings, demonstrations and parades in support of Mahinda Rajapaksa such as May Day gatherings and Pada Yathra. When they found that Mahinda Rajapaksa was not eligible to contest the next election, the public then turned to brother Gotabaya. They greeted Gotabaya royally when he returned from USA. They yelled, garlanded and cheered him. They insisted that he must come forward and defeat Yahapalana in the 2019 election, which he did.  (Continued)

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