By Malinda Seneviratne –
On May 22, 2013, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was entered between the Public Affairs Section of the Embassy of the United States of America (USA) and the Trincomalee Urban Council (UC) at the Public Library of Trincomalee for the use of the UC premises for a period of five years. The facility, named ‘American Corner’ is purportedly for public information activity.
The US Embassy has already set up 2 such facilities, one in Kandy and another in Jaffna. The Ministry of External Affairs is yet to comment on the legality of these operations. If they have been sanctioned, then the public needs to know whether clearance has been obtained from the national security establishment given sensitivity and the track record of the USA in setting up of such ‘non-military’ bases and using them for espionage purposes.
First and foremost the use of ‘American’ is a misnomer and one which indicates the ‘empiric’ aspirations of the USA, for ‘America’ refers to two continents, from the southern tip of South America to the northernmost point of North America. That’s a ‘cornering’ of a different kind which too is not ideologically innocent.
Secondly, if this is ‘ok’, it means that the USA can enter into Memoranda of Understanding with each of the 335 local authorities in the country. It means that all other countries which have diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka can follow suit. We will have a Saudi Arabia Corner in Kattankudy, a Russian Corner in Kolonnawa, a Cuban Corner in Boralesgamuwa and of course similar corners of these countries and others in all parts of the country. It will be practically impossible for the Government to check what they are up to.
What is pernicious about this move is that the US Embassy has seen fit to bypass the Ministry of External Affairs. This is the ‘we do as we want’ face of the Ugly American. This is exactly what made people express horror about 9/11 but add, ‘you asked for it’.
Thirdly, if a relatively minor local authority like an Urban Council can ‘pact’ with a foreign government, what wouldn’t a larger entity such as a Provincial Council do? Trincomalee is a sensitive district security-wise. Any foreign government doing any business (forget setting up a ‘base’ which can be used for electronic warfare, surveillance and such) is a threat to national security. The USA, moreover, is not exactly Sri Lanka’s ‘best friend’ in the international community. This move is as much a security threat as that of giving Sampur over to India.
In other words, if the 13th Amendment is not repealed and a different arrangement instituted to ensure a louder voice for the citizen in regional development, with sufficient protections against abuse by spoiler forces (like the TNA, which is calling for autonomy that includes financial deals with foreign governments), then we could very well have the USA (or anyone else) operating to destabilize the nation from within in ways that are more telling than the current method of surreptitiously conspiring with anti-Sri Lankan elements to affect regime-change.
Let there be no illusions. The USA is dead-set on interfering in the internal affairs of this country. The USA tried to corner Sri Lanka in Geneva. The USA is now taking the metaphor into literary territory. We could very well have the USA and its allies in the European Union (who voted en bloc against Sri Lanka in Geneva) setting up such ‘corners’ in all corners of the country. There won’t be a corner left that can be called ‘Sri Lanka’. Or else, the Government will have to beg these powers for a ‘corner’ for Sri Lanka.
The USA is clearly cutting corners here, banking on the general goodwill of the people and the inefficiencies and/or fears of relevant officials and politicians. These are civilian-looking ‘Lily Pods’ with multiple uses, both innocent and pernicious. The USA does not love Sri Lanka or Sri Lankans. That’s fine. The Government, however, cannot shun its responsibilities to the people.
These ‘corners’ must be kicked out. And fast.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com