Over the past six months, Sri Lanka has been in the news. You have likely read accounts or seen videos of a civil revolution sparked by government corruption and shortages of both food and fuel. Amidst this uprising — involving all religions, ethnicities, and classes of the population with a call for systems change — thousands of protestors stormed and occupied the presidential palace, forcing the president to flee in July. In a world beset by supply chain issues, where the war in Ukraine is one of the multiple factors compromising the world’s food supply, it seems that Sri Lanka is the proverbial “canary in the coal mine.” It’s the first domino to fall, as a worldwide globalized economy based on large-scale, corporate monoculture and shipping food halfway across the planet wobbles toward collapse.
On 9 July 2022, remarkable images floated across social media from Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital. Thousands of people rushed into the presidential palace and chased out former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, forcing him to flee to Singapore. In early May, Gotabaya’s brother Mahinda, also a former president, resigned from his post as prime minister and fled with his family to the Trincomalee naval base. The public’s raw anger toward the Rajapaksa family could no longer be contained, and the tentacles of Rajapaksas, which had ensnared the state for years, were withdrawn. Now, almost a month later, residual feelings from the protests remain but have not made any significant impact. Sri Lanka’s new caretaker, President Ranil Wickremesinghe, extended the state of emergency and ordered security forces to dismantle the Galle Face Green Park protest site (known as Gotagogama). Wickremesinghe’s ascension to the presidency reveals a great deal about both the weakness of the protest movement in this nation of 22 million people and the strength of the Sri Lankan ruling class.
Sri Lanka, an island-nation of 22 million people, has been the center of political and economic turmoil since the United National Party government defaulted on $51 billion in foreign debt during May. For months the country has experienced severe shortages of fuel, food and other commodities amid an inflationary spiral. Motorists have lined up for blocks to get fuel and cooking oil. A failed agricultural fertilizer policy has been cited as the cause behind the decline in agricultural production. The shortages of fuel have hampered the production and marketing of agricultural products such as tea which is exported from Sri Lanka. Due to the lack of fuel, trucks which transport these agricultural commodities for internal marketing and export have been drastically reduced. Workers and small business operators have lined up sometimes for two days in order to purchase limited amounts of fuel.
This July, Sri Lanka’s government was forced to resign, after hundreds of thousands of protesters stormed public buildings, setting some on fire, while also occupying the homes of the country’s leaders. The protests were driven by skyrocketing rates of inflation, as well as rampant corruption and widespread shortages of fuel, food, and medicine – a product of the country’s inability to pay for imports. In May, Sri Lanka defaulted on its debt. In June, it tried to negotiate another structural adjustment program with the US-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF). This would have been Sri Lanka’s 17th IMF bailout, but the talks ended without a deal. By July, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe publicly admitted that his government was “bankrupt.”
The full text of the five page SOFA draft – which the Americans now also call the Visiting Forces Agreement to mislead locals – has been obtained by the Sunday Times and published in full. The text reveals incriminating details of demands made by the U.S. to accommodate their military forces and the free movement and passage for military personnel, vessels and aircraft in Sri Lankan territory. It also raises many questions regarding the U.S. agenda for Sri Lanka and raises serious doubts on the assurances given by U.S. Ambassador Alaina B. Teplitz that a U.S. military base would not be established in the country. One of the agreement clauses specifically refers to waiving off of regulations or conditions for contracting material, equipment and supplies for services including constructions that are to be ‘furnished and undertaken in Sri Lanka’.
Massive protests rocked Sri Lanka on Saturday, July 9, leading to a collapse of government. In the morning, tens of thousands of protesters marched to the residence of the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who reportedly fled shortly before. By Saturday evening, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe resigned to make way for the formation of an all-party government. Reports also said the president had agreed to resign. An all-party meeting called by the Speaker of parliament also saw calls for the resignation of the president. On Saturday evening, protesters also gathered before the residence of the prime minister. Some of the protesters, including media personnel, were assaulted by security forces.
By Amantha Perera for IPS - COLOMBO Sri Lanka , Dec 21 2015 (IPS) - Details of a secret detention center, where serious human rights abuses took place, deep inside the sprawling Tricomalee Naval base in the east of Sri Lanka are slowly emerging. The site is nothing new to those who were held there. In June this year the South Africa-based International Truth and Justice Project, Sri Lanka (ITJPSL) launched a 134-page report on on-going human rights violations and past cases in Sri Lanka. The report titled An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka 2009-2014 said. They knew they were being held there, but their family members or others concerned about their state knew nothing of where they were held.