Chagos is an Indian Ocean island possession of the UK, one of the colonies it held onto after decolonization. Britain evicted the native Chagossian population and leased the island to the U.S. military. Now Diego Garcia is one of the most important bases in America’s empire of bases. British courts except for the House of Lords have ruled in favor of the Chagossian’s right to return to their homeland, but the government has fought them every step of the way. Now the UK is proposing a marine reserve for Chagos. A nice environmentally friendly move, you might think. However, this designation could block the return of Chagossians and prohibit fishing in the reserve.
The Brits may have stolen this play right out of the U.S. play book: using marine environmental protection to dispossess the native people. The U.S. has created federal marine monuments in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and is proposing a similar monument in the Marianas. While the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument has created unprecedented protections for the coral reef system in the northwestern Hawaiian islands, the Bush administration slipped in an exemption for the military to conduct its activities within the reserve. The proposed Marianas marine monument contains similar provisions. Native Hawaiians have generally supported the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument and have helped to shape it to incorporate subsistence fishing and other cultural practices. Chamorros have been divided on the Marianas monument because any increased federal control means an erosion of the islands’ sovereignty and native rights. With the proposed U.S. military expansion in Guam and CNMI, the federalization of the marine ecosystem is viewed with warranted suspicion.
The U.S. military has realized that being environmentally friendly can have strategic value. Undeveloped nature reserves are less troublesome as neighbors of military bases and ranges than complaining suburban residents. So the Pentagon instituted a conservation buffer program to partner with environmental groups to preserve areas bordering bases as a way to prevent the “encroachment” of other users. Marine reserves that allow military activities to take place without competing users serves the same purpose.
Chagossians fight for a home in paradise