Students of Greek mythology and the writings of ancient Greeks such as Homer would well remember the story of the Trojan horse. That was a neat stratagem pulled on the people of Troy by a great Greek general called Odysseus which brought Troy tumbling down. Fact or fiction, it made great reading. It also threw [...]


Cometh the Peace Corps bearing gifts


Students of Greek mythology and the writings of ancient Greeks such as Homer would well remember the story of the Trojan horse. That was a neat stratagem pulled on the people of Troy by a great Greek general called Odysseus which brought Troy tumbling down.
Fact or fiction, it made great reading. It also threw suspicion on many Greek offerings and gave rise to the oft quoted saying “beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” But it was not only the Greeks who suffered the ignominy of being so badly mistrusted and treated with more than usual suspicion.

Signing of the agreement to reinstate the Peace Corps in Sri Lanka

The news earlier this month that the Sri Lanka Government signed an agreement with the United States to bring the Peace Corps back to Sri Lanka after some 20 years was not only treated with grave suspicion but raised the hackles of many well aware of the role played by volunteers in this organisation who have acted as intelligence gatherers and in even more deeply suspicious roles in countries in the global south where they operated.

The question that many have begun to ask is who in the yahapalana government was responsible for bringing the Peace Corps with its dangerously tainted reputation during the many years of it existence, back to Sri Lanka at a time of political instability and ethno-religious tensions in the country.

Those acquainted with the background of this so-called peace organisation know that it is hardly what it seems to be. President John Kennedy whose executive order gave birth to the PC might have been genuine in his intentions. But instead of bringing peace to the countries in which it operated the corps was used by US spy masters to turn it into a tool that often brought political instability to nascent nations by interfering in their internal affairs in a manner that was considered favourable to the United States or detrimental to governments or parties considered inimical to Washington’s interests.

From the news wires it would seem that the decision of the National Unity Government (NUG) to bring in the Peace Corps at a time when Sri Lanka is passing through a phase of political uncertainty and infighting between the two major constituents in the coalition would normally be considered an unwise, and even perilous, move given the history of the roles played by the organisation’s volunteers.
But what has not been generally known to the public is that negotiations to re-install the PC here began shortly after the yahapalana government emerged as the NUG.

It appears that the Sri Lanka Government invited the US to send the PC back again. The critical question who in the Sri Lanka Government initiated these moves and was discussed and approved by the cabinet. Available Information shows that the negotiations to bring the PC back started in 2016, the raison d’etre being to “help in furthering Sri Lanka’s development plans.”

The finger points at the UNP partner in the coalition. The foreign ministry was actively engaged in rebuilding relations with Washington with the ministry and our Washington mission ever willing to pay pooja to the mighty Americans. It was a UNP article of faith. It was no surprise that J.R. Jayewardene was referred to as “Yankee Dickie” not only by his detractors but even by some of his friends, though not always in his hearing.

It might be recalled that it was the initial moves by the “JR” government to provide facilities in the Trincomalee port area and land for the Voice of America to set up a “relay station” that roused suspicions in India and made Indira Gandhi follow an anti-Sri Lanka foreign policy.
While times have changed and US-India relations have been recalibrated by new leaders, the UNP’s policy of worshipping Washington has not ended. Rather it has intensified under its present leaders particularly the government’s first foreign minister Mangala Samaraweera whose frequent visits to Washington or receiving middling State Department officials such as Nisha Biswal like a visiting goddess, degraded this country not only among our own people but among several of our Asian neighbours.

Interestingly the PC was to help further our development plans. Development was in the hands of the UNP which had cornered several key economic ministries and set up an economic committee under the prime minister and leader of the UNP. It shows that UNP foreign minister and pro-western lackeys in the upper ranks of the ministry had worked with the UNP’s ‘development’ ministers to get the PC back in place in this country.

At the signing of the agreement between our current foreign minister Tilak Marapana who always looked like a rather bewildered chap groping around in an unfamiliar terrain, and acting Director of the PC Sheila Crowley she said “We are grateful to the Government of Sri Lanka and the people of Sri Lanka for their invitation to once again, have Peace Corps volunteers serve side by side with Sri Lankans in their beautiful country”.

If there ever was a strange statement, this was it. Perhaps the man who signed the agreement and the UNP’s other palanquin bearers who shepherded this along right from the beginning could tell the public when on earth the people of this country invited PC volunteers to turn up here with much enthusiasm and applause.

Was this what the acting director was told by the UNP leaders and Washington-worshippers or did she spot jubilant Sri Lankans lining the streets and waving the stars and stripes as though this was their last opportunity to pray to their favourite deity. In fact did the people of this country even know that our Washington worshippers in the NUG were planning to plant ‘volunteers’ in their midst, one purpose for their presence being to teach our people English in the name of “furthering development.”

Good heavens! What kind of English would they be teaching? Here are people who cannot correctly spell labour or colour and pronounce route as rout, which as you know, has an entirely different meaning. Route and rout in the English language mean two different things.
This mix up is so evident even in Sri Lanka. If you step into one of the computer spares shops and inquire about a router (pronounced rooter naturally) you might well be asked “ Sir rowter ekak the hoyanney?” as has happened to me and some friends.

It is bad enough that we are producing generations so accustomed to transmitting messages by twitter and other abbreviated means such as U for you that the art of constructing meaningful sentences as in the past is fast disappearing. Add to this phenomenon American argot in shorthand and one ends up with a meaningless concoction.

But teaching Americanisms is the least of our worries. At a recent media briefing our former permanent representative to the UN in Geneva and later ambassador to Cuba Tamara Kunanayakam made a tangential reference to the impending presence of the Peace Corps in Sri Lanka and the inherent danger that this poses irrespective of all the plaudits offered for the work it has done in different countries.

Kunanayakam also referred to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s threat to kick the peace corps out of his country in a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s refusal to issue visas for high-ranking Cambodian diplomats and their families. Hun Sen’s move was one of several he was toying with as America’s usual strong hand tactics against small and weak states increased in intensity.

It might be remembered that during the Vietnam war the US illegally bombed Cambodia without ever having officially admitted to having done so. Though Cambodia accused some volunteers of interfering in internal politics, there was an interesting case about a decade ago in Bolivia where some peace corps volunteers publicly exposed US embassy officials – obviously CIA or other intelligence officers – of urging them to spy on Venezuelans and Cubans present in Bolivia.

US embassy officials in Bolivia asked PC volunteers and a Fulbright scholar “to basically spy on “Cubans and Venezuelans in the country, according to PC volunteers and the Fulbright scholar who publicly denounced the embassy’s attempts to turn them into informers and, more so, into spies.

This exposure resulted in the US ‘diplomat’ being kicked out of Bolivia and the story making big news in the US, Latin America and in countries that always suspected Washington of running a “dirty tricks” department as some called it. “I was told to provide the names, addresses and activities of any Venezuelan and Cuban doctors or field workers I came across during my time here, the Fulbright scholar John Alexander van Schaick told ABC News in an interview at the time.

His account matched that of PC volunteers and staff who claimed that the previous July an entire team of new volunteers was instructed by the same US embassy official in Bolivia to report on Cuban and Venezuelan nationals in Bolivia. This is only the tip of the iceberg. How many PC volunteers, individually or as teams have been ordered out of countries that accepted them in good faith only to find spies in their midst. Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike kicked the PC out after she became prime minister in 1970.

The return of the Peace Corps in 2019 might be more than fortuitous with the presidential and parliamentary elections only months away.
Said US Ambassador in Sri Lanka Atul Keshap about the Peace Corps “Our volunteers embody and promote the ideals of equality, shared prosperity and common interests in a peaceful, stable world”.

This world knows all about US attempts to create a peaceful and stable world. The quickest way, Washington has found, is to bomb everybody to hell and back -civilians and all – while preaching morality to others. Perhaps they have a trump card ready for use against the small and weak nations – the smaller and weaker the better.

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