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Mainstream, VOL LX No 16, New Delhi, April 9, 2022

Letter to an American on the Economic Crisis and Public Protests in Sri Lanka | Liyanage Amarakeerthi

Friday 8 April 2022


April 7, 2022

I know quite well that Americans do not like too much formality, and let me address you by your first name, Julie.

So, dear Julie,

Let me introduce myself first. I am a Fulbright Scholar (1998-2000), and I am extremely proud that I am one. After my Fulbright period, I was awarded a series of other fellowships by the University of Wisconsin to finish my PhD. Before joining the University of Peradeniya, I taught for four years at Cornell University. All those 10 years in the US and the education I received there enriched my vision of life and the world. After my education in the US, I was able to develop as a relatively influential public intellectual and a literary writer. While always appreciating the opportunities given to me by the US, I have always opposed imperialisms of all kinds.

As a scholar in Comparative Literature, I have been a cosmopolitan person all through my adult life, teaching literary works from nearly all the countries of Europe, the US, Russia, Japan, India and so on. In that sense, I am familiar with some of the ‘best thoughts’ happened in those countries, and I have worked hard to familiarise my students with those thoughts. I believe that no single culture can provide everything needed for human flourishing within that culture.

Having established the fact that I am not a parochial nationalist with a heart full of xenophobia, I must tell you this: I am quite active in the on-going protests against our ruling family. With thousands of other Sri Lankans, I too believe that the entire Rajapaksa family and its close relatives, have to vacate their posts in the country’s power structure. You know that more than seventy five percent (75%) of the country budget is controlled by them. The ministerial portfolios they hold are the most powerful ones. That is what they are right now. Or course, a slight change has happened as of today.

You must have seen that there is increasing pressure from people to the ruling family and its cronies to step down. They have no legitimate reasons to hold on to power. People from all walks of life, women, children, even infants, have taken to the streets to send a message to a single greedy family. And some of the key members of that family are US citizens. I do not want to claim that they are your puppets political or otherwise. Real US citizens resist being the puppets of the government; and it is in both democratic and republican tradition. But here in our country, there are growing concerns that the US and other powerful countries will eventually ensure that the Rajapaksas get safe havens, and their loot will also be safe. Speaking of the loot, it is already in such countries in the form of money and property. Given the strength of your intelligence services, you must already know where the Rajapaksa assets are. Some WikiLeaks communiques revealed that the US mission in Colombo always knew that the Rajapakasas were disgustingly corrupt. You must have inherited that knowledge of your predecessors.

I am writing to you to request that you must not, by any means, help this family to escape with their stolen money because that money belongs to the people of Sri Lanka. Perhaps, you can begin right now the process of freezing their accounts in your countries.

What you are witnessing is something historic. Please, do not interpret these as a ‘communist riots’ or something. It has been one of your old cold-war mistakes to see ‘communism’ in all our protests. You, Julie in particular, must give up the perennial habit of hating even a mild form of ‘socialist economic policies.’ With or without that phrase, what we are trying to create is an economic system whose achievements are shared by everyone with relative equality and a sense of justice.

Neoliberal economic programme carried out with your blessings for many decades in Sri Lanka has created a huge gap between the haves and have-nots. The majority of the population has no access to quality education and healthcare. On top of that failure, in the neoliberal ideology, corrupt political families such as the Rajapakasas have robbed the country so bad that we can no longer tolerate this crime. As of today, many people do not have access to the basic needs of everyday life. If neoliberalism was so good, how come it collapsed here within a few difficult months?

When people demand social justice, economic democracy, free education, and free healthcare, and the like, you tend to be alarmed. Here, I am speaking especially to you, Julie. Please stop interpreting those as communist demands; you have all those ideas of justice and democracy built into the US public life and public virtue. Yes. You do not have free health care in the US; but you cannot be proud of that fact. There is significant demand for such things in the US, too. And you have a host of programmes for giving an initial support to underprivileged people to take a shot at a decent life.

Please allow us begin working towards establishing a new form of government formed on the principles of economic justice and democracy. If you cannot help us do that, because of your ideological commitment in the global scene, please do not at least disrupt our efforts.

Julie, your country has an inglorious history of supporting corrupt politicians such as Pinochet, Marcos and so on, as long as they stood with you in the theater of the cold war. Many such enemies of the people ended up living peacefully in the US. In our case, today you are especially obligated to be responsible and considerate because some members of our ruling family are American citizens. You must be considerate of our people, not with a family that happened to have blue passports.

What prompted for me to write this urgently is a slogan in the ongoing mass struggle: “Gota go home!” The ‘home’ in this case is the US.

The family might have already communicated to you that some ‘extremist communists’ are threatening them to step down. They know that a term like ‘communist’ can open up the diplomatic hearts of the West. I am sure you know enough of the corruption of the family. If you want to see social justice, lasting peace, and true democracy in the country, let us see what people can come up with through these struggles. I hope you, Julie, and others in powerful diplomatic circles, will not intervene to save a family of crooks and the failed economic programme they oversee.

Once this is over, and, hopefully, a new structure for the Sri Lankan state is created, you all can help us reimagining Sri Lanka. As an activist related to the National People’s Power (NPP), I like to see significant structural change in our economic system and the state. But by writing this letter, I am not representing the NPP, and let’s see what will really emerge at the end. We do all we can to assure that people will not turn violent no matter how much they are provoked.

If you are interested in justice and democracy in the country, please let the ruling clan know that they must not use violence to stay in power. I hope you do not want to see military rulers in South Asia. We certainly do not want dictators here.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely yours

Liyanage Amarakeerthi


University of Peradeniya

[The above article from The Island is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use]

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