US intervened in the two Presidential elections of in January 2010 and January 2015. US wished to somehow defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa and put a US puppet on the throne. It is well known that the US meddled in the Presidential elections of 2010 and 2015, said the media. US ambassador Michelle Sisson was openly talking politics at embassy functions. She was adamant that the candidate to challenge Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015 should not be a UNP candidate but a common candidate.
The US funding of Sirisena campaign in 2014/2015 is not a secret though identities of recipients remained confidential, said Shamindra Ferdinando. US Secretary of State John Kerry said a massive USD 585 million was spent in Nigeria, Myanmar and Sri Lanka to ‘restore democracy’. Some of this has been given, in Sri Lanka to civil society, citizen movements and faith leaders.
Sarath Fonseka, the US candidate for 2010, failed to win. But in 2015, Maitripala Sirisena became President and Ranil Wickremesinghe was made Prime Minister. At long last, US was in control in Sri Lanka.
USA planned to entrench itself comfortably in Sri Lanka. ‘What we offer Sri Lanka is a true and transparent partnership, particularly in terms of development and infrastructure, avoiding unsustainable debts,’ said USA. ‘Your country stands to gain substantially from these opportunities.’
Top US officials bounced into Sri Lanka with confidence. US Secretary of State, John Kerry, was the first to visit. The Secretary of State is the highest ranking member of the US Cabinet. Sri Lanka had a highly publicized, triumphant visit from Kerry, In May 2015.
Kerry did not hide the fact that Sri Lanka was of great strategic importance to Washington. He said, “Your country sits at the crossroads of Africa, South Asia, and East Asia. The Indian Ocean is the world’s most important commercial highway. And with its strategic location near deep-water ports in India and Myanmar, Sri Lanka could serve as the fulcrum of a modern and dynamic Indo-Pacific region. The US could play a leadership role in making this happen.”
Other official followed. Nisha Biswal, Assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, had visited Sri Lanka six times by July 2016. Alice Wells, who replaced her, was in Sri Lanka in August 2017. Samantha Power [US ambassador to the UN], Thomas Shannon, [US Deputy Secretary Defense], Tom Malinowski [US assistant Secretary for democracy and Human rights] and US Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, also visited Sri Lanka. There is a photograph of Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera holding hands with Biswal and Malinowski.
US supporters in Sri Lanka were pleased. America is very important to us, said Minister Harsha de Silva. 25% of our exports go to US and 70% of that is garments. Changes in US trade policy have a large repercussion on Sri Lanka, because of our dependency on the US economy, he added.
Mangala Samaraweera said, ‘Obama would come up to President Sirisena to say ‘Hello’ at whichever international forum they used to meet. This shows how far American relations have improved during the recent times.’
Others were not pleased. They saw the Yahapalana government as a puppet government of the USA. Yahapalana government is a ‘fully pro-Washington regime’ said Tamara Kunanayagam. Tissa Vitarana said that Ranil Wickremesinghe was going to make Sri Lanka a puppet of the USA like the Philippines. Loyal supporters of the USA are ridiculed. Mangala Samaraweera is America’s poodle and the West’s darling, said Rajeewa Jayaweera.
The current government appears to be highly dependent on the West for its political survival, said analysts. This link will not benefit the country. Over a thousand so-called independent “Think Tanks” have been established both in the USA and in other countries to influence governments towards USA projects. Institute of Policy Studies and Advocata are playing that role in Sri Lanka, said Tissa Vitarana.
USA is not that admired and welcomed in Sri Lanka. Critics seem to outnumber admirers. Even the USA embassy in Colombo is criticized. USA is at present completing a huge embassy on Galle Road, amalgamating the old British embassy site. The new complex appears to extend from the Kollupitiya junction to the old Colombo Swimming Club area, covering the entire length of the front wall of the Temple Trees, said critics. Within months of Yahapalana government coming to power, the application form for a fixed deposit in a state bank asked ‘are you a US person.
From a confident start, US started retreating. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo was to travel to Sri Lanka on a short visit, in June 2019. Pompeo was accompanying President Trump for the G-20 summit in Osaka. The purpose of Pompeo’s visit was to pressure Sri Lanka into signing SOFA. But he did not come. He cancelled his visit.
The reason, said analysts was the growing protests against the Status of Forces (SOFA) Agreement and strong objections to an American military base in Sri Lanka. The public opposed SOFA since it would give the US forces unrestricted access to Sri Lanka as well as diplomatic immunity. “
In July 2017, it was announced that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, would meet with two officials from the White House, who would represent President Donald Trump, since Wickremesinghe happened to be in New York. Wickremesinghe will also attend the UN Ocean Conference in New York. These two activities were presented as incidental.
The Prime Minister was in New York primarily, we are told, for a medical checkup. He had been earlier checked up and fully cleared in Singapore. He was declared fit by the New York medical panel too. Usually when Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister goes on a visit abroad, there is much publicity, including television and photos. This time there was none.
USA now had to engage in soft power all over again. However, a few items of popular American culture were already in place. They seem to date from the year 2000. Valentine’s Day came to Sri Lanka. This took off with a bang. Personal love was emphasized.
Then in 2002 a session of Free love or something was planned in Vihara Maha Devi Park in May, the month of Wesak. The Maha Sangha intervened and squashed it. The Sangha said that this project was not an innocent one. It had an ulterior motive. It was intended to subvert, to overturn the local culture.
Mothers Day started around 2010, followed much later by Fathers Day. In Sri Lanka too, like in America, these events were intended mainly to help sell merchandise. The motive was commercial. Children of elite westernized families in Colombo are now starting to hold Halloween parties, and Colombo has started eating dough nuts. Some caterers specialize in only doughnuts.
The U.S. Embassy launched an American Innovation Hub (iHub) in Matara in March 2018 in partnership with the Matara District Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The iHub is located in the Matara Chamber of Commerce building. The iHub offers thematic programs, all free of charge, and a selection of U.S. books and DVDs. It is intended to promote English language learning, encourage study in the United States, and introduce the local community to American culture and values.
The U.S. embassy thereafter signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Matara Chamber of Industry and Commerce in September 2018 to open an American Corner in Matara. This will replace the IHub.
The American Corner will offer free programs and training. Programs will include English classes, coding and computer skills, leadership and public speaking training, and a range of film screenings and cultural opportunities.” This has attracted audiences of different ages and diverse backgrounds.”
Mo’ Mojo, an American zydeco band, came in February 2017 on a U.S. Embassy sponsored visit .There were public performances in Jaffna and Colombo; workshops for music students; and master classes for Sri Lankan musicians.We bring American musicians here to increase understanding of the United States diverse musical heritage and to strengthen our cultural connections with Sri Lankans,” the embassy said.
To mark seven decades of diplomatic relations betwixt Washington and Colombo, the US had a series of performance by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and the International All Stars in March 2018. They performed in Colombo, Galle and Matara.
The band played before all sorts of people, who ranged from those that were merely curious about a band playing out there, to those who were able to recognize the inherent value in hearing and seeing a sophisticated musical exploration in improvised music, by a group of consummate professionals with authenticity behind every note they played, said Arun Dias Bandaranaike.
This soft power was urgently needed, because another election was looming. USA is clearly going to play a role in the 2019 Presidential poll, said analysts. There were at least three Presidential candidates who were considered pro-USA. The UNP candidate, the JVP candidate and a private candidate, former Army Commander Mahesh Senanayake. There is speculation to why JVP has presented a candidate this time, said critics. JVP last contested the presidency in 1999.
Mahesh Senanayake left the country after 2010 election. He was in the Fonseka group. He returned in 2015. Many do not know where he went, said Former Army Major Ajit Prasanna. Senanayake had gone to USA where he worked on intelligence in Afghanistan and Libya, then held a senior position in the American embassy in Dubai. He served USA for five years, said Ajit Prasanna on television news.
Following Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s victory in 2019 US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo issued a statement saying the US is ready to work with the new government. The west then turned to the next election, the General election.
Western governments took a keen interest in the outcome of the General election of August 2020, said the media. Western diplomats had been speaking to all the key players in the election. Most of the diplomats went to Jaffna. They were sounding out the current thinking and public mood in the Jaffna peninsula.
One western diplomat had asked several prominent Tamil candidates about the prospects of a future alliance of minority political parties, Tamils, Muslims and Christians, would it have political clout. One diplomat had held all his meetings at Jetwing North Hotel in Jaffna.
When the 2020 General election ended, U.S. Embassy in Colombo issued a statement, saying they looked forward to partnering with the government and new Parliament. The United States congratulates Sri Lanka on conducting the elections in a peaceful and orderly manner, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, US said.
US sees Sri Lanka as a valuable partner, one that will contribute to regional stability and prosperity as a hub of the Indo-Pacific region.” We look forward to partnering with the government and the new parliament. US reminded the new government to uphold human rights and the rule of law. ( Continued)