Article from the Mar. 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
Sri Lankan socialist visits Ireland
Upul Siriwardana, a member of the United Socialist Party (USP) which is the Socialist Party's sister party in Sri Lanka, visited Ireland as part of a speaking tour of Europe with the Committee for a Workers' International. He spoke to The Socialist
How were members and supporters of the United Socialist Party affected by the Tsunami disaster?
80 of our sympathisers were killed. Six candidates who stood with us in the last elections were killed. The homes of 27 comrades were destroyed. 50 members of a trade union that is affiliated to the USP were killed and the houses of 50 other members were washed away.
How did the Sri Lankan government respond to the needs of the bereaved, injured and those who were made homeless and unemployed by the crisis?
The government has been very slow to come to the aid of ordinary people. For example, when a train accident took place that killed over 1,000 it took them three days to get to the site of the accident. They have given very little to those affected by the disaster. They have only given a food ration of Û1 a week to each family. Also they initially gave Û40 a month to each family affected to help them restart their lives, but they have now stopped this money.
Have the Sinhalese government discriminated against the Tamils in the Jaffna peninsula in terms of aid provision?
The government isn't doing any relief work in the Tamil areas. They refused to set up committees with the Tamil Tigers in the north of the country to distribute the aid. Therefore ordinary Tamils affected by the tsunami are not getting even the most basic of things.
What have been the political consequences for the Sri Lankan government?
The Sri Lankan government still doesn't have a proper warning system in place. Two years ago at a summit of South Asian leaders, scientists warned of the need for such a system but because of the political backwardness of these leaders they didn't put one in place. We are one of the few parties to put forward the demand for an early warning system. Presently there are protests in eastern and southern Sri Lanka demanding housing for those made homeless by the disaster. In fact one of these demonstrations had 5,000 on it and was led by members of the USP.
How would a socialist government have done things differently?
Under a socialist government there would have been democratically elected committees of workers and poor to distribute the aid. These committees would have been able, because they are on the ground and affected by the crisis, to ensure that everybody's needs would be met as quickly as possible. All reconstruction would be democratically planned to meet the needs of the working class and poor, not for the enrichment of the companies who are profiteering from this disaster.
How have the USP politically intervened in the aftermath of this disaster?
We produced a paper called Voice of the Tsunami People, which we have circulated in the refugee camps, and it will be printed it in the Tamil language soon. We have also produced our bi-lingual newspaper Red Star. Our material has raised the demands for an early warning system in the Indian Ocean, Û400 for every family affected by the disaster and for temporary huts and camps to be built for those affected by the disaster; as well as calling for a national convention of working people to direct reconstruction aid. We have intervened into trade union conferences demanding the workers movement take action and to organise demonstrations to pressurise the government to speed up the distribution of aid.
How has the USP been using the donations given by members of the CWI?
£30,000 has been donated from the different sections of the CWI. The money has assisted us in traveling around Sri Lanka to areas affected by the tsunami where we have delivered aid and medical supplies to villages in the north and south east. We have been using the money for our political agitation around the tsunami and to give assistance for our members and supporters who have affected by the disaster. We have spent money on political campaign posters with our demands on them. We have also used it to organise demonstrations and protests and to produce the newspapers that I have spoken about.
Other news on the Tsunami
10th March: A very interesting article has been sent by the Sri Lankan cdes on demonstrations in the country.
"Demonstrations are escalating. From yesterday morning until today, homeless people in the East of the Island occupied the main road from Ampara all the way up to Batticaloa."