Sri Lanka: ‘An economic massacre’

STAN MILLER INTERVIEWS DON SAMANTHA

Sri Lanka has been on the forefront of struggles against privatizations and authoritarianism for the second part of the 20th century. Since mid-2000 the Rajapaksa mafia clan has been in power on and off, mixing nepotism with violence against the Tamil national minority and against the poor population in general. Don Samantha is a Sri Lankan revolutionary militant living in exile, a member of the editorial board of the pan-asiatic socialist review Asia Commune, and a member of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) in France. Stan Miller is an NPA activist.

Stan Miller: What is the economic situation in Sri Lanka now?

Don Samantha: The country is going through a major economic crisis. It is unable to pay back the foreign debt, which amounts to $47 billion. The government is borrowing money on international private markets and is debating whether to borrow money from the IMF and Asiatic Development Bank. The interests on the debt is higher than the national income. Inflation is reaching double digits in the last two years, like 22% or 25%, but for basic goods like food it reaches 50%.

The Sri Lanka national bank has produced letters of credit to buy petrol, but they were denied because of the economic instability. The government is borrowing money on the international private markets to pay back the other loans. The Rajapaksa regime is printing a lot of money, which feeds the inflation. People are living without gas or electricity. For 24 hours you live 13 hours without electricity. People are waiting in lines the whole day for petrol or natural gas.

SM: What are the political consequences of this economic crisis?

DS: On April 2, the government declared a state of emergency and there have been massive protests. These protests are going way beyond traditional political parties. An activist and former MP for UNP (United National Party, liberal bourgeois party) Hirunika Premachandra, for example, has organized a group of women to lay siege to the presidential palace. Thugs helped by the police attacked them.

The government has no solution. If they go to the IMF they will be forced to comply to certain requirements like transparency. So the government prefers to go to private markets. The state is almost bankrupt. The government sold many assets to India or China, like the biggest harbors. The exploitation of forests was sold cheap to multinational companies. On April 11, thousands of people rallied all over the country and in front of the presidential residence with the demand: “Gotta go home” [Gotha Rajapaksa is the name of the president]. On Twitter the prime minister’s son said that his father would address the nation and resign because of popular pressure.

SM: Who is organizing the protests?

DS: In the last two years both the left and the right organized protests. On the left, the JVP (nationalist left, Stalinist and Maoist) has been gaining strength with the economic crisis. After the women’s protest, the JVP organized a massive protest in Colombo and were surprised at the high turnout. But their main demand is to vote for them so they will take care of the problem! And their other demand is to borrow money from the IMF! The mobilizations are self-organized by the base. People are setting up roadblocks and camping 24/7 in front of the presidential residence. A lot of people are hostile to political parties. Here are the people’s demands:

  • The president must resign
  • Parliament shall be dissolved
  • Rajapaksa must pay back the money he stole (he is in the Pandora Papers).
  • International medical assistance needs to be provided to Sri Lanka
  • Fertilizers should be subsidized
  • Tax evasion must be paid back.

Photo: The sign says, “I am a farmer. I came from TISSAMAHARAMAYA. I’m here from there to fight to set a meaningful country for the labor of the working people.” (Kalka Rajapaksa)

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