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McCain Demands Return of Fiji Government to People

Transcript: McCain Demands Return of Fiji Government to Its

People (Says rule of law supplanted by "law of the jungle") (1480)

Senator John McCain (Republican of Arizona) in a July 25 Senate speech called upon the United States to stand firm against the man who "led a coup on May 19 that toppled Fiji's democratically elected government" and the "armed criminals" who supported him.

"Let us use the resources at our disposal as a great and moral nation to oust this devil and return Fiji's government to all of its people," McCain told fellow lawmakers.

"Democracy is dead in Fiji," the Arizona Republican said. "Rule by law has succumbed to the law of the jungle and one man, in league with armed criminals, has personally destroyed a successful experiment in representative, multi-ethnic rule."

The United States, McCain said, "must stand firm in our absolute refusal to ratify the results of a coup that ended democratic governance in Fiji. We cannot and shall not condone the violent establishment of a government and a constitution predicated on racial exclusion."

McCain said for Americans "to sit by and watch an ethnic group be subjected to a constitution and rulers that place them in a permanent inferior status, flies in the face of everything the United States has stood for and, clearly, in our assertion that all men and women are created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights."

The one-time candidate for the Republican nomination for President said he hoped the Clinton Administration, "the American people, and those of our allies, in Asia and all over the world, including at the United Nations, will do whatever they can to restore equality and equal opportunity in this very lovely island."

Following are excerpts of Senator McCain's speech from the July 25 Congressional Record:

(begin excerpts)

THE SITUATION IN FIJI (Senate - July 25, 2000)

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, let us imagine for a moment that a ragtag group of armed rebels in Australia was able to infiltrate the parliament in Canberra and put a gun to the head of the Australian Prime Minister. Let us imagine that these rebels, led by a failed indigenous businessman who claimed to speak for the native people and against those of European descent who had `colonized' the island, held the Prime Minister and members of his government hostage for several months in the Parliament building. Let us also imagine that, during this period, central government authority across Australia withered as armed gangs set up roadblocks, occupied police stations and military barracks, torched homes and businesses owned by those with different ancestry, seized tourist resorts, and generally terrorized innocents across the country.

What would America's response be to such a violent takeover of a democratic government and the abduction of its prime minister by race-baiters who proclaimed that under their `new order,' there would be no place in government or, indeed, in society for those with different ethnic roots, and who reveled in the armed chaos they had inspired? At a minimum, I would expect the United States to impose tough sanctions on the illegitimate regime; mobilize our allies in Asia and at the U.N. Security Council to speak forcefully and with one voice against the coup; and join like-minded nations in resolutely affirming that the country in question would suffer lasting isolation and international condemnation until constitutional governance and the rule of law were restored.

Unfortunately, this scenario is playing out as we speak in Australia's neighbor Fiji, an island nation in the South Pacific that is home to some of the warmest, most gentle people I have had the pleasure of meeting. George Speight, an ethnic Fijian and failed businessman, led a coup on May 19 that toppled Fiji's democratically elected government and its first Indo-Fijian prime minister, Mahendra Chaudhry. Speight, whom the Economist calls a `classic demagogue,' is utterly disdainful of democracy, law, and Fijians of Indian descent, who constitute 44 percent of their nation's population.

If Speight has his way, democratic rule, racial harmony, and basic justice in Fiji have no future, and nearly half of Fiji's people, disenfranchised by the coup, will have been relegated to the status of second-class citizens and unwitting hostages of a government that abhors them for the color of their skin. As Speight bluntly puts it:

There will never be a government led by an Indian, ever, in Fiji. Constitutional democracy, the common-law version--that will never return.

The hostages, including the deposed Prime Minister, have been released, and Speight's forces have apparently cut a deal with Fiji's military and traditional leaders for the composition of a new government--a government led by an ailing figurehead controlled by the coup leader. The new cabinet will be comprised exclusively of ethnic Fijians, with the sole official of Indian descent relegated to a non-cabinet post as one of two assistant ministers for multi-ethnic affairs. The country's multi-racial constitution has been officially scrapped in favor of a document being prepared by the new government that `is almost certain to reduce Indo-Fijians to political footnotes,' in the words of one observer. The economy, and the tourist industry that sustains it, are in shambles.

Democracy is dead in Fiji. Rule by law has succumbed to the law of the jungle and one man, in league with armed criminals, has personally destroyed a successful experiment in representative, multi-ethnic rule. The United States must stand firm in our absolute refusal to ratify the results of a coup that ended democratic governance in Fiji. We cannot and shall not condone the violent establishment of a government and a constitution predicated on racial exclusion. We should be prepared to suspend what little amount of assistance we provide to Fiji if the government remains intransigent. More importantly, we and our allies in Asia and Europe should make clear that Fiji will remain isolated until the interim government in Suva establishes a clear blueprint for a return to democratic rule by an administration that does not include George Speight and his criminal allies. We cannot compromise on the principle that the Indo-Fijians who constitute nearly half of their nation's population must once again have a voice in its affairs.

The haunting words of an ethnic Fijian social worker vividly capture the agony of a nation that many people believe to be as close to paradise as can be found on this Earth. He laments: `Fiji was such a nice place. We promoted it as `the way the world should be.' Now it is the devil's country.'

Let us use the resources at our disposal as a great and moral nation to oust this devil and return Fiji's government to all of its people. . . .

There is a lot of unrest in Asia today. Indonesia is ridden with ethnic strife, a very important country that is the largest Moslem country in the world and one whose fortunes, economically and ethnically, have declined severely.

The Solomon Islands, an area where American blood was shed many years ago, has been mistreated by ethnic strife and armed gangs taking over and lawlessness and banditry being the order of the day there.

In Fiji, we see, again, ethnic unrest that is harmful not only to the country, but the people who are most affected first will be the poorest people in Fiji, many of them the ethnic Fijians whose livelihood is gained from the now disappearing tourist industry.

Finally, the United States has a special obligation as the world's leader. I think we as Americans are most proud that, following World War II, we began to redress some of the wrongs we had inflicted on some of our own fellow citizens. After a titanic civil rights struggle, we are at least on the path to assuring equality for all in this great Nation of ours. For us to sit by and watch an ethnic group be subjected to a constitution and rulers that place them in a permanent inferior status, flies in the face of everything the United States has stood for and, clearly, in our assertion that all men and women are created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.

I hope the administration, the American people, and those of our allies, in Asia and all over the world, including at the United Nations, will do whatever they can to restore equality and equal opportunity in this very lovely island.

It is important for me to note that I visited this beautiful country on several occasions, which is one reason why I have a very special feeling for it and a special sense of sadness because it is a beautiful country filled with very gentle people.

(end excerpts)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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