Tamil self-determination and the LTTE: Some lessons for the struggle

On May 23, 2009, anti-war activists joined members of Sydney's Tamil community in a march to protest the Sri Lankan government's war against the Tamil people, organised by the Stop The War Coalition.

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By Reihana Mohideen

May 21, 2009 -- “To save the lives of our people is the need of the hour. Mindful of this, we have already announced to the world our position to silence our guns to save our people", said Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the head of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) International Diplomatic Relations on May 17, thus flagging the military defeat of the LTTE.

While the military defeat of the LTTE does not necessarily mean its demise, and it most certainly does not represent the end of the struggle for Tamil self-determination in Sri Lanka, nevertheless it is a major setback to the struggle for a Tamil Eelam.

And while calls for a political settlement of the conflict must be supported, the possibility of a genuine political settlement, i.e. peace with justice, is probably far less likely today than when the Tigers were still a powerful military force willing to negotiate a political settlement. The Tigers are in a far weaker position to negotiate a political settlement for a liberated Tamil homeland today than they have been in previous years.

At the same time, the Sinhalese government victory is a veritable double-edged sword. The Tamil struggle will rise again and it could take more desperate forms. The fact that the Sinhalese army feels compelled to hold Tamil youth prisoners in military camps, and according to defence ministry spokesperson Lakshman Hullugalle, even for up to two years if necessary, is an acknowledgement of this possibility.

The defeat of the Tigers, one of the most powerful liberation armies in the world, which controlled northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka, does come as a shock. How was the Sinhalese government able to defeat a disciplined armed force, with substantial support among the Tamil population? While international intervention, such as military support to the Sinhala government by imperialist countries such as the UK and Israel are factors that weighed against the Tigers, the strategy of the LTTE itself needs to come under scrutiny, particularly by those very Tamil youth who will continue the struggle for Tamil self-determination.

While the LTTE has carried out a heroic struggle for the self-determination of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, one of the main limitations of the LTTE was that it primarily pursued a military strategy and not a political strategy based on mobilising the Tamil masses and building solidarity amongst the Sinhalese and Muslim populations in the rest of the island. The militarisation of the struggle by the LTTE also resulted in human rights violations of Tamils by the LTTE in Tiger-controlled areas. The centralised and hierarchical military structures, and the refusal to accommodate different political views and currents which exist (until today) within the movement for Tamil self-determination, all contributed to weakening the Tamil liberation struggle.

As Australian socialist and solidarity activist for Tamil self-determination Chris Slee, writing in Green Left Weekly points out, the military strategy pursued by the LTTE also led to the alienation of potential allies. The LTTE was unable to build strong alliances with sections of the Sinhala and Muslim populations. As Slee notes, “The Tigers sometimes disregarded the need to win support among Sinhalese workers, peasants and students in southern Sri Lanka for the right of Tamils to national self-determination. This also applied to the Tamil-speaking Muslims of eastern Sri Lanka. The absence of a mass anti-war movement in southern Sri Lanka is a key obstacle to the success of the Tamil self-determination struggle. The LTTE has been willing to negotiate with Sinhalese political leaders whenever they showed any signs of wanting to reach a peaceful solution. But the LTTE has not made a serious effort to get its message directly to the Sinhalese masses, bypassing the politicians whose promises of peace have been deceptive.”

While the lack of a strong anti-war movement in southern Sri Lanka primarily reflects the weakness and political limitations of the Sri Lankan left, the military strategy of the LTTE and the tactics which flowed from this, such as the bombing campaigns in the south which killed civilians, have also alienated the Sri Lankan masses from supporting the Tamil struggle for self-determination.

While our main focus has to be building the international solidarity campaign to free the Tamil population imprisoned in the Sinhala army camps, for the withdrawal of the Sinhala army from Tamil territory and putting pressure on the Sinhala government for a political settlement to the Tamil question, the left -- especially in Sri Lanka and within the Tamil population -- has the responsibility to provide a critical framework to develop a political strategy to continue and renew the Tamil struggle for self-determination. This does not mean relinquishing support of the right of Tamil people under occupation to take up arms against an occupying Sinhala army. In the current situation, however, emphasis on political struggles and campaigns is clearly to the advantage of the Tamil fighters and peoples, and this will also be the case in the mid-term.

[Reihana Mohideen is socialist activist and writer, born in Sri Lanka, now living in the Philippines. She is a leader of the Partido Lakas ng Masa (Party of the Laboring Masses) of the Philippines and head of its international relations department. This article first appeared at Mohideen's blog, Socialista Feminista, and has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission.]


Perhaps the makers of this youtube clip would like to explain their call for a boycott of Sri Lanka.

According to official government figures the major Australian import from Sri Lanka is tea (A$31 million). Are you suggesting that Australian workers should stop buying Sri Lankan tea?

How would this help develop much needed workers solidarity or solve the national question which is at the heart of the war?


Latin American friendship Association(LAFA)
No.176/10, Vaigai Veedhi, Municipal Colony Salai, Veerappan Chatram Post,
Erode-638004. Contact Phone: +91-9443307681, +91-9445125379.
Dated: 25.05.2009.
K. Venkataraman
Aranga Gunasekaran
P. Thirunavukkarasu
A.J. Khan
Dear Comrade,
It is a great shock for the People of Tamil Nadu to find that Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia among other countries have supported the Sri Lanka Government in annihilating the Tamil Population in the Island nation.

I am disheartened and depressed both as a Tamilian and as an admirer and supporter of the Liberation Movements of the Latin American Countries. I have spent more than Twenty-Five years in Translating and writing on and about the heroic Cuban and Nicaraguan Revolutions, the Social-Democratic movements of Chile, Venezuela and Bolivia. I have published more than ten books translated by me and have been instrumental in the publication of several books on the various steps being taken now in Latin America under the guidance of Cuba & Venezuela. We, the friends of Latin America, have been watching the happenings in this part of the world like the formation of the ALBA, BANCO DE SUR & PSUV with great expectations for a socialist transformation of the entire region. My friends – both writers and others used to make fun of me saying that though I have been born in Tamil Nadu, India, my heart and soul are permanently wandering in Cuba and Venezuela. But now, with this act of Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia signing against the right of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, I find that I have no ground to stand…

It is unbelievable that these countries could sign in support of the Sri Lanka Government (henceforth SLG) in this genocide of Tamils. How could Raul Castro, Daniel Ortega and Evo Morales from the Land of Marti, Sandino and Bolivar favour the crushing of a Liberation Movement?

Is this not equivalent to calling the July 26th Movement as a Terrorist outfit?

Is this not something like calling the Sandinista movement a Terrorist outfit?

Will it be proper to call the people of Bolivia who fought the Water Wars in 2001 as Terrorists?

Will it be acceptable to call as Terrorists the Venezuelan people who gathered outside the Presidential Palace in 2002 against the stooges of the U.S. to Save Chavez ?

Have all of us forgotton that Jose Mariategui, the Latin American Marxist thinker declared that “every land will decide upon the nature of the freedom struggle as suited to its soil” ?

How could it be so conveniently concluded that the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam be called as Terrorists? How could a Terrorist outfit fight
relentlessly for more than a quarter century? It was an Organisation which had been making all out efforts to strike a balance with the Sri Lankan Government but in vain. Guerilla warfare was their last resort and they were a nightmare for the Sri Lankan Army till recently. Now that India, China and Pakistan have supplied shiploads of arms to the Sri Lankan army, it was possible for them to annihilate the Tamil race from their Homeland. They do it with an eye on the Trincomalee Port for expansion of their trade and for geo political reasons. But why do the Latin American countries support them? Is it because China has now become the provider of Latin America? But this is equivalent to selling eyes to buy Paintings.

WE here in Tamil Nadu celebrated the 80th Birthday of Comrade Fidel by releasing 8 books on Cuba’s achievements in various fields, its contribution in the fields of education, health care and human rights. Now, we, the Friends of Latin America are in the midst of our preparation for the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution and Evaluation of the Consolidation of Latin American Countries under ALBA, Banco de Sur & PSUV, with the release of about 10 books. Now that we have received news of Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia (Brazil abstaining) (Chile and Argentina opposing) signing the Resolution of the U.N. Human Rights Council in support of the genocide of the Tamil Race in Sri Lanka. How could we go ahead with this programme with a sharp poisoned knife stuck in our hearts?

We are struck dumb and rendered disheartened and disillusioned by this act by those countries of Latin America on which we have pinned our hopes for the future – Socialism of the 21st Century. Why do these countries wish for wiping off the Tamils from the Sri Lankan Soil, where they rightfully belong? What are the sources of information for these Latin American Countries to decide against the Tamils and in favour of the Racist Sri Lankan Government in the UN Human Rights Council?
We the Tamil people here in Tamil Nadu are under deep depression and now more than any other time do we feel the absence of Che Guevara the True Internationalist, who laid down his life for the oppressed people of the world.

Latin American Friendship Association, Tamil nadu, India.

When I read the news about Cuba and Bolivia supporting Sri Lankan Govt for its resolution to preempt the HRC resolution, I felt really sad and disheartened.

LTTE as a liberation movement is lacking political leaders after Anton Balasingam. Now, there is a scenario where its sole leader was also termed dead. In such a critical situation Lankan Tamils need good spoke persons like Amarantha to act on this, to change/convince/educate the views of Cuban Government and its allies towards the Tamil Liberation movements and the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

I hope unlike our India, Cuba would support freedom movements and would be able change its stand on LTTE soon.

Please float some emails to the public so that Tamils from all over the world could send mails to the Cuban Ministry or concerned persons, their voices and support of the Eelam struggle.


As a supporter of both Cuba and the Tamil liberation struggle, I am disappointed. But I am not completely surprised.

Cuba's diplomacy aims to build friendly relations with as many governments as possible, regardless of the nature of these governments. This is a survival strategy in the face of the US blockade of Cuba.

The success of Cuban diplomacy is reflected in the nearly unanimous votes at the United Nations condemning the US blockade of Cuba. But the down side is that Cuba refrains from criticising these governments for their repression of their own people.

Foreign policy is not subject to open public debate in Cuba. I think this is a legacy of the early years of the revolution, when Cuba was largely isolated in the face of US imperialism, and could not afford to antagonise its few allies (especially the Soviet Union) by allowing public criticism of them in the Cuban media.

I think we should continue to support Cuba, but our support should not be uncritical. We should make our views known on issues such as the Tamil struggle to the Cuban government.

Cuba has corrected some of its past errors, e.g. on gay rights. I hope they can correct their foreign policy errors as well.

I am not sure about the precise motives of the Bolivian and Nicaraguan governments, but I suppose that they too, like Cuba, are trying to win allies amongst third world governments such as Sri Lanka. We should attempt to persuade them to change their position as well.

Chris Slee


By Vickramabahu Karunarathne (``Bahu''), general secretary of the Nava Sama Samaaja Party (NSSP, New Socialist Party)

May 24, 2009 -- The government has announced that the LTTE is completely destroyed and all the important leaders were killed. This was accepted by Sinhala society with enthusiasm but in smaller communities, in particular in Tamil society, there was concern, or worse, fear.

The question that was in the latter’s mind was whether the enthusiastic crowd will resort to any violence, but nothing of import happened. It appears that the government is now under the belief that the Tamil national problem is over and normalcy is established in the country.

Ceremonies and the festive mood take one back to the early chapters of the Mahavansa with King Dutugemunu replaced by Maha Rajinda, great king Mahinda. But in reality the national problem is a specific problem in bourgeois society.

We explained in this column that as Tamil freedom is in the hearts and minds of the Tamil people, unless there is a solution, based on the right of self-determination, there will be no normalcy in the country.

Of course Tamils may not resort to an armed insurrection but the agitation will continue, both locally and internationally. In fact the war has made it an international problem, something akin to the Palestinian issue.

Armed insurrection detached from the people or negating people’s participation could be counterproductive, we explained over and over again. It is true that there was mass participation towards the end in the form of Pongu Tamil mass actions, but it was not broadbased so as to attract all trends within Tamil society. On the other hand, there was a continued belief that global capitalist liberals will intervene to resolve this problem in favour of Tamil nationalism.

In fact there was reluctance to take this issue to the local and international working class or to Left liberation organisations, as it could offend international capitalist leaders. In the end, all global leaders followed the Indian bourgeois to support the suppression of the Tigers.

Again it was proved that the oppressor could be ten times more ruthless than the oppressed and in this case the oppressor’s terror surpassed anything of the kind witnessed so far. It was quite evident what was happening, but there was no liberal bourgeoisie global force to intervene to save the Tamils from defeat and a bloodbath.

Languishing in tears

It is a terrible defeat and is a human disaster with 350,000 people miserably displaced. On the other hand, there are thousands of families of Sinhala soldiers killed or wounded, languishing in tears. No amount of compensation could erase their grief. There are thousands of young wives of Sinhala soldiers killed in combat, who will loose their income if they get married again, and there is no way out for them. All this could have been avoided and the Tamil national problem solved conclusively, if the peace talks were continued and autonomy was granted to the Tamil homeland while the Tamil armed forces was integrated with the Sinhala forces to create a true national army.

Now while the Sinhalese are jubilant, the Tamils are suffering in humiliation and surrender. There is a terrible gulf in between and all attempts for talks will be influenced by the Tamil diaspora and Tamil Nadu activists. Above everything they will go at the new Indian government. It was India that orchestrated the war in Lanka. Indian intelligence agents and military experts were working closely with the Lankan forces in the war zone. They simply hid the truth.

Foreign journalists and aid workers were barred from the war zone and IDP camps. Those who tried to enter and report about the war were kicked out of the country.

Now India may change the tune and call for devolution to the Tamil homeland. It may also demand changes in the armed forces to include a Tamil speaking regiment.

That will be a challenge to the government. At the same time the masses will demand more relief, workers will demand higher salaries and the removal of anti worker regulations.

Maha Rajinda may have to change his friends.


A message of solidarity with the Tamil People of the world from the Social
Movement Indaba
We come not to speak words of sorrow to the Tamil people; we come to speak
words of anger, of rage, of encouragement, of support, of solidarity, of
struggle. Though the battle has been lost the cause remains; discrimination,
oppression and war are tools of the oppressive beasts who stalk the
corridors of power dressed in respectability dispensing death, pain and
sorrow to others. Beasts who rip out your voice from you, trample upon your
dreams and sell the future of your children for a pittance.
The pain suffered by the Tamil people is a pain that is not unique to Tamils
but is a pain that is universal, meted out by those who promote wars,
oppress people and take away their rights to freedom, to dignity and self
determination. Though they glibly speak a language of democracy they stifle
you, silence you, oppress you and exclude from any meaningful political
process. If they decide at their whim to include you in the process you must
enter and remain weak, subservient and a voiceless underclass dominated by
them, spoken for by them, represented by them and exploited by them. Should
you raise your voice against the injustices perpetrated against you, you are
labeled terrorist, incarcerated then killed and all this outside the
judicial process or the framework of international law. They don't seek to
govern justly they just seek to govern and govern they will using any means
Globalization has not been a globalization of good but a globalization of
oppressive forces who seek economic exploitation, political power and the
control of resources. People are dispensable in that quest for power. The
oppression of the Tamil people finds resonance and similarity in the
oppression of Palestinians, Sudanese, Somalians, Nepalese, Timor and South
The Tamil people cannot remain in their enclaves grieving when the enemy is
global, growing more threatening day by day hour by hour. People; all
oppressed people need to reach out to each other and counter the threat,
build networks that can be bulwarks, barriers against oppressors and
warmongers. All peoples need to build collectives of conscience that
humanize us and allow us to empathize with each other and strengthen each
other. We would like to see Tamils at Palestinian rallies and Palestinian
people at Tamil rallies and all collectively present at all rallies where
the voices of the people are raised against the war mongers and exploiters.
The oppression of the Tamils by the Sinhalese is no different to the
oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli people. The Tamil have
struggled for thirty years and the Palestinian people for fifty the
similarities are stark and equally bloody.
Capital is the new monster that stalks the globe. States, governments
together with their armed forces protect it and allow it to grow more
powerful every day. The people must act in a unified manner to grieve show
solidarity but more importantly organize and act. Analyze, strategize,
actualize is what needs to be done. Capital is violent in its quest for
power; it has its own value system the cold blooded murders of
S Puleedevan, LTTE
peace officer and
Velupillai Prabhakaran, LTTE leader indicate clearly that white flags of
surrender may mean something in other circumstances but not those who
violently protect the ruling class.
The message today in solidarity with those who have died is to struggle
harder in their memory, fight for their dreams. To build vehicles that
ensure this never happens again anywhere in the world, to challenge and
change these exploitative economic systems and unjust methods of
governance, to ensure that humanity becomes free.

Rassool Snyman
SMI provincial Coordinator