The small Pacific island states may pride themselves on being independent, but they remain under the effective suzerainty of the dominant neo-colonial powers of the region, namely the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. These states, extending from Palau in the western Pacific to Tonga in the south Pacific, are slaved to the domination of their foreign policies and United Nations votes, international airline routes, telecommunications, and finances. The small island states also face to prospect of becoming the first victims of rising sea levels from climate change. Some island residents are already fleeing their atolls and archipelagos and are asking for «environmental refugee» status, an immigration category that few nations recognize.
Normally, the sudden heart attack death in June of Vanuatu’s 67-year old president, the Anglican priest and Banks Islands traditional chief Baldwin Lonsdale, would have hardly raised any suspicions of foul play. However, when considered with other sudden deaths of Pacific leaders over the past few decades, Lonsdale’s death raised eyebrows. For many Pacific islanders, Lonsdale’s death was a case of déjà vu.
Although actual political power in Vanuatu rests with the prime minister, in 2015, Lonsdale overturned pardons for 14 right-wing members of parliament who were convicted of bribery. The speaker of parliament, Marcellino Pipite pardoned himself, along with 13 other MPs. Lonsdale returned home from a state visit to Samoa and quickly overturned the pardons, claiming that no one is above the law.
Pipite served as foreign minister of the conservative government of prime minister Serge Vohor. In 2004, Vohor secretly established diplomatic relations with Taiwan even though the People’s Republic of China maintained an embassy in the Vanuatu capital of Port Vila. Vohor’s decision to recognize Taiwan was later overturned by the council of ministers. In forging links with Taiwan, Vohor established himself as a hero for certain right-wing and anti-state interests around the world. In 2015, Vohor found himself again serving as foreign minister but he was subsequently convicted of bribery along with the other politicians whose pardons were overturned by Lonsdale.
Lonsdale had previously earned the enmity of the world’s biggest polluters after he pledged to sue Coal India, Anglo-Swiss commodities trader Glencore Xstrata, and the Anglo-Dutch oil firm Shell for being the largest contributors to greenhouse gases, and thus, rapid climate change that was devastating the Pacific islands. In 2010, Prime Minister Edward Natapei was toppled by a no-confidence vote while in Mexico City attending a climate change conference. Natapei died at the age of 61 after a reported «long illness», which was apparently a surprise for Lonsdale, who was quite shaken by the death of his friend and political ally.
Lonsdale was the second Anglican priest to serve as a leader of Vanuatu. The first was Father Walter Lini, the founder of Vanuatu who served as the nation’s first prime minister. When Lini became prime minister of Vanuatu in 1980, he was immediately faced with a secessionist rebellion on the predominantly French-speaking islands of Espiritu Santo and Tanna. The rebellion was financed by a shadowy American «libertarian» group called the Phoenix Foundation, a Carson City, Nevada-based organization headed by a real estate investor named Michael Oliver, which hoped to establish the «Republic of Vemerana» as a tax-free libertarian utopia and which had been involved in an earlier attempt by white Abaco islanders in the Bahamas to secede from the central government in Nassau.
Lini called in a military force of 200 troops from Papua New Guinea, which put down the revolt in what became known as the «Coconut War». Some of those who backed the secessionists had more than a passing relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency and the French intelligence service, the Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage (SDECE).
Lini irritated the United States, Australia, and New Zealand by establishing diplomatic relations with Vietnam, Cuba, and Libya and signing a fisheries agreement with the Soviet Union. He and his political party, the Vanuaaku Pati, adhered to the concept of Melanesian socialism that was inspired by the pan-African socialist leaders Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. Lini refused an American embassy in Port Vila. Vila also annoyed France by supporting the native independence movement of New Caledonia, an act that persuaded France to covertly support the Espiritu Santo rebellion. Lini’s political power began to wane after he suffered a stroke in 1987 during a visit to Washington, DC. Lini suffered the stroke while planning to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. The annual prayer breakfast is sponsored by the Fellowship Foundation, a group of wealthy Christian businessmen and influential politicians. The history of the Fellowship or «Family», as it is more popularly known, suggests that the group has had a long history of links to the CIA. Lini never made it to the prayer breakfast or a meeting scheduled with President Ronald Reagan, who was irritated by Lini’s dalliances with Libya, Cuba, and the Soviet Union.
Lini’s ensuing poor health, including paralysis on his right side, resulted in his loss of political power in Vanuatu and he was defeated in a vote of no confidence in 1991, a move that resulted in his resignation. Lini died at the age of 57 in 1999. Throughout his political career, Lini was subjected to constant «Five Eyes» signals intelligence bloc’s eavesdropping by the U.S. National Security Agency intercept facility in Waihopai, New Zealand, a unit codenamed IRONSAND. IRONSAND has routinely intercepted the communications of Pacific island leaders. Standing in opposition to the Vanuatu MPs convicted of bribery in 2015 were Lonsdale and Ham Lini, a former prime minister and the brother of the late Walter Lini.
Lonsdale’s recent death brought attention to the continued involvement of the Western powers in Vanuatu’s affairs. Many of the MPs convicted of bribery have links to the anti-state Na-Griamel Movement, led by Jimmy Stevens, the half-Tongan, half-Scottish leader of the ill-fated «Vemerana Republic», and the U.S. Libertarian Party, both of which were behind the 1980 secessionist revolt on Espiritu Santo and Tanna. One of the heads of the Phoenix Foundation was Dr. John Hospers, the 1972 Libertarian candidate for president of the United States, who also served on the board of the «Vemerana Development Corporation», a likely CIA front that was behind the attempt to populate a «New Hawaii» in Vanuatu with 4000 U.S. military veterans. One of the Vemerana conspirators was Mitchell Livingstone WerBell, a shadowy CIA weapons smuggler based in the state of Georgia who had been involved in an earlier illegal weapons shipment to the «Abaco Independence Movement» in the Bahamas.
Sudden death syndrome involving politicians is not limited to Vanuatu. Many Pacific islanders remain suspicious about the mysterious death of Nauru’s president, Bernard Dowiyogo. The president died at George Washington Hospital in Washington, DC on March 10, 2003, while on an official trip to the United States. Dowiyogo, a former President of the republic, returned as president after President Rene Harris signed a controversial agreement with the John Howard government in Australia to become a processing center for Howard's «Pacific Solution», a program to house Middle Eastern and South Asian refugees in Nauru and Manus Island, Papua New Guinea in return for cash.
Dowiyogo, who was 57, collapsed after signing a contentious (and secretive) agreement with George W. Bush administration officials on the sale of Nauruan passports, off-shore finance, and support for Bush's so-called «war on terror.» Dowiyogo died after eleven hours of heart surgery and while still on the operating table. The corporate media reported that Dowiyogo died of complications from diabetes. Dowiyogo's body was returned to the Nauruan government by the U.S. Air Force. Dowiyogo's funeral in Nauru was postponed in Nauru because of unexplained «delays» encountered in getting the president's body back to Nauru from Washington.
Dowiyogo’s suspicious death was not the first nor the last for Pacific island leaders. Palau's first President Haruo Remeliik was murdered in 1985. His successor, Lazarus Salii, supposedly committed suicide in 1988. Both Palauan presidents died after they said they opposed a free association treaty with the United States permitting U.S. nuclear warships to have access to Palauan ports. In 1990, Ricardo Bordallo, Guam's ex-Governor who favored Chamorro rights over the U.S. military’s domination of the island, was found dead with a gunshot wound in the head while wrapped in a Guamanian flag. The death was ruled a suicide.
Like Remeliik and Salii, Dowiyogo was a strong opponent to U.S. Navy nuclear ship patrols in the region, as well as French nuclear testing in French Polynesia. Just a few weeks after Dowiyogo died, Dowiyogo's successor as Nauruan president, Derog Gioura, 71, a Dowiyogo political ally, suffered a heart attack and was rushed to an Australian hospital from Nauru. Later reports stated that Gioura suffered a stroke. A few weeks later, Gioura said he was surprised to learn that the Bush administration had claimed that six suspected «terrorists», including two members of «Al Qaeda», had been arrested in Southeast Asia carrying Nauruan passports. On March 20, 2008, Christina Dowiyogo, President Dowiyogo’s widow and Nauru’s longest-serving First Lady, reportedly «died overnight» in Nauru at the age of 60, with no further details provided. Madame Dowiyogo had been at her husband’s side when he died in Washington.
In 1996, Amata Kabua, the five-term first president of the Marshall Islands, died after suffering from nausea and chest pains at Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu. Kabua, 68, was an irritant to the United States over legal claims and law suits brought by the residents of Kwajalein Atoll who were forcibly removed from Bikini Atoll so the U.S. could test atomic and hydrogen bombs in their ancestral island chain. Kabua’s obituary claimed he had died after a «long illness» even though he first complained about his condition only a month before his death in Hawaii.
Even the leaders of America’s surrogate «enforcers» in the Pacific are not immune to dying suddenly after crossing swords with Washington. New Zealand’s Labor Party prime minister Norman Kirk was a vocal critic of the United States for everything from its nuclear armed ships in the Pacific and its war in Vietnam to Washington’s involvement in the 1973 coup in Chile. In 1974, Kirk, 51, died suddenly after suffering a heart attack. Later, Labor Party president Bob Harvey called for a Royal Commission to investigate whether Kirk had been assassinated by the CIA with a «contact poison». Based on President Lonsdale’s more recent death, such investigative commissions should also be established in Vanuatu, Nauru, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Guam (Guahan).
Photo: Access Now