|| In Samoa, when a tauta (landman) advances an opinion about fishing or navigation, he is met with the reply – O le va’ai le tauta – or, that is the opinion of a landlubber.
In response to Fiji’s coups, Australia and New Zealand have advanced a policy to force Fiji back to democracy. Based on a Eurocentric mindset that fails to take into account Fiji’s colonial history, complex ethnic mix and chiefly, provincial, religious and family rivalries, Australia and New Zealand imposed a wide range of sanctions on Fiji and cut off diplomatic channels.
Having no policy of its own, the U.S. marched in time, applying section 508 sanction law which severed U.S. aid to Fiji. U.S. sanctions, however, have had no consequence because U.S. aid to Fiji was less than $3 million per year.
Of consequence is Pakistan. In 1999, when General Pervez Musharraf overthrew the democratically-elected government of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the U.S. waived 508 sanction law, despite the fact that for nearly ten years General Musharraf never made good on his promise to resign his military commission and hold free, fair and transparent elections in Pakistan.
The U.S., like Australia and New Zealand, cooperated with Pakistan’s regime – even providing billions in aid – because we understood then like we should understand now that engagement is vital to our interests and necessary if our long-term objectives are peace, stability and democracy.
Do Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. consider Fiji vital to our interests? If not, we should, given China and Iran’s growing presence in the region. If so, we need a new way forward.
The U.S. can no longer rely on landlubber diplomacy which seeks to force democracy by isolation. Every tautai (navigator) knows – democracy can’t be forced. Force is contrary to the order of democracy and contrary to our innate desire to choose.
To succeed in Fiji, we must start from the beginning. The legacy of Fiji’s colonial past has never been fully resolved since Fiji gained its independence in 1970. To date, Indians control many of the small businesses. Australia and New Zealand control major banking and commercial enterprises, and indigenous Fijians control much of the communal land and military establishment, with serious divisions existing between traditional leaders and lower-ranking Fijians.
So far, no resolutions have been established to provide balance and fairness to both Fijians and ethnic Indians. In the past 20 some years, Fiji has had four coups. In the two coups of 1987 and the political crisis of 2000, ethnic tensions played major roles.
Until we understand this beginning and begin to converse about it, democracy will not get underway. Having had several discussions with interim Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and dozens of others during my visits to Fiji, I believe U.S. leadership and engagement can help strengthen bilateral ties and improve regional conditions.
With our newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Fiji, the Honorable Frankie Reed, en route, I have every hope that she will offer up expertise and resources to achieve equal suffrage and other political, economic and social reforms targeted under the “Strategic Framework for Change.”
By employing smart diplomacy – which is the hallmark of President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy initiative – we can speed the sort of reforms that I believe the interim Prime Minister seeks.
ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA is the Ranking Member and former Chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific