Caruzo — How China, Green Policies, and Democratic Socialism Destroyed Sri Lanka

A protester throws an object at a bus next to a burning police car during a demonstration

The collapse of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka has no brakes. Soaring costs of living, rolling power blackouts, food and medicine shortages, corruption, and gross mismanagement of its government have given forth to a massive wave of protests against the Southeast Asian nation’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

A combination of rampant nepotism – the Rajapaksa family all but own the country – woeful “green” economic policies, and dependence on the predatory Chinese Communist Party have left Sri Lanka in the worst economic crisis in its history.

The Sri Lankan rupee is the world’s worst-performing currency, having been devalued by 15 percent in March 2022. By April, it had lost a third of its value. The country has undergone rampant inflation reaching upwards of 18.7 percent in March 2022.

Sri Lanka is unable to rely on its own currency and on the verge of running out of foreign reserves, making it impossible to pay for its local and foreign debt. It is also significantly limited in how to access food after becoming dependent on international imports for basic supplies — as such, the government of Sri Lanka announced on Tuesday that it would default on all of its $51 billion external debt.

“The government is taking the emergency measure described in this memorandum only as a last resort in order to prevent further deterioration of the republic’s financial position,” a statement from the nation’s Finance Ministry read.

The country saw its food sovereignty demolished by banning fertilizers and chemicals in an attempt to move towards “organic” farming, which culminated in a severe reduction in yield. The measure was rescinded in November 2021 after a series of farmer protests, but the damage was already done, leaving the country having to import rice to stabilize its own internal market.

Tourism, one of the country’s largest sources of income, was severely affected by the Chinese Coronavirus pandemic — from 1.9 million tourists in 2012 to a mere 280,000 in the first trimester of 2022. The few who have traveled to the country have found it so deteriorated that some have joined the protests.

As a result, it has become harder for the embattled Sri Lankans to access and afford food. Over the past four months, the cost of living in Sri Lanka has dramatically skyrocketed, with staples such as rice and cooking gas cylinders going up 85 percent in the past four months from $7.50 to $13.25 – leading many families to cook using firewood instead.

“We used to have three meals a day but now we are having to skip dinner because of the little income that we have. This is all because of the increase in prices of essential goods,” Sri Lankan woman Susila Irangani stated in a recent article to the U.K. Telegraph.

Vegetable and other daily rations from India have palliated the worsening situation, but many basic goods remain nearly unobtainable.

A cup of the nation’s traditional Ceylon tea, also known as Sri Lanka tea, went from 10 Sri Lankan Rupees in October 2021 ($0.031) to 100 LKR in March 2022 ($0.31).

Medicine shortages have gotten worse with each passing day, and, coupled with the ongoing rolling blackouts it could lead to a severe health crisis in the nation. Hospitals have begun to run out of essential medicine and supplies, 80 percent of which the country has to import.

Power blackouts now plague the Southeast Asian nation that can last from ten to 13 hours at a time and could very well continue into May. Street lights have been shut down to preserve electricity. Schools have canceled exams because there is no paper for students to take the exams with and the country is no longer able to afford importing it.

Fuel shortages in Sri Lanka have exponentially aggravated, with queue lines that go for hours and are now overseen by the Sri Lankan military. The sale of fuel through cans and barrels has been banned by the state-owned The Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC).

Local authorities have reported at least five men dying while waiting in line for gasoline.

President Rajapaksa and his ruling family have offered little in the way of answers to the crisis, leaving many to question their position in society.

The country has been ruled by the Rajapaska family for more than two decades now. Both the current president, Gotabaya Rajapaska, and his brother Mahinda Rajapaska (former president and current prime minister) are largely credited with having ended the 26-year civil war between the government and the Tamil Tigers.

Nepotism is abundant in the Rajapaksa regime. The family has been part of Sri Lankan politics since the country gained its independence in 1948. Between 2010 and 2015, more than 40 members of the Rajapaska family occupied government posts, cabinet positions, and even held diplomatic posts abroad. To this day, many members of the Rajapaska family continue to occupy key government offices.

The Rajapaksas largely led the country to fall prey to China’s infamous debt traps under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI offers predatory loans to poorer nations that the countries then use to pay China to buy infrastructure projects. China pockets the cost of labor, the interest on the loan, and – in cases like Sri Lanka’s, territory within the country when it defaults on paying the loan. In 2009, Sri Lanka received a $1.2 billion loan from China to renovate the Hambantota seaport. Unable to pay the loan and its high interests, the country had to cede control of Hambantota and 15,000 acres of its territory to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease as part of its loan repayment process, which could be potentially extended to a 198-year lease.

Food vendors accuse the Rajapaksa government of having sold everything out to China, as well, in addition to imposing policies that largely made Sri Lanka dependent on imports.

Palitha Kohona, the Sri Lankan ambassador in China, has stated that his country is not caught in a Chinese debt trap, but reports indicate that the Rajapaksa government appears to be seeking Chinese loans as a solution to Chinese loans – Reuters reported in March that China is considering offering a $1.5 billion loan to Sri Lanka in addition to the $1 billion loan that the Sri Lankan government had already requested.

Amidst a worsening crisis, the first cases of Sri Lankan citizens fleeing the country have begun to surface.

All members of the Sri Lankan cabinet aside from President Rajapska and his brother, the prime minister, resigned amidst the growing protests this month.

President Rajapaksa has stated that he does not intend to resign.
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.


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