Why did the government even consider granting entry to the shifty Lieutenant-Colonel Tevita Mara? We shouldn’t be giving him the time of day. A man previously happy to align himself closely with the repressive, illegitimate regime of Commodore Frank Bainimarama, he now expects us to believe he has had a road-to-Damascus conversion to the virtues of democracy. How convenient.
Mara, clearly the embittered loser in a power struggle with his former mate, should have been left to stew his own juice. Yet Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully confirmed on TVNZ’s Q+A that the government has granted him an exemption from the travel ban that normally applies to people associated with the Fijian military.
On the same programme, political scientist Jon Johansson suggested this was because the government wants to find out what’s inside Mara’s head. I would suggest that whatever’s inside his head, it’s probably so ugly it should be left there.
TVNZ’s Guyon Espiner subjected Mara to his first real grilling, at least that I’ve seen, in the course of which Espiner extracted the admission that Mara had been present when Bainimarama assaulted female pro-democracy activists. He is up to his eyeballs in allegations of torture, illegal detention and assault, admitting that soldiers under his command took part in beatings. He lamely acknowledged, in response to Espiner’s probing, that those responsible for human rights abuses – including senior officers – must answer for their actions.
That must include him, as former army chief of staff. Perhaps we should let him in to New Zealand and then arrest him. That would represent some sort of poetic justice, but sadly I don’t think that’s what McCully has in mind.
Mara has no status and no credibility. He was happy to be part of a bullying, anti-democratic regime but now that he has fallen out with Bainimarama, he’s desperately trying to re-invent himself as some sort of freedom fighter. No one’s going to buy it, least of all when you observe Mara's telltale body language during interviews – constant blinking, eyes darting everywhere except at the person asking the questions. I wouldn’t trust him as far as I can spit.
It's often the case with Fijian politics that outsiders struggle to discern exactly what’s going on. Even experienced Pacific-watchers scratch their heads trying to make sense of the political tensions and under-currents there. But certain things can be taken as given – namely, that the upheavals that have wracked the country since the Rabuka coup in 1987 have largely been about the protection and preservation of privilege by one or another faction or interest group, and have very little to do with the will or wellbeing of the people at large. From Rabuka through George Speight to Bainimarama, we have witnessed a parade of untrustworthy and/or megalomaniac, self-appointed leaders pursuing murky agendas.
Another constant is that the chiefly caste of which Mara is a member is usually pulling strings behind the scenes. His father, the late prime minister Ratu Sir Kamasese Mara, was regarded in the West as a great Pacific statesman, but observers had reason to wonder, in all the covert manoeuvrings that followed the 1987 coup, how deeply committed he was to democracy. When Mara Jr fled after being charged with sedition last month, it seemed wholly fitting that he should seek refuge with relatives of the same chiefly caste in Tonga – another country where an elite rules at the expense of the people.
And now he invites us to welcome him as a champion of democracy. Well, pull the other tit, as we used to say when we were kids.
Karl du Fresne is a freelance journalist based in the Wairarapa. You can visit his blog at: http://www.karldufresne.blogspot.com