New Zealanders who support a return to democracy in Fiji are divided whether Tevita Mara, a former Fiji army chief, now a critic of the regime, should have been granted a short-term visa to visit New Zealand.
Coalition for Democracy in Fiji spokesperson Nik Naidu points to
his past involvement
in beating up detainees as a reason for excluding him.
I have taken a different stance. While I agree we should be wary about Mr Mara, with his atrocious record, we should also welcome defectors from a regime who turn into its critics. Almost every ‘regime change’ from dictatorship to democracy is preceded by defections by leading members of the regime. Most recently we’ve seen it in Egypt, where the leadership of the armed forces abandoned the dictator Mubarak. The Egyptian army was complicit in massive human rights violations over decades, yet its leaders switching sides opened the door to democratic reforms – which continue.
Nik Naidu points out that victims of Lt Col. Mara, when he was in charge and his 3rd Fiji Infantry Regiment, have family members in New Zealand who will be sceptical as to his change of heart, or the reasons for it.
But if Tevita Mara throws more light on the obnoxious and repressive behaviour of the regime, that will be a contribution to the struggle to end it. And it doesn’t mean he will escape justice for any crimes he may have committed against the people of Fiji.