Environmentalist President Banned Chemical Fertilizers “to Turn Sri Lanka Into ‘the Organic Garden of the World’”

(p. A6) COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The president was cornered, his back to the sea.

Inside the dimly lit colonial mansion he had found lonely, Gotabaya Rajapaksa watched from a hastily arranged operations room as the monthslong protests demanding his ouster as Sri Lanka’s leader reached his very doorstep.

. . .

Three years after winning the election handsomely, and just two years after his family’s party had secured a whopping two-thirds majority in Parliament, Mr. Rajapaksa had become deeply resented. And the bill for his family’s years of entitlement, corruption and mismanagement, made worse by a global economic order plunged into chaos by Covid and war, had at last come due.

. . .

Even as the economic crisis deepened, the president’s focus was often elsewhere. In April 2021, he suddenly declared a ban on chemical fertilizers. His hope, his advisers said, was to turn Sri Lanka into “the organic garden of the world.”

Farmers, lacking organic fertilizer, saw their yields plummet. And a rift in the family grew: Gotabaya resisted attempts by his brother Mahinda, who was now prime minister, to change his mind on the fertilizer ban.  . . .

By the spring of 2022, long lines were forming for fuel, supermarkets were running low on imported foods, and the nation’s supply of cooking gas was almost exhausted as the government’s foreign reserves dwindled almost to zero.

The country was in free fall. And the one person who could do something about it was adrift. In meetings, the president was often distracted, scrolling through intelligence reports on his phone, according to officials who were in (p. A7) the room with him.

. . .

Gotabaya Rajapaksa eventually fled the country on a military plane, first to the Maldives and then to Singapore, before arriving in Thailand on Thursday [August 11, 2022].

For the full story, see:

Mujib Mashal, Emily Schmall and Atul Loke. “How the Middle Class In Sri Lanka Pushed A President Into Exile.” The New York Times (Saturday, August 13, 2022): A6-A7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 12, 2022, and has the title “Showdown at the Mansion Gates: How Sri Lankans Rose Up to Dethrone a Dynasty.”)

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