Published on Thursday, March 8, 2007 by Inter Press Service
A World Without Foreign Military Bases
by Kintto Lucas
QUITO - An international network for the abolition of foreign
military bases has been created at a conference attended by over 1,000
activists and experts from 30 countries, which opened in Ecuador's capital
city on Monday. The No Bases Network will coordinate action strategies
against the more than 1,000 military bases worldwide.
Lina Cahuasquí, an activist with the Ecuador No Bases Coalition, told IPS that the No Bases Network will be "a plural, democratic space, linked to the permanent struggles of social organisations for a military-free system that is based on respect, equity, justice and a culture of peace."
The first international conference of its kind will continue until Friday, and will analyse the impact of foreign military bases and local people's struggles against their existence.
Sessions on the first day were devoted to sharing experiences from each country. Joint strategies for action will also be planned, and on Thursday, International Women's Day, a "Women for Peace" caravan will travel from Quito to the western port of Manta, where the largest U.S. base in South America is located.
On the closing day of the conference, cultural festivals will be held in Quito and Manta, and a world solidarity campaign calling for the definitive closure of the Manta base will be launched.
Cahuasquí said that most of the 1,000 foreign military bases on the planet belong to the United States, which has 737 in different countries. Others belong to Russia, China, the United Kingdom and Italy.
"And these do not include secret military bases, like the four operated by the U.S. in Iraq," she said.
"But the United States doesn't only have bases in developing countries. It has 81 bases in Germany and 37 in Japan," she added. In Latin America and the Caribbean there are 17 U.S. military bases, located in Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Aruba, Curaçao, Honduras, Ecuador, and Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, she noted.
Wilbert van der Zeijden, of the Transnational Institute in the Netherlands, said he wanted the meeting to foster "a broad global campaign" against foreign military presence and bases all over the world.
"If we can't shut down all the bases, we may at least be able to weaken the U.S. military network which allows them to attack when and where they wish," he said.
Corazón Fabros Valdez, from the Philippines, is on the International Organising Committee for the conference. She said she hoped that the Ecuador meeting will consolidate world support for the movement to close the Manta base, and strengthen the government's resolve to terminate the lease in December 2009, when it expires.
"We saw the importance of international solidarity for achieving success during the struggle against U.S. bases in the Philippines," she said.
"The Philippines had U.S. military bases for over 100 years, which were used against Vietnam and other nations. Some of the worst effects were violations of human rights and democracy," said Fabros Valdez.
Ecuador's new president, Rafael Correa, has already announced that he will not renew the lease of the Manta base. Spokespersons for the George W. Bush administration had intimated that the United States would like to continue using the facilities until 2012.
Manta is Ecuador's main port, located on the Pacific Ocean 260 kilometres from Quito.
Herbert Docena, a researcher with Focus on the Global South in the Philippines, also said he hoped that the conference would send a very clear message that people all over the world do not want foreign military bases.
"Besides the political declaration, we want to establish the No Bases Network all over the world and increase its dynamism, so that it embarks on medium and long term projects," Docena told IPS.
"The United States backed Ferdinando Marcos (1965-1986) with exorbitant sums of money in exchange for maintaining their bases in the Philippines. Without their support for Marcos, we would never have had such a long dictatorship," he said.
"It was only after the bases were closed in 1992 that we realised how much pollution they had caused," he said.
Another participant at the conference is U.S. pacifist Cindy Sheehan, mother of Casey Sheehan, a soldier killed in Iraq. She is here to tell her story and join the Women for Peace caravan.
Cahuasquí spoke of the U.S. base at Vieques, Puerto Rico, as an example of the negative consequences of military bases. "The area was contaminated with heavy metals, chemicals, and even nuclear waste like depleted uranium, with harmful effects on the water, human beings, and the environment in general," she said.
Many bases are touted as centres for cooperation and exchange, but are equipped with hi-tech communications gear and used for espionage, as in New Zealand.
The activists discussed the achievements of their struggle so far, including the case of Italy, where more than 100,000 people took to the streets to demonstrate that they would not accept violations of their national sovereignty.
Another example was the peaceful uprising of the Puerto Rican people to secure the closure of the Vieques base, after 60 years of U.S. military presence.
Ecuador has refused a U.S. proposal to set up another military base on the island of Baltra, in the Galápagos. Panama ousted the U.S. Navy, and Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil have in recent years ceased to participate in joint naval manoeuvres with the United States.
"We are inspired by the Ecuadorean government's position on closing down the Manta base, but we're also concerned about the pressure the United States is exerting on this country to keep the base," said Cahuasquí.
Lawmakers from Brazil, Venezuela and European countries are participating at the conference alongside activists, as is the secretary general of the World Peace Council, member of the European Parliament Tobias Pflueger, and Mexican researcher Ana Esther Ceceña.
Speakers include Kyle Kajihiro, a staunch defender of the rights of native Hawaiians, environmental justice and demilitarisation, and Andrés Thomas, a member of the U.S.-based Democracy Now.
Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service