A New Network Forms to Close U.S. Overseas Military Bases
Thursday, 15 March 2007
By Medea Benjamin
In a new surge of energy for the global struggle against militarism, some 400 activists from 40 countries came together in Ecuador from March 5-9 to form a network to fight against foreign military bases. The conference began in Quito, then participants traveled in an 8-bus caravan across the country, culminating in a spirited protest at the city of Manta, site of a U.S. base.
While a few other countries such as England, Russia, China, Italy and France have bases outside their territory, the United States is responsible for 95% of foreign bases. According to U.S. government figures, the U.S. military maintains some 737 bases in 130 countries, although many estimate the true number to be over 1,000.
A network of local groups fighting the huge U.S. military complex is indeed an “asymmetrical struggle,” but communities have been trying for decades to close U.S. military bases on their soil. Their concerns range from the destruction of the environment, the confiscation of farmlands, the abuse of women, the repression of local struggles, the control of resources and a broader concern about military and economic domination.
The Ecuadorian groups who agreed the host the international meeting had been fighting against a U.S. base in the town of Manta. The U.S. and Ecuadorian governments had signed a base agreement in 1999, renewable after 10 years. The purpose of the base was supposed to be drug interdiction, but instead it has provided logistical support for the counterinsurgency war in Colombia, placing Ecuador in a dangerous position of interfering in the internal affairs of its neighbor. The base has also affected the livelihoods of local fishermen and farmers and brought an increase in sex workers, while the promised surge in economic development has not materialized.
During Ecuador’s presidential race in November 2006, candidate Rafael Correa criticized the base and after winning the election he quipped, “We can negotiate with the U.S. about a base in Manta, if they let us put a military base in Miami.” His comment displayed the stunning hypocrisy of the U.S. government, a government that would never deign to have a foreign base on its soil but expects over 100 countries to host U.S. bases.
In a great boost to the newly-formed network to close foreign bases, President Correa sent high-level representatives to the conference to express support, and he himself, together with the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Relations, met with delegates from the network to express their commitment to closing the Manta base when it comes up for renewal in 2009.
But the Ecuadorian government’s courageous stand is unfortunately not echoed in most countries, where anti-bases activists usually find themselves fighting against both the U.S. bases and their government’s collusion.
Indigenous representatives attending the conference talked about the destruction of indigenous lands to make way for bases. In the island of Diego Garcia, the indigenous Chagossian people have been driven off their lands, as have the Chamorros from Guam and the Inuit from Greenland. Kyle Kajihiro, director of the organization Area Hawaii, explained that the U.S. military occupies vast areas of Hawaiian territory, territory which was once public land used for indigenous reserves, agricultural production, schools and public parks.
The delegation from Okinawa, Japan, has been trying to dismantle the U.S. bases for the past 50 years. One of their main complaints has been the violence against women. Suzuyo Takazato, the director of Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence, has compiled