No Bases Network born in the Middle of the World

No Bases Network born in the Middle of the World

Helga Serrano Narváez

The consolidation of the International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases is one of the main achievements of the International Conference for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases held in Ecuador on 5-9 March, 2007. The 400 delegates from 40 countries celebrated with applauses the formal founding of the Network, as well as the agreements reached to establish coordination mechanisms and more articulated global actions.

The ideological and political basis of the Network, confirmed in the Final Declaration, is a central unifying factor which will allow the Network to move firmly forward in its construction. The Declaration places the No Bases Network in the framework of the movements that struggle for peace, justice, self-determination of peoples and ecological sustainability. It also recognizes that foreign military bases are instruments of war that entrench militarization, colonialism, imperial policy, patriarchy, and racism.

It affirms that foreign military bases and all other infrastructure used for wars of aggression, violate human rights; oppress all people, particularly indigenous peoples, African descendants, women and children; and destroy communities and the environment. Therefore, the Network demands the abolition of all foreign military bases. It was stated that if the empire is global, resistance should be global as well. And this implies challenging militarism and imperialism, and its bases structure, which is the U.S. empire. The Declaration denounces the primary responsibility of the U.S. in the proliferation of foreign military bases, as well as the role of NATO and other countries that have or host foreign military bases.

The Conference also approved resolutions that stand in support and in solidarity with those who struggle for the abolition of all foreign military bases, while also calling for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and reject any planned attacks against Iran.

Skeleton of the empire

During the Conference, participants acknowledged the negative effects caused by the installation of more than 737 US bases in 130 countries around the World. These have affected the lives of women and children, as a result of rapes and sexual aggressions, frequently left unpunished. Only in Philippines, it is calculated that since 1945, there have been 50.000 unacknowledged children of US soldiers. In Okinawa, where 75% of the US bases in Japan are located, there was an increase in sexual violence and rapes.

The United States-led illegal invasions and ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan were launched from and enabled by bases in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Diego Garcia. To open way for the US base in Diego Garcia island, which forms part of the Chagos Archipielago in Mauritius, 2000 people were displaced and are forbidden to return. The use of the Guantanamo base for torture of prisoners by US troops and as a concentration camp, caused indignation and concern.

Participants also were informed of the contamination caused by the US military presence, such as the situation of Vieques in Puerto Rico, which was used as a training camp for many years. Only when the US troops left could people see the magnitude of the environmental damage and the urgent integral restauration and full and just compensation that should be demanded to the US.

People frequently mentioned how foreign military bases affect peoples’ sovereignty, such as the Manta Base in Ecuador which is used by U.S. soldiers after the signing of an unconstitutional “Cooperation Agreement”. As occurs in Manta, and in all cases presented, U.S. soldiers have immunity so they can move around freely without any fear due to the privileges contemplated in such Agreements.

But we also saw that where there is a base, there is a resistance movement. Experiences were shared from Japan, Korea, Puerto Rico, Mauritius, Guam and Manta, among others, as well as the recent demonstrations in Vicenza, Italy. These experiences provided inspiration for consolidating the Global No Bases Network.

The Conference fulfilled its objective not only to analyze the impact of foreign military bases on the population and the environment -also presented in publications prepared by the different organizations- but also to reach consensus on global objectives, strategies and coordination mechanisms to strengthen local struggles and global actions. There was a commitment to develop strategic alliances with global movements that struggle for global peace and justice; expand the No Bases Network; generate global actions; and influence global public opinion. The International Coordinating Committee, established in the Conference, will develop communication and information, lobbying, research, support local struggles and promote global campaigns.

Military bases in the public agenda

It is also important to highlight the impact of the Conference through its dissemination in mass media, electronic lists, Websites and news agencies. The foreign military bases agenda was on the media before and during the Conference. The constant interviews to international scholars and activists forced the U.S. Embassy in Quito to develop a strategy to try to minimize the role of its bases, especially of the Manta Base. It organized visits for foreign and domestic press, trying to challenge the comments made by researchers, who even based some of the data on figures provided by the Pentagon itself.

The Conference also came to the attention of the President of Ecuador, Mr. Rafael Correa, who met with a delegation from the Conference, along with Lorena Escudero, Minister of Defense. For the first time since the President took office on January 15, 2007, he ratified his pledge that the government will not renew the Agreement with the U.S. for the use of the Manta Base, due in 2009. This firm position was widely disseminated in domestic and foreign media. The participation of local and national government authorities in the Conference was also highlighted by the international delegates.

The leadership and participation of women was recognized as a key element for the success of the Conference. This was clear not only in the organization of the Conference itself, but also in the “Women for Peace” Caravan carried out on March 8, International Women’s Day, when 8 buses full of delegates traveled from Quito to Manta for the activities in the port where the U.S. personnel is stationed. Another important aspect, which made this Conference different than other events, was the massive participation of youth, both in the self-organized events in Quito, as well as in the Forum and demonstration in Manta.

The spirit of the encounter and the recognition of similar struggles around the world, mobilized immediate solidarity and commitments. However, more is needed for the Network to develop, grow and have a global impact. This implies the construction of common agendas, so that this issue may be faced both in the majority world and the developed world. If there are no structural changes in the North, it will be difficult to reach our objectives.

The building of the Network also requires a horizontal and open dialogue that recognizes the rich contributions and experiences of all movements, both in the South and in the North. It implies creating new forms of relation, cooperation, equity and solidarity. The richness of our diversity, of all our countries and regions, and the respect to the diverse processes is a must. A Global Network cannot work without a balanced participation of all regions, and this implies additional efforts to assure the participation of compañeros and compañeras from Africa, Asia and Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, in the networks’ and movements’ meetings. For the International No Bases Network it is essential to maintain a strong relation with the anti-war movements that struggle for peace and global justice.

– Helga Serrano Narváez, journalist, is member of the Asociación Cristiana de Jóvenes (ACJ/YMCA) de Ecuador and of the Interim International Coordinating Committee of the Global No Bases Network.

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