International Conference for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases in Ecuador:

The callenge of the thousand-pound gorilla

2007-03-02 00:00:00

Activists, academics and politicians from all over the world will come together in Quito and Manta, Ecuador from the 5th to the 9th of March to share their commitment to peace under the banner of the International Conference for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases.

Ninety-five percent of the military bases in the world belong to the United States. The remaining five percent belong to France, Great Britain, India and other countries. Although the focus of the upcoming conference is the imperialist military presence of the United States, the Conference will also address the larger issue of “the role of foreign military bases and other forms of foreign military presence in a broad strategy of global domination that has repercussions for communities and the environment around the world.”

Another objective of the Conference is to formalize and strengthen the global network for the abolition of foreign military bases, which was established at the World Social Forum and now includes more than 300 civic organizations from different countries. According to the Conference coordinator, Anabel Estrella, “this is the first time that a network that was formed on the Internet has come together physically to establish concrete plans for 2010 to 2015 to strenghthen the global and local movement to close foreign military bases.” In a globalized world, Estrella adds, “we must debate how a global network can effectively support local networks, and vice versa, and how we can express the resistance.”

The work of this group of activists is gigantic, particularly considering that they are using peaceful protests to challenge the guerrilla politics of the United States, a force that popular intellectual Noam Chomsky likes to call a thousand pound gorilla. This struggle includes millions of people from around the world who, in the last five years, have been centrally involved in organizing marches and mobilizing communities against the Iraq War. Some of the representatives of the anti-war movement will be present in Quito and Manta, including U.S. activist Cindy Sheehan, mother of the soldier Casey Sheehan who lost his life in Iraq, Filipino activist Walden Bello, Mexican scholar Ana Esther Ceceñea, African novelist and political activist Lindsey Collen, Australian peace activist Hannah Middleton, Professor Deborah Santana from Puerto Rico, and Athansios Pafilis, parliamentarian in the European Union and member of the European United Left.

Global empire

The Conference will bring to light the amplitude, the complexity, the goals, and the impact of the global spider web that the United States military has established in the last fifty years. The web has been constructed by an economic and military power that aims to build a global empire for the first time in the history of humanity. Data provided by the activists from the No Bases Network demonstrates the extent of the U.S. war machinery. Elsie Monge, president of the Ecuador Human Rights Commission, says that, as of 2005 the United States has 735 military bases across five continents. The bases have a monetary value of approximately 127 billion dollars. The total number of U.S. military personnel, including the bases in the United States, is 1,840,062 who are in turn supported by 473,306 civil employees from the Department of Defense, and 230,328 local employees. The Pentagon is one of the largest landowners in the world with bases that occupy 12,726,668 hectares (1).

However, the 735 bases that are officially recognized by the Pentagon do not include the access and cooperation agreements (called Cooperative Security Locations or Advanced Operation Centers) signed by servile governments that extend the U.S. military presence to more than 1,000 locations around the globe. This presence includes not only armed soldiers, but also goes disguised as humanitarian aid, medical missions, construction of schools, etc. that aim to win over the civic population, as is now happening in Guatemala and other countries.

The maturation of the Torrijos-Carter treaties and other agreements in 1999 heralded the closure of several military bases through Latin America including the Howard Base in Panama, explained Helga Serrano, member of the No Bases Coalition of Ecuador and the Ecuadorian affiliate of the YMCA. “Therefore, the United States looked for other countries that would host military bases and has since established four bases: Compalapa in El Slavador, Reina Beatriz in Aruba, Hato Rey in Curazao and Manta in Ecuador. The four countries signed similar agreements that secured their cooperation in the bases’ installation and the U.S. utilized funds from PLAN Colombia for the construction.” Serrano added that the base in Guantanamo, Cuba is a key location that the United States has maintained as a detention camp and torture center for prisoners considered “non-combatant enemies.” The Vieques base in Puerto Rico closed as a result of local resistance movements, however, the U.S. retains other bases in Puerto Rican territory. The U.S. continues to expand and maintain its bases in Latin America including a base in Soto Can/Palmerolas, Honduras. It has also installed 17 radars in Peru, Colombia and other countries.

In Latin America, Serrano explains, “there are two areas that the U.S. considers the most important: the Andean region related to the Colombian guerrilla conflict, and in the south at the “Triple Frontera,” or Three Borders, a meeting point of the three most economically powerful countries in South America that is also the location of the most extensive fresh water reserves in South America. Consequently, the United States has reinforced its military presence in Paraguay, and is trying to install a new military base there.”

The goal of the bases and of the military cooperation agreements is to protect the interests of the United States, and most importantly, the investments of the transnational companies. But the United States is looking not only to access but also to control the biodiversity and oil reserves, given that Colombia and Venezuela are among its principle suppliers.

Women resisting military bases

On March 5th, 6th, and 7th, the Conference for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases will take place in Quito. On March 8th, the conference will evolve into a Caravan of women for peace and against military bases that will leave Quito for Manta, a city of 200,000 people located on the Pacific coast. The Caravan will stop along the way in Santo Domingo, Chone, Portoviejo and Montecristi to hold symbolic presentations in protest of the bases. On the 9th of March, the activists of the Caravan as well as local activist will hold a summit and a massive march to the military base in Manta.

The U.S. military presence in Manta dates back to 1999 when the governments of Ecuador and the U.S. signed an agreement that secured the base in Manta for ten years as a site for monitoring and controlling aerial drug trafficking. Since the agreement, the operations of the base have changed and now include surveillance of migration and communication of intelligence about guerrilla combatants to the Colombian military (2).

According to official information provided by the United States, the U.S. Coast Guard has detained some 8,000 migrants leaving the coast of Ecuador for Central America and the United States. Despite an agreement with the United States that only the Ecuadorian police would intercept suspected boats, the United States has illegally intercepted 45 boats that carried migrants or were out on fishing ventures. From 2001 to June of 2005, the U.S. has destroyed or drowned eight boats (3).

According to Lina Cahuasquí of the Andean Service Committee, “there is an unresolved report of the disappearance of 18 fishermen from the boat Jorque IV in June of 2002 who, according to relatives, had been intercepted by a United States military boat.” Another boat, the Daiquirí Mariu, was destroyed during a drug search, although no drugs were found. As a result of this case, representatives are pursuing a suit in Florida Courts against the Southern Command of the U.S. military.

“In 2000, the Ecuadorian population was largely in favor of the Manta Base because it appeared to be profitable and offer security, however, in 2007 the perception of the population has changed substantially because of the economic, social and cultural impacts,” says Cahuasquí. Rural residents have been displaced, the port has been militarized, the fishermen can’t carry out fishing ventures, employment hasn’t increased and the cost of living has skyrocketed. Additionally, prostitution, including child prostitution, drug addiction, and other nocturnal businesses have increased.

The contract for the Manta Base ends in 2009 and President Rafael Correa, who has been invited to be the inaugural speaker at the Conference, has indicated that he will not renew the contract as the U.S. hopes. The No Bases Coalition of Ecuador, a coalition of 18 organizations, will continue its pressure to insure that Correa follows through. They also hope that the new constitution will include an article that declares Ecuador a Country for Peace and prohibits the installation of foreign troops in national territory.


(1) 737 U.S. Military Bases = Global Empire, by Chalmers Johnson

(2) Militares de EE.UU. en Manta: Esperando que se vayan, Eduardo Tamayo G.〈=es

(3) Derechos del Pueblos, CEDHU, # 157, p. 5, Quito, February 2007