The International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases was formally established at a conference in Quito and Manta, Ecuador, March 5-9. Over 400 grassroots and community-based activists were in attendance from more than 40 countries.

2093.jpgLongtime peace activist Al Marder of New Haven, Conn., attended the “Quito No Bases” conference. In this World interview, Marder reviews the origins of the movement and weighs in on some of the issues that engaged conference participants. In addition, he reflects on the U.S. peace movement, especially as to future directions and how it might relate to the no bases movement.

In what capacity were you attending the Quito No Bases conference?

I participated on the organizing committee as president of the U.S. Peace Council. I am a member of the secretariat of the World Peace Council, and I represented that voice also.

How did this seed grow?

The struggle against bases has been going on for quite some time. In the Philippines, they were able to get rid of U.S. bases — Clark Air Force Base and the Navy’s base at Subic Bay — in the early 1990s. Okinawa, Japan, has been a scene of constant struggles, as have other parts of Japan, where both U.S. imperatives and Japanese government complicity are factors. This is also true of South Korea.

The tempo has picked up with the realization that many bases are being used in the war against Iraq and Afghanistan.

The conference was a significant advance in global peace activities against foreign military bases, primarily U.S. bases, and against the complicity of some national governments who let them in.

The task facing the organizing committee was to put together as many of the activists from as many countries as possible to deal with each movement’s problems and attempt to bring them together. As it happened, the YMCA in Quito, Ecuador, volunteered to host the meeting and organized a coalition there to work on the project.

What sort of problems did you encounter as you organized for the conference?

When we began, we realized the possible danger of having an excess of U. S. delegates. That was because some organizations, especially in the United States, could afford to send delegates, while others, particularly those in the global South, in Africa and in other areas, could not.

The governing rule had to be solidarity on the part of the U.S. peace movement. We tried to limit the number of U.S. delegates. We have about 3,000 U.S. bases on our own soil, but no foreign bases, so we had to show our solidarity with this movement.

What happened in Quito?

The decision was made to divide the conference into two parts: the first session in Quito and the second in Manta, the site of the largest U.S. base in Latin America. After the Quito session, the delegates traveled by bus to Manta. There were demonstrations in three cities along the way. There were protests in Manta and a march to the base.

How did things turn out?

What was exciting and fortuitous is that just before the conference, the Ecuadorians elected a new president, Rafael Correa. His administration has pledged to close the Manta base. Correa said he would renew the lease on Manta only if the U.S. allowed an Ecuadorian base to be established in Miami!

Because of the recent election, the atmosphere was enlivened by the new government and the political activists being on the same page. For example, speakers at the conference included Correa’s deputy defense minister and the mayor of Quito. Both were on the same page as the delegates.

Identify, if you will, some of the speakers or events that were particularly impressive or significant.

The conference was organized to allow speakers from practically all the various countries and movements around the world. Everyone had an opportunity to speak and exchange ideas in both plenary sessions and workshops.

What impressed me were the unity of understanding and the militancy of the speakers. In most cases, these were leaders of the indigenous movements. They understood the nature of the enemy, understood they were talking about imperialist domination, and understood that the military bases in their countries represented the front line of this domination.

They realized that the main enemy was U.S. imperialism, even though there are other nations in the imperialist camp, other countries that have foreign bases.

Their reports were poignant as they described what happens to communities — the rapes, the crimes, the violations of laws and customs. They recognized the loss of national dignity, sovereignty and independence.

The struggle against foreign military bases is a two-track struggle — against the countries that set up such bases overseas, like the U.S., and against the leaders of some countries who have been compliant, either covertly or overtly, in bringing them in to their countries.

What did U.S. peace activists come away with from the conference? What message did they bring back?

First, the importance of solidarity, both among U.S. peace groups and between the U.S. movement and the worldwide struggle against U.S. bases.

The struggle for peace in the United States and the struggle against U.S. bases around the world are one and the same.

Second, a recognition of the lack of discussion, perhaps even of appreciation, in the U.S. peace movement of the role and sheer quantity of military bases around the world. The U.S. peace movement is of course quite cognizant of U.S. attempts to dominate and to control economically, militarily and politically the rest of the world. However, there is almost no discussion or educating on the role of foreign bases going on.

For example, only very recently was it learned that U.S. troops accompanied Ethiopian troops when they invaded Somalia, and that these troops came from Djibouti. I suspect 99 percent of the American people doesn’t know where Djibouti is, on the Horn of Africa. The fact that we have a base there has to be a shock.

The U.S. peace movement calls for “No bases in Iraq” because it sees the danger of the permanent presence of U.S. soldiers in the Middle East. But I don’t believe that the movement is aware that we have almost 800 bases scattered in 130 countries around the world.

What is the remedy? How do we overcome that lack of awareness?

2094.jpgI see a lack of common understanding within the peace movement that, when we talk about imperialism, we are referring to a system, not to individual policies. The common understanding is that if you get rid of a bad policy, you are moving forward, and that may be true. But imperialism is more than a policy. It’s an extension of the capitalist system, and many activists do not see that.

The U.S. peace movement is a very broad movement and becoming broader as it opposes the illegal invasion in Iraq and the occupation of Afghanistan. More needs to be done to allow the movement to fully understand the real implications of what’s behind this.

One more point. I had the opportunity to work on the final declaration of the conference. The call to the conference, of course, was for abolition of foreign bases. But in the course of the discussion, the German delegation objected to the word “foreign.” They pointed out that in Europe and elsewhere, NATO and the European Union are using domestic bases for adventures in Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere — in Yugoslavia, for example.

This demonstrated to me that there has to be more discussion on the broader issue of military bases. We ended up talking about all foreign bases and military infrastructures anywhere that are used for aggression and invasions.

Could you indicate resources available if one wants to learn more about the spread of foreign bases?

I recommend Chalmers Johnson’s new book, “Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic.” Also a new book by Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee, “Empire and the Bomb: How the United States Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World.” There is also Gerson’s book from 1991, “The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of Foreign U.S. Military Bases.”

With so many different facets to this issue, what was the level of unity at the conference?

There was a sense of unity that foreign bases constitute a great danger to national independence and sovereignty. I came back feeling that all the people involved in these struggles are patriots. They have been fighting for their own national identity, their national sovereignty and national independence.

What happens next?

We agreed that it would be an international network. The permanent site of the secretariat will be in Ecuador. A staff has been established. The invitations are going out to many organizations.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that we observed a basic organizing weakness: an insufficient number of delegates from Africa and the Middle East.

We know that the U.S. in particular is looking to establish 13 more bases in Africa. We know that they are training national forces in a number of African countries now. We know that the U.S. military has set up a new command, just for Africa. This invasion of Africa follows the recognition that Middle East oil is no longer secure, and as we know, oil has been found in many parts of Africa.

And to these we must add the proposed establishment of new missile bases in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Focusing on foreign bases is not an academic, exotic study. It’s something the peace movement has to deal with. We must take foreign bases as seriously as we do any extension of militarization and aggression.

What’s the relation of the U.S. peace movement to the current left surge in Latin America?

When I sat there in Quito and in Manta and heard the representatives of the new Correa administration speak, I realized that Latin America is destined to play an extremely important role against U.S. imperialism — not only in Latin America, but also on the world scene.

In Quito, I talked with government officials whose orientation is nationalist, or center-left. There, in the so-called backyard of the U.S., a determined struggle for sovereignty and independence is going on. They are trying to break the hold there of U.S. economic domination. They are anti-imperialist.

Some want just to stop this or that military base. But others see the deeper implications. Our understanding may differ from some of our colleagues. But the very fact that they are on the road with us is a basis for common understanding.

Many who want the troops home from Iraq would leave it at that. But what they are setting in motion is the struggle against U.S. imperialism — we know that. They may not walk the whole walk, but they are setting in motion forces that will eventually broaden people’s consciousness.