The following is Helga Serrano’s report about the case of Ecuador presented at the Second Encounter for the Demilitarization of the Americas on Oct. 4, 2008 in La Esperanza, Honduras. It is of interest because it describes the grassroots organizational process that led to President Rafael Correa’s decision to announce that the U.S. military must leave the base at Manta as of 2009. The president’s decision was important, but it was the constant pressure from grassroots networks that led to this triumph for all who seek a demilitarized continent, with peace and full respect for sovereignty.

The achievements of the peace and anti-bases movements in the country also are revealed in Article 5 of the new Constitution of Ecuador which prohibits locating foreign military bases on Ecuadorean soil, to wit: "Ecuador is a peaceful territory. The establishment of foreign military bases and foreign facilities with military purposes is not allowed." Following is the system by which this experience came about, providing an example for the whole continent.

Friends, partners,

Warm greetings in solidarity from Ecuador, on behalf of the Christian Youth Association-YMCA of Ecuador, the Anti-Bases Coalition of Ecuador, and the Global Anti-Bases Network.

I am happy to be here in La Esperanza to share with you two victories that bring hope. The first is the success of the referendum and the new constitution, and the other is that U.S. forces have been officially notified that they must leave the Manta Military Base in 2009.

We would like to share the following points with you:

  • The strategy of imperialist domination based on militarism and neoliberal economic globalization.
  • The Base at Manta
  • The Constitution
  • The Multinational Network
  • Challenges facing the Latin American and Caribbean Anti-Bases Network

Imperialist Domination: Militarization and Neoliberal Globalization

To begin with, it is important to underscore that to protect its interests and military and commercial investments globally, the United States seeks global political control grounded in two strategies: global militarization and neoliberal capitalist globalization. In this manner, the military forces of the empire act as a "global police," with the goal of maintaining security for the global market. So, it is clear that on the one hand it aims to keep military control and supremacy, and on the other control over markets and resources.

The United States military presence is made more evident when it invades a country, such as in the instance of Iraq in 2003. But it is also present on a daily basis in foreign military bases, military exercises, training schools, and even in so-called "peace operations."
During the last decade, the United States consolidated its military bases system into a new global imperial system. According to Pentagon data, there are more than 735 U.S. military bases in 130 countries. This constitutes a global strategy of expansion and control of nations, natural resources, and human beings. If we include the so-called cooperation agreements signed with countries such as Ecuador as to the Manta Base, the military empire has more than 1,000 U.S. bases in other countries.1

Foreign bases have five missions:

  • maintain absolute military supremacy in the world
  • interfere with communications
  • attempt to control the largest number possible of petroleum sources
  • provide work and income for the military industrial complex, and
  • make sure that the military and their families live comfortably.

As well as military bases and other forms of military presence, the U.S. has the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, which includes European countries. The United States needs to have access to and control of the world’s natural resources: oil, natural gas, mining, water, forest resources. And of course, it needs to protect its transnational corporations. For all this it also controls international organizations: the G8, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations Security Council.

In the end, all these organizations are at the service of the large transnational corporations that operate as a planetary government. In these organizations, northern countries define what needs to be done to protect the economic interests of their transnationals. The powerful have divided the globe into an economic map, driving an accumulation model that takes over markets by mergers, acquisitions, patents—at the cost of smaller national capitals. In many cases, the actions of large transnationals increase their value without producing real wealth, based only on financial speculation. Neoliberal globalization is maintained due to the misery of many, and for that reason, this model is not sustainable. Not all of us can get by with the wasted resources of life in some of the northern countries.

What is Happening in Latin America and the Caribbean?

Now let’s turn to what is going on in Latin America and the Caribbean. If we recall the United States intervention in the region we cannot ignore the 75,000 dead in the war in El Salvador, nor the 200,000 dead in Guatemala, whose governments received support from the United States.

Similarly the United States invaded Panama, used Vieques in Puerto Rico to run impoverished uranium tests, and Panama for experiments with chemical weapons. Now we see how they are using the base at Guantanamo, Cuba as a jail where there is no law or justice.

To maintain regional hegemony, the strategy of the U.S. government establishes an economic, political, and military nexus as a means of control. At the economic level, the United States is looking for new markets for its transnational companies through the signing of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). This makes any development in our countries truly impossible. At the political level, the United States requires agreements with local elites, and this has been complicated by the new governments in Latin America, such as Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

The free trade area projects complement the Hemispheric Cooperative Security plan, which wants the armed forces of Latin America to adopt as priorities the war on drugs and terrorism. In that manner, the items on the U.S. agenda become priorities for the region, when the truth is that our problems are foreign debt, unequal distribution of wealth, and inequalities.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States maintains a complex network of military facilities and operations, which include:

  • 17 sites with radar facilities, mainly in Colombia and Peru
  • 2 military bases, one in Guantanamo, Cuba and the other in Soto Cano/Palmerola in Honduras; and
  • 4 Cooperative Security Locations in Comalapa, El Salvador; Reina Beatriz in Aruba; Hato Rey in Curazao; and Manta in Ecuador. Tres Esquinas in Colombia plays a crucial role in the implementation of Plan Colombia.

U.S. military strategy is controlled from Southern Command based in Key West, Florida. According to Uruguayan researcher Raúl Zibechi, "Some analysts believe that the Southern Command has turned into the main source of dialogue with the governments of Latin America as well as the organism that expresses U.S. foreign and defense policy in the region. The Southern Command has more employees working on Latin America than the Departments of State, Agriculture, Commerce, Treasury, and Defense combined."

This direct military presence in the region increased once Panama’s Base Howard was closed in 1999. Following this, the United States established four Cooperative Advance Centers, today known as Cooperative Security Locations, which are really military bases, with the pretext of the war on drugs. They also have the additional goals of dealing with migration and terrorism.

Through military bases, the United States also controls guerrilla activities. In Colombia it has a force of 1,600 between troops and private contractors that engage in activities within the parameters of Plan Colombia. This Plan was launched principally in the Amazon departments of Caquetá and Putumayo and Nariño in the South, on the border with Ecuador. Since 1999, U.S. agencies share intelligence in "real time" with the Armed Forces of Colombia. Another fundamental component of Plan Colombia has to do with the glyphosate sprayings that have been undertaken in Colombia and in the border areas with Ecuador. These sprayings affect everything: family gardens, food crops, water, the environment, and, above all, the health and life of the population, including innocent children. Since February of this year sprayings ceased following demands from the Ecuadorean government, which will lodge a lawsuit at the International Tribunal at The Hague so that the affected population can be compensated.

Manta Military Base

In 1999, the United States signed an agreement with Ecuador for the use of the Manta Base until 2009. This turned into an illegal and illegitimate U.S. military enclave enjoying immunity, whose actions infringe on the country’s national sovereignty. The Ex-Commander himself of the U.S. Advanced Security Operations Site at the Manta Base, Javier Delucca, stated, "The Manta Base is very important within Plan Colombia. We are very well situated to operate in this area."

After seven years at the Manta Base, it has been determined that the main activities of the U.S. military are geared to migration control and providing logistical support for the war in Colombia. Since the Manta Base opened, several conflicts have unfolded: an increase in sex workers, the eviction of peasant families, the sinking of fishing boats, the interdiction of vessels transporting migrants, limits on fishing work for "security" reasons, and the risk to population settlements near firing ranges.

This is only a reflection of what has happened in other countries where U.S. military bases have been established. In those places there are problems related to sovereignty, democracy, the displacement of indigenous populations, environmental dangers, effects on health, crime and impunity, sexual crimes, and prostitution.

In Ecuador, the struggle against the base began upon its establishment, with complaints being lodged as to its unconstitutionality. Later, forums, meetings, and demonstrations took place. The Anti-Bases Coalition of Ecuador was formed demanding that the agreement with the United States for the use of the Manta Base not be renewed, which we have now achieved. Undoubtedly, it was very important to hold the World Conference for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases in 1997 in Ecuador. The Ecuadorian Ministry of State has already officially notified the U.S. government that its military must leave. CELEBRATIONS WILL BE HELD IN 2009 IN ECUADOR!!

The Constitution and the Bases

For now there is much significance in the articles approved for the constitution and ratified in the referendum with 64% of the votes, relative to sovereignty and the ban on foreign military bases, as stated in Article 5: "Ecuador is a peaceful territory. The establishment of foreign military bases and foreign facilities with military purposes is not allowed. Conveying national military bases to foreign armed or security forces is prohibited." Ecuador, moreover, defines itself as a country that promotes peace, universal disarmament; it condemns development and the use of weapons of mass destruction, and the imposition of bases or facilities with military purposes of certain states in the territory of others (Article 416, 4). This constitutes a victory not only for Ecuadorian organizations, but for networks at the continental and global level that fight for the abolition of foreign military bases.

The constitution also happens to include a series of progressive elements that will allow for overcoming inequality, discrimination, and injustice in Ecuador, such as the following: the regime of living well (sumak kawsay), which implies living in harmony with oneself, society, and nature; the rights of nature to assure "the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions, and evolutionary processes"; multi-nationality and collective rights; the human right to water, as well as prohibition on privatizing it; food sovereignty and the right to secure and permanent access to food; communication rights and access to frequencies for public, private, and community media.

The International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases

We have a very large ally in our struggle in the International Anti-Bases Network that was formed in March of 2007 at the Conference in Ecuador, with the aim of developing a global and local strategy for the closing of all foreign military bases. It was concluded that if the empire is global, resistance must also be global. And this network is precisely part of the movement for global justice, which unites us all here. We are currently in the process of consolidating as a network, but also of joining other networks and movements worldwide. Closing a base is a blow to imperial strategy, and that is why we call for the abolition of military bases in the world.

The ideological and political base of the Anti-Bases Network, affirmed in the Final Declaration, constitutes a central and unifying element that will allow the network to advance strongly in its development. The Anti-Bases Network is clearly positioned in the framework of movements that fight for justice, peace, self-determination of peoples, and ecological sustainability. It also recognizes that foreign military bases constitute instruments of war that strengthen militarization, colonialism, imperial strategy, patriarchy, and racism.

The Network affirms that foreign military bases and the infrastructure used for wars of aggression, violate human rights, oppress peoples, particularly the indigenous, those of African descent, women, girls, and boys, and destroy communities and the environment. For these reasons, the Network demands the abolition of all foreign military bases. And this implies questioning militarism and the structural axis of this system of bases—that is, the U.S. empire. The Network denounces the principal responsibility of the United States in the proliferation of foreign military bases, and also recognizes the role of NATO, the European Union, and other countries.

The work of the International Network is growing stronger in different regions—in Europe and Southeast Asia, and the Pacific. At the European Social Forum in Malmo, a well-attended event was organized and now it’s our turn here in Latin America.

Lessons and Challenges for Latin America and the Caribbean

Some lessons learned in the struggle against the U.S. military at the Manta Base are:

  1. Have a clear objective.
  2. Organize and build coalitions. In Ecuador’s case we joined the Anti-Bases Coalition made up of 20 social change organizations.
  3. Multiple strategies, including mobilization, communication, legal action, events, and forums.
  4. Maintain relationships with other social change organizations and movements, so as to have the base issue incorporated into their agendas, as well as relating it to the struggle against the Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
  5. Internationalization of the struggle, from the local to the global and from the global to the local, and toward that end the support of the International Anti-Bases Network was important.
  6. Turn the struggle into a constitutional article, which implies electing good representatives, a participatory process, and including the prohibition on building foreign military bases, which was picked up from the proposal put forth by the Anti-Bases Coalition.

We are also part of networks in Latin America that work in the same struggles:

  • CADA: focused on the exit of foreign troops from Haiti.
  • Triple Border Social Forum: struggle against the presence of military forces in the border area between Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, where there are large deposits and currents of water.
  • SOA Watch: so that governments don’t send their soldiers for "training" at Fort Benning, Georgia, in what used to be known as the School of the Americas, where they were taught to torture and violate human rights.
  • Guantanamo: there has been a worldwide condemnation of the torture and violation of human rights at that base turned jail. Many voices say: "Shut down Guantanamo!"
  • HSA: The Hemispheric Social Alliance developed the "No FTAA" and important mobilizations in the continent.
  • World Social Forum and Americas Social Forum: they were important spaces to bring together various networks to plan joint actions against FTAs.

But there are fundamental challenges that we need to confront, starting from the recognition that there are no individual exits from neoliberalism, militarization, and imperialism. Exits are collective and organized.

  1. We don’t want the U.S. forces to leave Manta only to land in Peru or Colombia. Nor do we want the IV Fleet patrolling the Pacific. Therefore, it is fundamental that we develop a regional joint strategy to prevent this from happening.
  2. Building on the articles of Ecuador’s Constitution, other national instruments, and allies in Latin American governments, we can begin a campaign directed at the United Nations to achieve a treaty for the abolition of foreign military bases.
  3. We need to strengthen the exchange of experiences and systematize the experiences of struggle and share achievements … as well as failures.
  4. Strengthen our Latin American and Caribbean Anti-Bases Network. We hope to meet soon with several organizations toward this end. This will also allow strengthening the International Anti-Bases Network.
  5. Establish strong relations with the U.S. Anti-Bases Network, because that is where pressure needs to be put on the government and Senators to change their militaristic and warmongering policies. Solidarity visits and informational forums would be interesting.
  6. We need to strengthen alliances with the social movements of the region, so that the demilitarization agenda is included in their struggles.

As Francisco Morazán said, there are two homelands. In Ecuador we are defeating the homeland of the oligarchy, of the minorities, of inequality, of party rule, and the homeland of the majority, of sovereignty, dignity, and peace, is winning.

End Notes

  1. Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (Metropolitan Books, 2007).