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LALIT at NO BASES Conference in Quito, Ecuador


One of Lalit's leading members, Lindsey Collen, has just got back from the first-ever World Conference for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases, which was attended by delegates from social, political and neighbourhood organizations from 40 different countries from 5 to 9 March in Quito, Ecuador.

Organized by the NO BASES network, there were over 400 people present in plenary sessions of the Conference in the Main Hall of the Catholic University in Quito. There were 250 registered delegates, a fair proportion from Latin America, and 150 Ecuadorian students who were encouraged to sit in on plenary sessions.

The timing of the Conference turned out to be very interesting: it was during George Bush's tour of Latin America, where the unpopular US President is trying to dredge up flagging support from his allies, like the Columbian Government, which is reeling after the resignation of Ministers associated with right-wing death squads. There were demonstrations against Bush wherever he went. At a national level, the Conference was also at an interesting time: the new left-wing President of Ecuador, Raphael Correa, is confronting the right-wing Congress over a Constitutional Assembly, and issues like the US military base at Manta.

On Saturday 17 March in Curepipe Lindsey Collen will be giving a Report Back, organized by Lalit, for the fourteen Mauritian organizations [1] that signed the Declaration in support of the Conference.

The Conference was an organizational masterpiece jointly hosted by the Ecuadorian Coalition of anti-bases organizations and the International Organizing Committee, of which Lalit is a member. Translation was available throughout between English and Spanish and Japanese. The Japanese activists had crack translators as part of their own delegations.

The conference also included a caravan of six big buses, full of delegates who spoke at gatherings at Santa Domingo, Chome, and Portovierjo on their way down the Andes Mountains to the coast where there is an infamous US military base at Manta since 1999. On 9 March, there was a march to the base and a demonstration calling for its closure, which inhabitants of the city saw as a high point of the eight-year struggle against the base since its inception. The barbed-wire surrounded base is adjacent to the city's airport, and Awaks can be seen sitting at the airport. The base, which is opposed for its encroaching on Ecuadorian sovereignty and its interventions into Columbia, has given rise to the usual sources of extreme suffering, like peasants being pushed off their land, fishermen being deprived of their freedom to make a living, local communities suffering noise pollution as well as the social ills that plague communities encroached upon by military bases: prostitution and rape. Some of the functions of the base at Vieques, closed down as a result of heroic protests in Puerto Rico, have been moved to Manta, which put emphasis on the need to abolish bases, not just get them closed down piecemeal.

Plenary sessions included a talk by political activist and analyst, Walden Bello, on the present state of "over-reach" or "over-stretch" of the United States armed forces, which could lead to a destabilization of its empire. Various internal contradictions of empires, like the over-reach in the war against Iraq, can be important causes of their inevitable downfalls. In addition to plenary session, there were various workshops which saw passionate discussions on strategy and plans on how to run the international network in the future, so that all bases, these symbols and tools of imperial reign, effectively get closed down. Walden Bello, activist in Focus on the Global South, is at present standing for election in the Philippines general elections.

Other highlights of the Conference itself included the presence of delegates from Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico, calling not only for base closure and clean-up, strong in the knowledge that they have brought the close of the Vieques base in Puerto Rico, but also calling for independence from the USA. They introduced the slogan "Vieques, si! Bases, no!" which for Mauritius could be translated as "Diego Garcia, wi! Baz-la, non!"

One of the speakers, geo-politician and activist, Ana Esther Cecena, from the University of Mexico, also participated in one of the many press conferences that took place during the Conference. She analyzed the way in which each base has its particular geo-strategic importance to the US which goes beyond the boundaries of the country the base is in, and at the moment the two most important reasons for US bases are, according to the US itself, to "control sources of key raw materials" and for "counter-insurgency". Other reasons, including anti-terrorism, containment, and the war on drugs, come after these two at present.

At the opening session, there was an analysis of the importance of the worldwide struggle against bases by Medea Benjamin of Code Pink fame. Recently Code Pink (the name is a take-off from the Orange and Red terrorist Alerts put in place by the Bush administration) led a high-profile demonstration to the gates of the notorious US military base at Guantanamo, Cuba. Lindsey Collen has brought back a beautiful T-shirt from Code Pink, naturally in bright pink, which she gave to the Muvman Liberasyon Fam, for a drawing of lots.

Lalit's representative, Lindsey Collen, spoke on the Diego Garcia military base and the inter-related questions of sovereignty, the right to return & reparations, and the necessity to close the base right down. She put emphasis on the need for us all to understand increasingly well why there are bases and what exactly the economic and strategic functions of bases are, in order to be able to develop a common understanding of the strategies for closing them all down, and abolishing them. Lindsey Collen was also made Honorary Citizen of the City of Quito, an honour she accepted in the name of the over 200 delegates from places other than Quito. She gave press interviews, an interview for Venezuelan TV, and interviews for an anti-base organization in Okinawa, Japan.

Editor of the book The Sun Never Sets, the classical text on US military bases, Joe Gerson, was also a speaker at the Conference. The American Friends Service Committee, of which he was one of the team of delegates present, distributed a leaflet on "10 reasons to close down all foreign military bases".

The delegate from two peace organizations based in Nairobi, Otieno Ombok, spoke at the first plenary session. The new US offensive into Africa where it intends getting 25% of its oil supplies in the next decade, is of great concern world-wide as a new form of colonization. Lindsey Collen and Otieno Ombok discussed ways of getting organizations in Africa together to oppose this new US offensive.

Delegates from Europe, including from Germany, Italy, Belgium, countries where there are US and NATO bases, as well as national bases, put a great deal of emphasis on the importance of people being against domestic bases that are used for imperialist purposes, for example, for the war on Iraq.

The biggest US coalition, United for Peace and Justice, was represented by activist, Lesley Cagan, who spoke both at the Conference and during the caravan, at Chome. It is a key gain for the anti-bases movement that so many important US organizations are taking up the refined slogan "Get the troops back from the war and from the bases!" Last year the "Bring the Troops Back!" organization, after hearing a Lalit speaker, Ram Seegobin, at the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference in Sydney, Australia, was convinced, and took the idea home to his organization, which later adopted the slogan on its web-site.

Many delegates spoke of the importance of defining a "base" in a broad sense, and, in fact, a broad definition was accepted. This is necessary because the US often claims that a base is not actually a base. Sometimes, it is, they argue, just a "facility", other times it is supposedly a domestic base, which the US has access to and not a US base, and other times there are activities like "sea swap", where ships dock in order to change staff and get in new supplies.

A conference declaration was adopted, and the network celebrated its formal birth during the Conference. It will be a network with more organizational structures than it has had until now. A plan of action was discussed in small groups, and the International Organizing Committee will act as an interim committee until an International Co-coordinating Committee is set up.

[1] Organizations in Mauritius that are signed up to the Mauritian Declaration are:


Institute for Consumer Protection

Muvman Liberasyon Fam

Comite pour l'Amelioration de la Sante

Ledikasyon pu Travayer


Federation of Pre-School Playgroups

Federation of Civil Service & Other Unions

Federation des Travailleurs Unis

Government Servants Association

Federation of Free Workers

General Workers' Federation

Justice et Paix, of which one of the signatories is the Archbishop.


Former President of the Republic of Mauritius, Cassam Uteem