The Guardian 14 March, 2007

Abolition of Foreign Military Bases Conference:

There can be no peace without justice

At 9:15 this morning (March 5) the auditorium of the Catholic University’s Cultural Centre in Quito, Ecuador, hosted the Opening Ceremony of the International Conference for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases. The auditorium was full of young people, men, women and delegates from forty countries who are committed to peace, the struggle against militarisation, and the abolition of foreign military bases.

The air was full of the excitement of hundreds of participants who rushed to register and receive their conference material. In the opening panel, speakers included the Mayor of Quito, Paco Moncayo, the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Miguel Carvajal, the President of the Catholic University, Manuel Corrales, Philippine activist Corazon Fabros from the International No Bases Network, Ecuadorian organiser Nieve Solorzano from the Ecuador No Bases Coalition, and Medea Benjamin, representative from Code Pink, an organization from the US.

Paco Moncayo emphasised that the municipality is committed to working to improve social services as part of its support of initiatives like the No Bases initiative. He clarified that working for peace requires more than eliminating war, it requires broadening the struggle for the social welfare of all people; because "what does peace mean to someone who doesn’t have food to eat".

Manuel Corrales spoke about the delicacy of the Conference’s politics, but assured the audience that there is no better place than the University to debate these issues and produce constructive criticism. He concluded by declaring "Peace is the fruit of justice, so if there is not justice, there can be no peace".

Dolores Solorzano shared the vision of the community in Manta where the US maintains a military base. Recalling 1999 when the contract was signed by Jamil Mahuad, Solorzano described the results of the bases installation, which include the displacement of farmers, the drowning of fishing boats, an increase in child prostitution, the invasion of air space, and the invasion of Ecuadorian sovereignty. All of these affects have been confirmed by studies conducted by organisations working to close the base. INRED, SERPAJ (Servicio de Paz y Justicia), ACJ, PRODH, and APDH are some of the groups that first began working on this issue.

Today, more than 30 percent of the population in Manta and 60 percent of the national population do not want the Manta military base in Ecuadorian territory.

Solorzano argued that the fight against drug trafficking is no longer the US’s only motive for maintaining the base in Manta. Other interests have become obvious, including the monitoring of PLAN Colombia, the control of Amazonian water resources, and the surveillance of subversive movements.

Medea Benjamin of the United States began her speech with the declaration, "the fight is not against the people of the United States, instead it is against the Empire, and we are also victims of this Empire." This statement evoked a round of applause from the audience. She gave thanks to Ecuador and President Rafael Correa for being a "president in favour of peace" and expressed hope that, with encouragement of the people, Ecuador would stop sending soldiers to the School of the Americas, a training school in the US that has produced many dictators, death squad leaders, and other officials who have brought death and torture to many Latin American communities.

Benjamin’s message was reflected in the words of the following speaker, Assistant Secretary of Defence Miguel Carvajal, who emphasised that the government under Correa believes strongly that security cannot be separated from social welfare, indeed, security must be attained by fighting the poverty that affects 64 percent of the Ecuadorian population, addressing the destruction of the environment, reducing illiteracy, and creating equality. All of this implies that the Armed Forces must be involved in this social struggle under the guidance of the new government.

Finally, he affirmed that the Ecuadorian government will not renew its contract for the base in Manta that concludes in 2009. He declared "the coherence to principles of peace will be developed only by demanding national sovereignty".

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