Japan Peace Conference 2005
Luis _ngel Saavedra
Regional Foundation for Counseling on Human Rights, INREDH.
Member of the International Organizing Committee (IOC)
for the Abolition of Military Bases
National Coalition for the World Conference against Military Bases.
Ecuador, March - 2007
English version: Chistina Givey
The Manab_ Military Complex
First, I want to thank the invitation to the Japan Peace Committee, especially to Tadaaki Kawata
For Ecuador and Latin America is important to inform on the process of military intervention of the United States to control the Andean Region.
The military complex
On November 25, 1999, the government of Jamil Mahuad, an Ecuadorian president who was dismissed in January 2000, ceded the Eloy Alfaro Air Force Base, located in the coastal city of Manta, to the United States so that American military forces could conduct anti drug trafficking operations there. The agreement is renewable every ten years.
As stipulated by the clauses of the agreement, the Manta Base is a military complex which goes through five municipalities in Manabi province: Manta, Portoviejo, Montecristi, Jaramij_ and Rocafuerte. The air base, naval base, and military training zone extend for 24,000 hectares.
Because such a large amount of territory would be involved, it was necessary to garner support among the local population and in public opinion. So, there were discussions in the two social spheres which intersect in Manta.
The elites saw several advantages to the proposed base involving areas of investment. The American investment, they thought, would stimulate business. The renovated airport, especially, would facilitate a greater amount of trade and could convert Manta into Ecuador's main center for exportation and importation.
They also thought that the base would improve security is seen in two ways. The first, that the presence of a military base would discourage crime or possible insurgent movements. Secondly, that it would encourage legitimate business, and the perception of legitimate business. As one official of the Port Authority said, "those who buy from us will be sure that our boats don't carry any drugs.'" That was three weeks before a tuna ship that originated in Manta was detained in Bilbao, for carrying drugs.
But not only the elites thought the base would bring benefits; the poor did too. They thought that the base would offer opportunities for employment and that the jobs would be well-paid. Manta's poor thought that they would be able to work in constructing the airport and military installations, food service, cleaning, and transportation. The possibility of jobs was very tempting because of the recession and high levels of unemployment.
In this way, the arrival of the American troops was accepted by the whole population. Even the ex-beauty queen, Luc_a Fern_ndez De Genna, now Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce, declared on a prestigious television program that "the gringos are coming to improve things
The Geostrategic Role of the Manta Base
The militarization of Latin America was formalized with the consolidation of the InterAmerican Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (ITRA), signed at the beginning of the 1970's. In theory, this treaty was to provide Latin American countries with military aid so that they could defend themselves in the case of attacks from countries from other continents. The treaty permitted the installation of American forces all over the continent. But, when a Latin American country suffered from aggression such a country-the Falklands War, for example, when Argentina fought Great Britain-the American aid went to the European aggressor, not the Latin American country that was attacked.
In fact, the ITRA didn't benefit a single Latin American country. On the contrary, it surrounded to the military and economic interests of the United States. So, ITRA has aligned itself with the American rhetoric: anti-Communism, strengthening democracy and security, fighting the "war on drugs," and narcoguerrillas. And now, they say the ITRA is helping fight the "war on terror."
We know now that ITRA does in fact have a concrete mission: the interests of the United States government and businesses. ITRA enables the control of strategic resources and the domination of countries that have them.
To facilitate this control, ITRA made possible the installation of bases on areas where there were substantial bio-energetic resources, biodiversity, water, and areas in which megaproyects for the production of energy could be put. At the same time, ITRA made possible the control of systems of communication and discourage social movements.
The Manta Base is just part of the American military web which controls Central and South America. This web incluyes bases in Guant_namo, Cuba, Aruba and Curacao, Tres Esquinas, Colombia, Chapare, Bolivia, and Patagonia, Argentina. Those, along with other proposed projects, would enable the USA to intervene in any region of Latin America in less than 24 hours.
But the United States is not only exercising control militarily. Several free trade plans have been signed in order to obtain the strategic resources of Latin American countries, like Plan Puebla Panama, in the case of Central America, and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (ALCA).
Additionally, in the name of the "drug war" the US designed plans for military intervention, such as Plan Colombia, for the northern part of South America (Colombia, Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador) and Plan Dignity, for the central Andean region of Bolivia and Peru.
In spite of these plans, they appear to be failing. In Colombia, the growing of coca and poppy seeds is increasing. ALCA was rejected during the last presidential summit of Latin American countries in Mar de Plata, in the beginning of November.
If the free trade plans fail, the only option for survival of the consumerist system in which the United Status rules would be dominating the rest of Latin America through military intervention. In this case, Manta becomes even more important, because it is in the central part of South America, in a site equidistant from any part of the region and with optimal climate conditions for operating military planes.
Despite this, people are naively convinced that the United States will respect the agreement in that it will dedicate itself exclusively to the control of drug trafficking. They believe that if the US doesn't respect the agreement, they will have the power to ask to end the agreement that enables the base to exist.
But we have to ask ourselves, when the American armed forces decide to disrespect the treaty more than they have already done, what kind of social force would be capaple of demanding that they leave? The recent examples of Somalia, Liberia, Afghanistan, and Iraq are very telling in this respect: for the USA, invasion is the quickest and most effective policy. And regarding that policy, Manta plays a very important role as a military fort that is necessary for the control of South America. The naval port and the airport, ostensibly progress for the region, would really only be opening doors for a later intervention.
History repeats itself
In Okinawa, the Philippines, Hawaii, and parts of Europe, the people already know what a military base means for civil society, and Manta is no exception.
The history of the Manta Base is one of irresponsibility towards the communities, and especially towards young women who have been trapped into the sex trade. Dozens of young girls have fallen into sexual exploitation or have had their dreams shattered by unwanted pregnancies and false promises.
Additionally, the struggle over land is causing conflict between peasants and the military. In 1975, the Ecuadorian Armed Forces ejected people from the lands which are now the Jaramij_ Naval Base. Originally, people were displaced from 10,000 hectares of land. It is believed that today, more than 24,000 hectares have closed in on entire populations Jaramij_ and Pozo de las Sabanas.
The struggle to regain land has not ended. The people of Pueblito, for example, grow melons around the borders of the Manta base. Doing so is their form of symbolically appropriating the lands. Resistance from peasants has brought upon the burning of their crops, destruction of their houses, and abortions in women who have been threatened for their actions. Others have taken legal action against this plundering of land and the captures of peasants who now struggle in silence.
But, the greatest problems are still to come. "The topography of this land is similar to Vieques, and even if they left there, I would be afraid that they would come here," said Puerto Rican activist Wanda Colon, during a visit to the base.
In another area, only thirty minutes from the Base, there is no doubt it is damaging the town of Chorillos. In order to construct the airport and other infrastructure the US military deems necessary, it is probable that the protective hill of Montecristi, the symbol of prosperity of the community, will be destroyed: .
That hill provides water to Chorrillos and enables the people who live there to survive by selling it. Every family makes a living by using three or four wells that provide water to places with no water. In Manabi, there are many areas with no access to water-Manta itself gets water from Chorrillos.
Of course, the new airport required stone, and so Chorrillos' quarry was exploited 24 hours a day for two years. This had disastrous results for the local population: houses were destroyed, children became sick, and the dust and air were polluted. That is the price Chorrillos has had to pay for another country's project.
The people who dreamed of the more than 1000 jobs promised by the Base ended up instead with a nightmare that every exploitat6ive system generates; only 300 marginal jobs in construction, with a salary of only $126 a month. That has been the only part of the "American Dream."
The illusion that the military would bring money turned Manta into the most expensive city in the country. Tourism was another one of the things proposed and discussed by the elites, but the US military does not engage in tourism. For better or for worse, Manta is now known because of the Base, but in the future, that same base will discourage tourism.
And if what we have written so far has been disturbing, there is still the most chilling image of the activities of the US military-the sinking of Ecuadorian fishing boats.
US ships sunk at least 8 Ecuadorian ships during 2001 during part of anti drug trafficking and an operations and the control of immigration. Three of those boats were only fishing.
"The sailors made us get out of our ship and then they sunk it with cannonballs," remembers Apolinario Salvatierra, a fisherman from Don Ignacio. His ship was sunk on December 2, 2002. While his ship was sinking, "the American sailors jumped, enjoyed themselves, and shouted for joy," confirms Wilfrido M_rquez, another fisherman from Don Ignacio. The ship was not carrying drugs. This has occurred in other communities like Guayaipe and Tiwintza, according to the President of the Chamber of Fishing of Esmeraldas, Leonardo Vera Viteri.
A similar situation occurred in Martha, with the ships Santa Mar_a and Challenger. The Santa Mar_a was intercepted and sunk on March 3, 2004, 180 miles off the island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos. The US frigate Long Way used torpedoes. Similarly, the Challenger, which was intercepted on February 5th by the US ship Bone, while transporting 160 undocumented immigrants, was considered "lost" and sunk.
The accusations and complaints presented by the owners of the ships are exemplified by Dayku Maru, from Carlos Llorente, who was the first person to denounce the illegal acts of the US military in Ecuador and start a judicial process asking for compensation from the US Southern Command.
The US marines did not only break maritime laws, but they also violated the same contract through which Jamil Mahuad gave them the base. Article III establishes that "the operations and activities in Ecuadorian territory are the exclusive responsibility of the Republic of Ecuador". La interception, boarding and sinking the eight ships has occurred in Ecuadorian waters.
2007: A Key Year
The agreement is due to be renewed in 2009. If it is approved, there would be ten more years of military activities in Manta, with the same disastrous consequences.
Ecuadorian organizations have decided to commit themselves to documenting all the activities of the US military forces in order to demonstrate that they don't only violate the basic principles of self determination of peoples and fundamental rights, but also that they violate the Base's own Agreement, which describes the limits of its activities.
Although the Agreement gives them immunity against the crimes they can commit, we believe that this same agreement puts limits on their activities. These limits have been surpassed, with the sinking of ships, avoiding the judgments for the death of private citizens, and the installation of offices inside Base for the control of migration. And some people at the base have been contracting mercenaries to send them to fight the Iraq war.
In this way, from today until 2009, Ecuadorian organizations will be involved in an intense campaign of denunciations of the activities that we will be documenting and we will be consolidating public opinion against the Base. Today, unlike in 1999, the Manta base is strengthening a sense of nationalism and the voices are getting stronger every day against militarism.
The year 2007 will be special for Manta and for organizations that seek to create a culture of peace and human rights, because in 2007, we will receive all those organizations which fight against militarism and military bases and inaugurate a culture of peace.
Finally, I should say that I know how many people dealt with the arrogance of power in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But I have also seen reports and photos of the huge mobilizations and protests that Japanese did in the 1970s to reclaim Okinawa's sovereignty. Now, with that same force, I would like to invite you to add Manta to your struggles for peace, and above all, I would like to invite you to share with us the beginning of the final step of the campaign against renewing the contract of the Manta military base. We will do that at the World Assembly of the International Committee Against Military Bases in March, 2007. We welcome you, and everyone who dreams of a free world, based on respect and the self determination of all peoples.