During our recent Young Trade Unionists’ May Day Brigade to Cuba three delegates had the honour of attending a conference advocating the abolition of foreign military bases in Guantanamo. One of the delegates – Kevin Donnelly – has produced a report of the conference below.
As a member of this year's May Day brigade to Cuba I was privileged to be one of 33 delegates chosen to attend the 2nd Seminar for the Abolition of Foreign Bases held in the eastern province of Guantanamo on 4th and 5th May 2011. Organised through the World Peace Council, delegates from 36 countries came together to exchange experiences and ideas, condemn the interference of the US and other imperialist forces in the sovereignty of nations, advocate world peace and criticise the military invasions of Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq.
In the opening address, Socorro Gomes, President of WPC, succinctly summed up the extent of the issue;
“Place a finger at random on a map of the world – chances are there will be a foreign base from one of the big powers”
She followed this up with some statistics of the costs; 163 billion spent by the US alone on “contingency operations overseas” (read; “war on terror”) with Latin America being a particular area of strategic importance for the imperialist powers; the 4th fleet is operating in the area and the British presence in the Malvinas/Falklands continues to build up.
This was followed by delegates relating the issues in their particular national or regional contexts. Tadaaki Kawaza from the Japanese Peace Committee for example talked about the 130 bases and 40,000 US personnel imposed on Japan. Ask the US and they will say these forces are for defence. However, Tadaaki made the point that the majority were stationed at Okinawa, miles away from the Japanese mainland but in a strategic position for operations across South East Asia and the Middle East.
A Sri Lankan delegate talked about the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) between his country and the US - so secret neither parliament nor the cabinet were aware of it but which committed Sri Lanka to supporting the US and which effectively allows the United States to have a foothold in Sri Lanka to open military bases or use ports and airports. Although on paper the agreement puts the US and Sri Lanka down as equal partners, in reality this is a military deal loaded in Washington’s favor. As the delegate said;
“What does Sri Lanka gain from this? If Sri Lanka wants to intervene in any country the US will support!!”
A British delegate focused on the recent evidence exposing the fact that the US were knowingly holding innocent people at the camp installation. The copy of the Morning Star of 26th April - with its headline of “Travesty of justice” - was held up at the conference for all to see.
On the second day the seminar moved from Guantanamo City to Caimanera. Our convoy, peace flags flying, moved along the long straight road flanked by salt flats and guard posts into the little town on the front line with the radar instillations from the illegal base just visible in the distance.
The session began with an outline of the extent of the problem for the local economy; half the bay is illegally occupied and therefore has a massive adverse impact on local industries such as fishing. As Companera Ophelia, a local teacher told the seminar;
“We are a little town in a little country in the third world. How can the mighty powers who rule the world justify having a naval base next to this little town? It’s insane having foreign bases anywhere not just here.”
This was followed by a historical perspective which made the point that the region has long been the target of imperialism – for example the British have had strategic interests here going back to the 18th Century.
The seminar continued with a Greek delegate – referring to the base as a “concentration camp” - outlining the peculiarities of the Cuban situation;
“In other cases bases are hated by the people but tolerated by the government. In Cuba no one wants this!”
This was followed by interventions from Mexico, Honduras, Colombia and Ecuador amongst many others. The latter outlined the successful campaign of resistance to military bases in their country. This was taken up by other delegates who focused on the Central American campaign, an offshoot of the Ecuador experience and which came together to challenge the bases in Colombia – as one comrade stated;
“We can win if we are united and bring all forces into play”.
In turn, the point was made that this conference provided an opportunity to expand and build on continental campaigns and revitalize the international network against foreign bases which had been dormant over the last couple of years.
The seminar ended with a rally in the town square in solidarity with the people of Caimanera and a final declaration which reiterated our commitment to internationalism, world peace and the struggle against imperialism. It was then the little matter of an 18 hour bus trip back to Havana to rejoin the brigade but this was a journey worth undertaking for the experience over the last 2 days of witnessing the passionate commitment of peace activists from around the world coming together on such an important issue.