US troops leave Ecuador, When will they leave Honduras?

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US military bases in Latin America were considered one of the main concerns of social activists at the Gathering “Peace and demilitarization, with dignity for peoples and women” held during the Americas Social Forum (AFS) in Guatemala.

The US troops at the Ecuadorean Manta Base on the Pacific Ocean will leave the country once President Correa’s government has officially notified the US Embassy that Ecuador will not renew the agreement for the use of the base by the US. The country in the Andes will celebrate in 2009 its 200th independence from Spain, and wants to celebrate it without foreign troops in its soil.

Ecuador’s victory sends out a sign of hope since it proves that through peaceful demonstrations, lobbying and advocacy, it is possible to defeat the US domination strategy. There is concern, however, that the US will not easily leave other countries where it has military bases and is using new methods to win peoples’ hearts, such as the civic military campaigns (such as Further than New Horizons in Honduras) that include medical brigades, social support, according to reports at the AFS.

Participants in the event denounced the impact of military bases on women. Dennis Chávez from the Peru Women’s Front, member of the World Women’s March, stressed that near the Palmerola Base in Honduras and Manta, prostitution has grown and many women, out of need, have worked for the foreign troops.

Ms. Chavez also mentioned that women are the most affected in conflicts, since they are considered as war trophies. Many times they are raped. Women suffer when they are forced to leave their homes, or with increases in military budgets which diminish funds for health and education.

Bertha Cáceres, leader of the Civil Council of Honduras Popular and Indigenous Organizations COPIN, reported on the results of the II Hemispheric Gathering for Demilitarization carried out in Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras, with the participation of 800 delegates from 27 countries, on October 3-7, 2008.

One of the main resolutions of the Gathering calls for the abolition of military bases in the region, through campaigns, communication strategies, education and demonstrations. The participants decided to unite their efforts to fight against the US Fourth Fleet which is patrolling the seas in Latin America and the Caribbean. They also expressed their support for the struggle for peace with dignity in Colombia and Haití, demanding that foreign troops leave the country and rather provide support and solidarity.

Honduras will be the center of a campaign to end with the foreign troops stationed in the Palmerola Base. The participants also reject any project to establish military bases in indigenous territories such as Caratasca and in miskito land, as well as the intention to reactivate bases in effect in the 80s, such as San Antonio and in Lenca peoples territory.

Bertha Cáceres said that the US military presence in Honduras began in 1904. Later Honduras was used to overthrow Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. In 1983 the Palmerola Base was implemented for the counterguerrilla struggle against the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. Indigenous peoples were expelled from their land, while the forests were destroyed. There were forced disappearances, such as Father Guadalupe Cárdenas, which is attributed to the US army, as well as the rape and murder of children which were thrown in garbage cans.

In the 90s a new protocol was signed by Honduras and the US for a temporary stay, but now they have built a wall, an indication that they plan to stay for a while. In Palmerola there are 500 military personnel, but the Base has the capacity to move all over Honduras’ land, air and sea. When New Horizons operations are carried out, they mobilize up to 4000 troops. There is also a training center in Olancho for Latin American mercenaries that fight in the Iraq war with Delta Force.

The impact has been devastating for the people of Honduras. It has been a violation of sovereignty and human rights, while prostitution has increased, as well as HIV AIDS and Vietnam flower and teen pregnancy. Petrified forests have also been affected since after the US troops arrive, the mining companies and hydroelectric projects arrive, according to Cáceres.

“The presence of the US troops has been humiliating for Honduras. Our country was used to attack our brothers and sisters in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 80s. Now they use our strategic location (Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, close to Cuba and Venezuela). Recently one of the huge ships from the Fourth Fleet was stationed in front of Trujillo where they practice bombing, impacting a very rich biodiverse area”, according to the Hondurean leader.

The US military personnel control private security enterprises. “They are responsible of killing people and recently lawyer Dionisio García”, expressed Bertha Cáceres.

Social movements understand that the US is repositioning itself in the continent to try to impose its domination in the region. In this ASF we hope that the Declaration and Plan of Action of the II Gathering for Demilitarization are assumed and we position ourselves in the understanding that militarization adopts many forms, therefore networking is important, but working from the grass roots, concluded Cáceres.
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