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Tired of Promises, Vicenza, Italy Demands Action Against New U.S. Military Base

They left Vicenza just after midnight and drove through the night to arrive in Rome on Sunday morning; six buses carrying the women and men of the Presidio Permanente No Dal Molin , the movement against the new U.S. military base in this northern Italian city. They traveled to Rome for the congress of the newly formed Sinistra Arcobaleno (Rainbow Left), an alliance of communist, socialist and green parties to counter the other recent alliance of center-left parties taking a decisive turn toward the center, the Partito Democratico (yes, Italy now has its own Democratic Party). The pots and pans, drums, signs and banners loaded on the buses were a clear indication they weren't coming to participate.

For one-and-a-half years, the people of Vicenza have been struggling against this new military base, mounting a grassroots campaign and an endless succession of debates, protests, workshops and demonstrations that has garnered support from people throughout Italy, across Europe and in the U.S. However, support from the left-wing parties that make up the governing majority has never gone beyond mere promises.

On June 28, 150 members of parliament from the parties now represented by the Rainbow Left signed a letter addressed to Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who had given official approval for the project following a visit from President George W. Bush on June 9. The letter requested that there be a moratorium on construction of the base until a conference on military servitude, which was part of the center left election platform, could take place. Unfortunately after the letter was signed, no other concrete steps were taken.

On November 21 – after five months during which the question was never raised in parliament – representatives of the movement in Vicenza were invited to Rome for a meeting with some of the signatories. The MPs proposed that the citizens organize a signature collection in favor of the moratorium; an exercise that was deemed to be too little too late by the women and men of the Presidio Permanente .

MP Lalla Trupia said, “We still have time. They won't start construction for another year.” Not a surprising interpretation of the current situation considering she had made the same comment last September after receiving a letter from U.S. congress members with whom she had met, Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Loretta Sanchez (D-CA). “We still have time. The U.S. still hasn't approved the funds.” She was referring to the U.S. Defense Authorization Act and while technically correct – the bill had not yet passed – it certainly wasn't much to hang hope on. In fact, the 600-page document devotes one line, literally three words, to the issue: “Italy Vicenza $173,000,000.” The bill has since passed, voted by both DeLauro and Sanchez.

But it was particularly disturbing considering that work has indeed already begun, or rather, had been attempted. Equipment for the initial phase, which ironically entails clearing the land of bombs dropped by the U.S. during WWII, was stealthily moved into the site of the new base during the wee hours of the night in early November. The Presidio Permanente then organized 24-hour blockades of the entrances with hundreds of people for 3 days straight until the company contracted to perform the work was forced to suspend the operation. The sense of urgency, which seems to escape members of parliament and party leaders, is all too real for the people of Vicenza.

So another trip to Rome was organized, but this time en masse! The ruckus could be heard from blocks away. Over 400 people, running on no sleep but much determination, were banging pots and pans, beating drums, blowing whistles and waving the No Dal Molin flags at the entrance. Congress-goers were greeted with chants of “moratoria subito!” (moratorium now!) and “basta parole, ora ai fatti” (enough talk, time for action).

After several hours, the protesters decided it was time to go in. They marched into the hall of the congress, chanting, waving flags and banging pots and pans all the while. A group of 15 wore giant letters spelling out moratoria subito. Many, but not all, in the public stood and clapped as they walked in and took over the stage. Cinzia Bottene, spokesperson for the movement, stood at the podium and addressed the MPs, party leaders and party faithful present.

“Dal Molin, an instrument of war, is not a question of political balancing acts but one of principals and ethics. The construction of this base will lead to mourning and destruction in other parts of the world. And it will make no difference whether this base is inaugurated by Prodi rather than the Berlusconi government.

“You've chosen the colors of the rainbow, symbol of peace, as part of your logo. We're asking that you give credence to those colors. The moratorium must become a reality immediately, because the time for talk is over, it's time for concrete action.”

These empty promises made by political parties who have been given a mandate for change should ring painfully familiar to many in the U.S., as the Democratic Party continues to capitulate to the Bush administration.

What may not be as familiar is the determination of the people of Vicenza to hold their elected representatives to account and to take democracy back into their hands.

The Presidio Permanente is organizing a 3-day mobilization in Vicenza from December 14-16, with workshops, panel discussions and a mass demonstration on Saturday, December 15. www.nodalmolin.it

Stephanie Westbrook

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