An interview with Roberto Sarti of Falce Martello on growing opposition to plans for the expansion of a U.S. air base in Northeast Italy.
Socialist Appeal: Tell us a little about the planned expansion of the US airbase at Vicenza.
RS: Basically, the US military wants to transfer the entire 173rd Airborne batallion to Italy. Part of it is already based at Vicenza, another part is in Germany. They want to close the German base, and move the whole unit to Italy. As a part of this move they want to convert the civilian airport into a military airbase, expanding it dramatically, by a total of 500,000 square meters, including hundreds of housing units for the soldiers. All this less than a mile from the downtown of Vicenza, which is a small town of some 150,000. They want this to be a rapid response unit and staging area to take care of emergency response in Europe, the Middle East, and a large part of Africa.
From the beginning, there was a huge response against this proposal by the population of Vicenza. Traditionally, this is a conservative, right-wing part of the country. But they mobilized by the thousands against what they percieve as “colonization” by the U.S. This shows how quickly things can change. The largest of these mobilizations took place on December 2, 2006, with 30,000 people on the street. The city council has voted in favor of the base. The Center-Left national government, which came to power in April 2006, had clearly stated in its electoral platform that they opposed any more NATO or US bases in Italy. Remember, this government was also elected on the promise that they would withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. They have left Iraq, but they remain in Afghanistan, and have now sent troops to Lebanon.
The general feeling among those who voted against Berlusconi’s right wing government, and brought the Center-Left to power, is that they don’t want Italian troops to be stationed in war zones. This was part of a strong movement against the war in Iraq, millions mobilized when the war first broke out.
On the question of the enlargement of the base at Vicenza, the Center-Left government of Romano Prodi tried for a long time not to take a clear position. But the time came when the US government demanded a definite answer. In the space of 24 hours, Prodi changed his position from: “we’ll see, we must continue to discuss it” to: “the decision has been taken, we will go forward with building the base.” Why was this? Because the Italian government has no real independence from the US government.
Socialist Appeal: Why does a government that includes people calling themselves socialists go along with US imperialism’s plans to project its force in this part of the world?
RS: Because in the final analysis, there are no fundamental differences between the interests of US imperialism and the Italian ruling class. Italy is also an imperialist country. Remember, the Italian Center-Left originally protested the invasion of Iraq, not because invasion and occupation was wrong, but because the occupation was not “legally” backed by the UN. The bottom line is, they wanted a slice of the cake in Iraq, and the US was not willing to share the spoils. The Center-Left has always supported the occupation of Afghanistan, and they are playing an active role in the multi-national “peacekeeping” force in Lebanon. Despite their nice-sounding speeches, these leaders are not genuine socialists.
Remember, the Center-Left supports NATO in general, it has no problems
with it. Why is this? Because they don’t have a class position. We
don’t think there is such a thing as the interests of “Italians” in
general. We believe in the interests of the Italian workers, and these
are quite different from the interests of the Italian capitalists.
This is the same in the US and every other country in the world. This
is why these reformist so-called “socialists” support imperialist
Socialist Appeal: What effect has this had on the rest of Italy?
RS: The decision to build this base has provoked widespread discontentnot only in Vicenza but throughout Italy. You see, there are several other US bases in Italy. Altogether, they take up more than 2,000,000 square meters of Italian territory. But although they are on Italian soil, the Italian government has no jurisdiction over them. The US military can do whatever they please. As your readers will remember, in 1999, two US Air Force jets were horsing around, flying near Cermis in the Italian Alps at extremely low altitude - despite laws against this - and one of them hit a ski lift, killing 20 people. The Italian government has never been able prosecute the pilots. This is an example of how the US military behaves abroad – disregarding local laws and the safety of the people that live there.
So the movement against this base is building. There will be a national demonstration against the base on February 17, in Vicenza. The government is already in trouble and split on this issue. We think that the trade unions, socialists and communists, must mobilize their forces for this demo. Falce Martello will be sending dozens comrades from across Italy to participate in this important demo, which we see as only the beginning of the struggle. The movement could reverse the government’s decision to build the base, but only if the working class is at the forefront of the struggle. The trade union leaders have already come out against the base. We are calling on them to take the next step and call a general strike. Workers need deeds, not just words. It is clear that if the US builds more bases in Europe, this is not a problem only for European workers. It is also a problem for workers in the Middle East, Africa – and the U.S. These bases are a clear indication that despite the disaster in Iraq, the US ruling class is preparing for new imperialist adventures around the world.
We link our opposition to the base at Vicenza to our opposition to Italy’s being part of the NATO alliance in the first place. Italian workers and youth have no interest in being part of an imperialist alliance. NATO was originally intended as a bulwark of imperialism against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries. Now it has been transformed into a bulwark against the oppressed peoples of the world.
Socialist Appeal: Any final words to our readers?
RS: Our struggle is not against the American workers and youth. They are our best allies in opposing the further expansion of US imperialism around the world.