Confronting U.S. Military Interests in Italy





On Tuesday, July 29, the Council of State, Italy’s highest administrative court, overturned a June 20 decision by the regional court of Veneto to suspend work on a second U.S. military base in the northeastern city of Vicenza. In contrast to the regional court’s methodical examination of each of the points in the case filed by the consumer and environmental advocacy group Codacons, the appeals court summarily dismissed it, stating that the administrative courts had no jurisdiction in what was a purely political matter. In upholding the appeal filed by the center-right Berlusconi government, a staunch ally of the Bush administration, much of the high court’s ruling was based on the infamous 1954 Bilateral Infrastructure Agreement between Italy and the U.S., which remains classified to this day, as well as on an Italian law from 1924 under Mussolini’s fascist regime.

The appeals court went on to say that there appears to be no solid evidence of possible environmental damage from the new base at Dal Molin Airport. What they failed to mention is that despite repeated calls from the people of Vicenza for an assessment of the environmental impact of the base, no such study has thus far been carried out. And judging from the September 2007 letter from the Special Commissioner Paolo Costa to then Defense Minister Arturo Parisi, of the center-left Prodi government, it was something to avoid at all costs: "It is clear that this point [Environmental Impact Study] represents an obvious risk to the possibilities of proceeding while respecting deadlines; and it is possible that it could even put the final decision in jeopardy."

The grassroots No Dal Molin movement, which has been opposing the new U.S. base since the news leaked out in May 2006, quickly responded with a large protest with hundreds blocking the entrance to the proposed site. Rapid-set concrete was used to bond everything from bricks to cement blocks to a toilet onto the road leading to Dal Molin. Once the entrance had been blocked, the demonstrators organized a "protest crawl," in which 200 cars slowly, but noisily, traversed the city to the site of the existing U.S. base at Camp Ederle, which protesters then encircled.

It had already been an eventful month for the No Dal Molin movement. On June 30, the eve of the official turnover of the area to the U.S. military, a protest march was organized from the movement’s Presidio Permanente encampment to the gates of the proposed base. Over 1,500 people, including families with children, marched under increasingly darkening clouds. The Italian saying "piove, governo ladro" (it’s raining, blame the government) had never been more appropriate.

A group of roughly 50 remained at the entrance the entire night, which continued to be stormy, and others joined them the following day to make sure that no U.S. military vehicles entered the site as the Italian Air Force moved out.

On July 8, the Vicenza City Council held a long-awaited session dedicated to the issue of the new U.S. base. In an historic vote, the recently elected center-left majority Council not only overturned the previous administration’s October 2006 vote in favor of the new base, but also voted to hold a local referendum on the issue.

Despite the Council of State’s rejection of the lower court’s ruling that a local referendum was required, Vicenza’s new mayor, Achille Variati, who made the issue part of his campaign, has every intention of going ahead with the referendum on October 12. The people of Vicenza will finally have their say in a matter that has dominated local and national politics for over two years now.

Codacons intends to continue the legal battle, especially as there is additional evidence of risks to the environment. But as Olol Jackson of the No Dal Molin movement said, "No one expects this struggle to be won in a courtroom. It will also take mass mobilization, people in the streets." And that’s what the people in Vicenza have planned.

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Stephanie Westbrook is a founding member of U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice in Rome, Italy and currently serves on the group’s coordinating committee (www.peaceandjustice.it), more photos and current protest info available at their website.