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No Bases for Empire: International Activists Organize Against US Foreign Bases in Their Backyards

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The United States maintains over 700 military bases in dozens of countries across the globe. We speak with two international activists who are in the US for a speaking tour as part of a campaign called “No Bases for Empire.” Jan Tamas, from the Czech Republic, is the founder of the No Bases Initiative, a coalition against the proposed US missile system in Eastern Europe. Olivier Bancoult is with the Chagos Refugee Group. He was expelled from his native Diego Garcia when he was four years old. The US has operated a military base there since British forces expelled native islanders in the early 1970s. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: It sounds like a fast-food franchise — hundreds of locations spanning some 130 countries across the globe — but in fact, it’s perhaps the ultimate face of US hegemony: military bases. There are more than 700 US military bases worldwide, used for launching wars, holding prisoners, testing weapons.

One could be closing down in Ecuador, where lawmakers recently approved a ban on foreign bases. The Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has famously quipped that he’ll let the US military remain if the US agrees to an Ecuadorian military base in Miami.

Well, things are different in Europe, where the Bush administration now appears to have secured plans for its proposed missile system. US missiles would be stationed in Poland along with a radar site in the Czech Republic. Earlier this month, NATO leaders met in Romania and endorsed the missile plans. The Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said a formal accord will likely come next month.

    KAREL SCHWARZENBERG: [translated] I met with the US Secretary of State in friendly talks where we discussed the plan to have a radar facility as part of our NATO defense system. Once we are clear about the contents, we will discuss the possibility of signing the agreement. The first week of May looks like a good time to sign.

AMY GOODMAN: Majorities in both Poland and the Czech Republic oppose the missile plan, which is widely seen as a first-strike threat against Iran.

Two activists are in the United States now, speaking as part of a campaign called “No Bases for Empire.” They’re joining me from Washington, D.C. Jan Tamas is from the Czech Republic. He’s the founder of the No Bases Initiative, a coalition against the proposed US missile system in Eastern Europe. I’m also joined by Olivier Bancoult. He has been expelled from his native Diego Garcia when he was four years old. The US has operated a military base there since British forces expelled native islanders in the early ’70s. Olivier is with the Chagos Refugee Group.

I want to begin with Jan Tamas. Talk about the Czech Republic.

JAN TAMAS: Hello. Hello to you, Amy, and to all the listeners. Well, yes, like you said, the majority of Czech people oppose this project. 70 percent of people have been steadily opposing this for the last two years. And the reason why we oppose it is that we really do fear that this will lead to a new arms race, that this may lead to a new Cold War. And in fact some of the statements by the Russian President Putin proved that that’s actually the case. They do feel threatened by this, and they do say that they will need to take measures to respond to this.

You have to keep in mind that no matter how sophisticated a military system the US is going to implement, the enemy is always going to be able to implement other measures that will overcome it. And so, the US will then have to take other measures to overcome the countermeasures of the enemy. And in this way you begin to have this spiral of armament, and so that’s the new Cold War. Or it could even be a hot war, we don’t know. So we believe that the way to achieve peace in Europe and the world is actually by disarming and not creating new military bases, not by arming.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the attitude of people in the Czech Republic right now?

JAN TAMAS: I’m sorry?

AMY GOODMAN: The attitude of people in the Czech Republic to the base?

JAN TAMAS: Well, since the first polls that were conducted back in August 2006, there were 73 percent of Czechs opposed it. It’s steadily around that number. More than two-thirds of people oppose this. But our government continues the negotiations as if nothing has happened. And so, we really see this as a deficit in democracy, because we believe in a truly democratic society the politicians should reflect on the will and the voice of the people; however, that’s not the case in our country.

And I would just like to say one thing. We’ve heard our foreign minister before saying that the deal will be signed sometime during the first week of May. That is the truth. However, that will only be the agreement between the government, and what has to happen in our country is that that deal then has to be passed, it has to be ratified by the Czech Parliament. And the situation is far from clear, because the government has a very small mandate. They don’t even have a majority. They were only able to pass a confidence vote after seven months of negotiations, and thanks to some two members of parliament that didn’t vote against them. So they have a very weak mandate, and it’s far from clear how the vote will go.

That’s why we have now intensified our campaign. We are more than sixty organizations from all kinds of different backgrounds. And we are now, among other things, having an online petition on the website nonviolence.cz, where we would like to have a million signatures within the next few weeks so that we would intensify the pressure on the Czech parliamentarians, so that they would not be willing to raise their hands for this dangers system.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Olivier Bancoult of the Chagos Refugee Group. You left Diego Garcia when you were four years old. You were expelled. Explain what’s happening on your island.

OLIVIER BANCOULT: Yeah. On our island, it had been decided in 1965 that every people, all the people have to move in order to make place for US military base. All of the removal started on Diego Garcia were — had been used to build a US military base.

But first of all, I have to let people know that before choosing Diego Garcia, the choice was making on an island called Aldabra, where there were a population of giant tortoises. When the expert, American expert and US — UK expert go and visit Aldabra, they found a population of giant tortoises. They decided just to leave these tortoises in peace and just make the second choice — that is, on Diego Garcia, where human beings were having this wonderful life.

When the removal started on Diego Garcia, they just used to kill more than 1,500 dogs, in order to frighten people to leave, because without the dogs, the island will become dangerous. I was age four, and the reason I was forced to go to Mauritius, because my sister was — had been hurt by a wheel cart, and when my mom decided to have treatment for my sister and — in a view to return back in Peros Banhos. But arriving in Mauritius two months after my sister passed away, when we decided to return, we have learned that the island had been given to Americans. And what’s the way? All those who were living on the island had been ordered they have to leave, and there is a communication. All thing had been cut, all the link with Mauritius had been cut. That is in a very shameful way and a forcible way that we have been uprooted from our motherland, the Chagos Archipelago.

AMY GOODMAN: You are awaiting a high court decision in Britain, your case expected to be heard on June 30? What will happen there?

OLIVIER BANCOULT: Yeah. As you know, since 1997, we started a legal procedure against the British government, because we think that what had been done to us is unlawful, because our fundamental rights as a human being had been violated by the UK government, because there is an ordinance in 1971 who say that no native can return back to their homeland, whereas UK and US soldiers can do so. We started, and we have been able to win three cases in our favor, mostly where the judge concludes that what had been done to us is unlawful, and then we are belongers and that what had been done is very repugnant, and the queen have the right to govern, but don’t have the right to remove people — everything.

But now, still now, the UK government is still giving us a very hard time. They just bring it to the House of Lords, but even that, we will not give up our struggle. On the 30th of June this year, we will have an appeal from the British government to our case, and this will be heard in the House of Lords, where we shall be present. Of course, we are very optimistic, because we think that justice must be done again in our case for all variation, for all unhuman that had been to us.

AMY GOODMAN: Jan Tamas, final words, as you are wrapping up your journey around the United States in this No Bases for Empire project?

JAN TAMAS: Yeah. Well, I would say we are understanding that we are fighting a global enemy: the corporations that are going to make huge profits on this. Already more than $100 billion have been spent on the missile defense itself, and it’s not even near to working. These huge profits are being made by global corporations. They cross boundaries as if they don’t exist. And so need we. We also — the global — the peace movement needs to become global. And that’s why I’m here as part of this tour, to intensify the links, to intensify the cooperation across the Atlantic, across the boundaries of countries and across different organizations, so that together we have a stronger chance of winning this nonviolent battle against this armament effort that is underway right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Jan Tamas and Olivier Bancoult, both of the No Bases for Empire project, I want to thank you very much for joining us from Washington, D.C.

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