The legendary grannies of the New York Granny Peace Brigade, who were arrested, jailed and put on trial for six days in 2005 when we attempted to enlist in the military at the Times Square recruiting station, are still out there fighting U.S. preemptive war and militarization of foreign nations.
Though most, if not all, of us are jubilant about Barack Obama's historic election, nevertheless we feisty grandmothers held a teach-in days after his victory to alert the public and, hopefully, the President-elect to our concerns about the plethora of U.S. military installations and operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The teach-in, held Sunday, Nov. 9, at Manhattan's Church of the Ascension, was the third in a series of teach-ins sponsored by the grandmothers to oppose the more than 1,000 military bases installed in every continent except Antarctica. The first teach-in emphasized Guantanamo, the second stressed AFRICOM, the new U.S. military command for Africa.
In this latest forum, the 19 countries of South and Central America as well as the 13 countries of the Caribbean were the focus of discussion. To our knowledge, there are a few major bases in Latin America and the Caribbean -- Guantanamo in Cuba, of course, Manta in Ecuador, Soto Cano in Honduras and several in Columbia, as well as a number of smaller installations, termed "lily pads," used for various military purposes, but often disguised as centers for drug interdiction.
Maria Fernanda Espinosa, Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations and former Minister of Foreign Affairs for Ecuador, a petite young woman (40ish is young to us grannies, at any rate), spoke of Ecuador's refusal to renew its contract with the U.S. for its use of the military base at Manta. According to Ambassador Espinosa, when she was foreign minister she had three meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who applied tremendous pressure upon the government of Ecuador to sign on with the U.S. for another ten years, but Ecuador stuck by its guns -- or rather against the guns and said "No."
The Ambassador said she was hopeful that Barack Obama would make policy changes favorable to Latin America and the Caribbean that would preclude United States militarization and recognize the sovereignty of the countries within. Ecuador has written a new constitution articulating that it is a country of peace, and prohibits military bases for any purpose. It is the only country other than Japan to specify peace in its constitution, and she expressed a wish that the document would become a model for other nations.
Espinosa also revealed that there are now high-level meetings at the U.N. discussing preemptive war and the concept of protection by one nation for others. She urged us to pay attention to what's going on in the U.N. in those respects, and we sensed an optimism in her remarks that perhaps we can anticipate welcome strides forward.
Following the impressive Ambassador, we heard from Greg Grandin, professor of History at New York University and an award-winning author of several books, most recently Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (Metropolitan, 2006). Professor Grandin discussed the United States attempts to curb the growing democratization of Latin America by its imposition of military control. He declared that the Bush policy has been a "disaster" for Latin America, and cited, for example, how its giving resources and support to Columbia to militarize (the Columbia Plan), ostensibly to fight drug trafficking, has in actuality allowed the U.S. to further its manipulation of Columbia into its militaristic web.
In his view, it has been a failure in its intended aim to fight drugs but has succeeded all too well in gaining U.S. military domination of the area. He warned that the U.S. is seeking to impose the Columbia Plan across Latin America and in Mexico.
Professor Grandin said that what really matters in stopping United States domination of our neighbors to the south and in the Caribbean is to repudiate preventive war and to recognize their sovereignty. Latin America, he ventured, will be a test case for how substantial the break from past policy will be under an Obama administration.
And, finally, the grannies were pleased to attend the words of our remarkable buddy, Army Colonel (retired) Ann Wright, renowned for resigning her diplomatic post the night before the United States invaded Iraq, and author of an important new book, Dissent: Voices of Conscience (2008). Col. Wright, a dedicated anti-war protester who has spent considerable time in jail for her patriotic efforts, spoke of her shock when she attempted to enter Canada recently and was forbidden entry. The authorities knew of her arrests, such information available only through FBI files, which are to itemize only serious offenders and definitely not Bush protesters. Col. Wright described the incident as "creepy" and warned that undoubtedly access into Mexico will be subject to the same illegal process. She advised us to urge President-Elect Obama to stop this subversion of our rights.
The Colonel referred to the Axis of Evil -- which, according to Bush, is composed of Iraq, North Korea and Iran. However, she reminded us of how the term was implicit earlier under the Reagan administration when the U.S. demonized the Cuban revolution, the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and, that in Granada. She believes the new administration has the potential for a great presidency, but exhorted us to tell Obama about our opposition to the past and current United States' dangerous policies toward Latin America and the Caribbean.
There followed a most informative question and answer forum ending with the query, "What can we here in New York do about this urgent problem of U.S. militarization of our Latin American and Caribbean neighbors?" Ann Wright stated that our teach-in was a good first step, that educating people was vital. She encouraged participation in the upcoming protest at Ft. Benning against the School of the Americas.
It was suggested that we entreat the authorities to bring the national guard home from Iraq, that we march with the Veterans for Peace in the Veterans Day parade. Most of all, we should target Congress. Some of our leading Democrat policymakers, as, for instance, Sen. Christopher Dodd, voted for the Columbia Plan. We must re-educate him and others.
The Granny Peace Brigade, for its part, will keep on keeping on with its teach-ins, its counter-recruitment actions and its various other activities toward its fundamental purpose of ending the Iraq war and preventing other preemptive invasions.