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Italian Court Blocks Construction of U.S. Military Base

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Message Stephanie Westbrook

On Friday, June 20, just days before the area known as Dal Molin was to be turned over to the U.S. military as the site for a second base in Vicenza, Italy, the administrative court of the Veneto region ruled to suspend all work.

In the case filed by Codacons, a consumer and environmental advocacy group, the court’s findings included failure to consult the local population with regard to the decision for the new base, as required by a Memorandum of Understanding between Italy and the U.S. The court further ruled the apparent “verbal” approval of the project – no formal act has ever been presented – by the former Prodi government to be extra ordinem and “absolutely incompatible in view of the importance of the matter and the traditional principals of administrative law.” 

The court went on to find that neither the environmental impact of the new base, including increased traffic and pollution, nor the serious risks posed by the base to major groundwater sources that supply the northeast of Italy have  been sufficiently evaluated. The bidding process for the construction work, which has already been awarded, was also found to be in violation of Italian and European regulations. 

The court’s ruling represents an important victory for the people of Vicenza, who have been working to block construction of the new U.S. military base for over two years. Since May 2006, when news of the secretive project began to leak, the people have criticized the complete lack of transparency and democratic practices on the part of both the local and national governments. And there was a price to pay for the local city government.  

In elections held in April, in contrast to national trends where the center-right parties trounced the left, the people of Vicenza elected the mayoral candidate for the center-left coalition, Achille Variati, after he had promised to hold a local referendum that would finally allow the people to express themselves and to revoke the previous city council’s vote on the Dal Molin project. 

In fact, on June 26, Vicenza city council, which includes newly-elected member Cinzia Bottene of the No Dal Molin movement, will vote on Dal Molin, and a mass mobilization will take place on the square below as the people remind their representatives of the promises made during the election campaign. 

The people of Vicenza have also repeatedly expressed alarm over the environmental impact of the base. Their concerns have been largely shrugged off by both Italian and U.S. authorities, despite the fact that this past March the pipeline that supplies the U.S. air base at Aviano with kerosene from the port of Livorno and the U.S. base at Camp Darby, broke near Vicenza and contaminated the Astichello and Bacchiglione rivers.  

The court’s ruling, together with the recently declassified report by the U.S. Air Force regarding U.S. nuclear weapon sites in Europe which revealed “that most sites require significant additional resources to meet DOD security requirements,” confirm the people’s concerns, and then some! 

The struggle is far from over. Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa has already declared that the newly-elected Berlusconi government will appeal the court’s decision and has every intention of maintaining its “obligations” to the U.S.  

But the people remain no less determined to block the construction and defend their territory. The court’s ruling merely confirmed everything they have been saying for the past two years. And on June 30, as the Dal Molin area is scheduled to pass from the Italian military to civilian control, the movement will be there to make sure the court’s ruling is respected and that not one stone is moved.

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Stephanie Westbrook is a U.S. citizen who has been living in Rome, Italy since 1991. She is active in the peace and social justice movements in Italy.
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