U.S. Military Base in Vicenza, Italy Gets Final Approval

At a press conference on Friday, February 20, Italian Special Commissioner Paola Costa and U.S. Consul General from Milan, Daniel Weygandt, announced final approval for a new U.S. military base in Vicenza, Italy. The project, approved by a joint Italian-US Military Construction Committee working under the still-classified 1954 Bilateral Infrastructure Agreement, includes 25 new buildings with lodging for 1200 soldiers and multi-story car parks for over 800 vehicles.

Weygandt noted his satisfaction “that the entire process had been developed in full compliance and that we were able to arrive at this final result.” Costa said that while no environmental impact assessment would be carried out, he assured everyone that “this project is the best possible and based on the most stringent regulations in effect in Italy and the United States.”

These words rang hollow for the thousands of local residents who have kept up constant protests against this second U.S. Military base – Vicenza is already home to Camp Ederle dating back to the 1950s – since word of the project, initially denied, first leaked out in May 2006.

Costa’s aversion to an environmental impact assessment certainly came as no surprise. Just last year a July 2007 letter from Costa to then Defense Minister Parisi surfaced, in which the Special Commissioner reiterated that an environmental impact assessment “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.” An important groundwater source, supplying water to the cities of Vicenza, Padua and Rovigo, lies directly below the base.

This final approval was announced as the official opening of the construction site, yet substantial demolition work has been ongoing for weeks.

In a press release from Mayor Achille Variati, who won last year’s election thanks to his opposition to the base, Weygandt was reminded “that Vicenza has always been hospitable towards the Americans, but hospitality doesn’t translate to stupidity or lack of common sense.” Variati asked that local needs and desires be respected and announced that, having been unsuccessful in getting a response from the Italian government with regards to the environmental impact assessment, he will “take the case to the European Union.” Variati also had some advice for Costa: “the construction period will be lengthy, and if the local population’s concerns are not taken into account, that period could be drawn out to a very long time.”

The new base was initially sited for the city’s little used civilian airport Dal Molin, which is hosted inside an Italian airbase due for closure. In a failed attempt to quell fierce local opposition, in November 2007 changes were made to the project that moved the base just a few hundred meters away to the Italian military side of the same area. The airport itself has been shut down and the runway has just recently been destroyed to make room for the new base. As part of the “compensation package” offered by the Italian government, a new runway will be rebuilt on what is left of Dal Molin at a cost of 11.5 million euros to Italian taxpayers.

The announcement of the final approval did nothing to dishearten the movement that has been working for nearly three years to block construction of the second base. In fact, that same day, a demonstration was held near the entrance to the new base and the following day saw gazebos set up all over the city to talk to local residents about the latest developments with regards to the base.

And though it might be the shortest month of the year in Vicenza, February has definitely been one of the most intense. Things kicked off when over two hundred activists entered and occupied the civilian airport side of the Dal Molin site. The police had been caught completely off guard, falling for false announcements of a series of initiatives by the No Dal Molin movement slated for the following week.

Having become experts at setting up encampments – the movement has operated a permanent encampment No Dal Molin for over two years – in a matter of minutes a large tent was erected inside the airport, the occupied area was sealed off on three sides, and a new entrance was created, complete with concierge and a crosswalk painted on the street.

The police arrived on the scene in riot gear. However, in a surprise move, Enac-Veneto, the regional civilian aviation authority responsible for the ex-airport, informed the police that they were not requesting the area to be cleared, believing that forcibly removing the protesters would only serve to increase tensions. Perhaps the fact that Enac is effectively losing an airport played a role in their decision. The police packed up and left as the activists celebrated. And like clockwork, volunteers arrived with meals for the occupiers; that evening saw a choice of 4 pasta dishes!

The occupation continued for four days and concluded with two important results. First, the long awaited Parco della Pace, or Peace Park, came a step closer to becoming a reality. The city government, together with Enac, agreed to open up discussions to make a portion of the now closed airport available to the public. This was a particularly important result, as it now makes it more difficult for the area in disuse to revert to state control, which would open up the door for the U.S. military, unlikely to allow a civilian airport to operate right next door to a major military base, to be given control of the entire area. Secondly, after having been denied an official environmental impact assessment of the new base, the city, together with the volunteer technicians and engineers of the No Dal Molin movement, will carry out their own evaluation of the project using office space provided them inside the ex airport.

However, the view from inside the airport during the occupation was that of the illegal work being carried out on the new base. Trucks carrying demolition material came and went. And while important gains had been made to protect the ex airport from falling into the hands of the U.S. military, the activists knew the next step was to block the construction of the base. In fact, they had been saying from the very start back in 2006, that once construction began, they would put their bodies on the line to block it. And on Tuesday, February 10, that’s exactly what they did.

Out on the streets at 6am, over 150 people were determined to block the trucks entering and leaving the base. Waiting for the demonstrators, however, was a police presence the likes of which had never been seen in Vicenza – 400 police in riot gear had completely sealed off the area, and immediately started to push the protesters back. Realizing that they were outnumbered, the protesters reorganized and chose to target one of the companies doing work inside the base, Carta Isnardo. They arrived at the company’s headquarters just outside Vicenza and managed to block a truck for over one hour before the police arrived. 18 demonstrators were arrested, but as the protesters proclaimed, “Every minute lost by the U.S., is a minute gained by the city of Vicenza.”

Valentine’s Day brought over 7,000 citizens out into the streets to proclaim their love for their city and their determination to protect it. They were also marching to reaffirm their right to protest. Just days prior, the police chief had floated the idea of declaring the grassroots No Dal Molin movement un’associazione a delinquere, or a criminal organization. And Italian police agents have been taking down the license plate numbers of activists attending the weekly assemblies held at the Permanent Encampment No Dal Molin.

The march started from the city’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site dotted with buildings by renaissance architect Andrea Palladio and just one mile from the site of the new base. Mayor Variati spoke to the crowd gathered on the square. “My role as the mayor of all the citizens of Vicenza prevents me from marching with you today. But I will continue my opposition on the legal and institutional fronts.” It ended in front of the police headquarters, where thousands held their hands up in the air to underline the non-violent nature of the movement.

City Council member and one of the leaders of the No Dal Molin movement, Cinzia Bottene, had circulated a petition calling on her colleagues to support the citizens’ right to protest and reject the ridiculous accusations of the police chief. “Participation and dissent are not forms of delinquency, but the salt of democracy.” It was signed by 18 city council members, three regional council members and nine from neighboring cities, as well as the mayor of Venice.

Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was in also Italy where she met with Prime Minister Berlusconi and thanked him for the hospitality given to U.S. troops in Italy. Speaking to Italian parliament she said, “I wonder how many Americans know that there are 14,000 U.S. troops in Italy, how many know of the Italian leadership role in combating nuclear proliferation.” She promised a new era of cooperation between the U.S. and allies. “There is no way that we will establish a policy that then imposes upon others obligations for which they have no consultation.”

Pelosi’s remarks raise a number of questions. Does the Speaker know that Italian taxpayers cover close to 40% of the operating costs of U.S. bases in Italy? Does she know that last October in a local referendum, which had officially been suspended just four days before it was to take place but was held with help of hundreds of volunteers, 95% of the 24,094 voters who did participate, voted against the new U.S base at Dal Molin? And was she aware that, while visiting the US Air Force Base in Aviano, she was practically sitting on top of 50 U.S. nuclear warheads stored at the base (another 40 are stored at the Ghedi Torre base) in violation of the spirit of the non-proliferation treaty?

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. She can be reached at: steph@webfabbrica.com. Read other articles by Stephanie.

20 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Kenny said on February 23rd, 2009 at 2:18pm #

    The amusing part of all of this is that it is an enormous PR disaster for the US in Europe.

    Incidentally, US air bases on the same site as civilian airports are not unknown. Rhein-Main AFB in Frankfurt is on the same site as one of Europe’s biggerst civilian airports and uses the same runways. I would guess that the purpose of the Vicenza works is to move the surviving 20 B2 bombers from Ramstein down to Vicenza, from whence they have access to the open sea and thereby, to Israel. (We all know what NATO’s function is!) At that point, Rhine-Main might be closed, since just about everything there is open to public gaze, whereas Ramstein is well fenced off

  2. E-Liz said on February 23rd, 2009 at 6:42pm #

    Sorry Mr. Kenny,

    All the B-2s and B-1s are at Whiteman AFB in Mo. There are no forward deployed Bombers in the USAF, All the Bombing missions during the whole south Asia campaign were flown from Whiteman, Staged out of either Barksdale La. or Diego Garcia.

    That’s what makes us the United States Air Force we have the ability to reach out and touch someone, We flew raids into Serbia with two crews, so one crew could get a good nights sleep while the other crew dropped smart bombs and then the crew who was rested flew home. 20k miles for a round trip is not that hard to do.

  3. Jay Janson said on February 23rd, 2009 at 7:18pm #

    Stephanie, what is the rationale or pretext for justifying the expense of these bases in Italy?
    And or purpose or imagined future use of such military instalations?

  4. Al said on February 24th, 2009 at 10:30am #

    Just another day in the life of American Military Industrial Complex hegemony.
    End this bloody world empire now before it ends the U.S.

  5. Lysander Spooner said on February 24th, 2009 at 11:11am #

    Hooray, another black hole to pour US taxpayer money down.

    Long live FREEDOM, may the EMPIRE perish soon like all that came before.

  6. Bryan Morton said on February 24th, 2009 at 12:36pm #

    “We flew raids into Serbia with two crews, so one crew could get a good nights sleep while the other crew dropped smart bombs and then the crew who was rested flew home. 20k miles for a round trip is not that hard to do.”

    I suppose you could sleep after murdering civilians … if you have no morals or conscience.

    Ah, Diego Garcia … I would urge everyone to study the history of the Chagos. A good place to start is the Youtube video, “Stealing a Nation.”

    You also have to love Pelosi’s rose colored glasses with optional blinders.

  7. Steven said on February 24th, 2009 at 1:29pm #

    Rhein Main was closed as of Dec 2005. B-2s are only based in the US.

  8. End the Empire said on February 24th, 2009 at 1:30pm #

    We are tired of borrowing money from the Chinese and the Arabs to fund our empire on the back of future generations of Americans. Its unfair to saddle these future Americans with 65 trillion in unfunded liabilities just so we can buy McMansions and Hummers. Start wars so our defense stocks rise. The US Government is completely out of control. The States need to reasert their role in the administration of the country.

  9. America Right Or Wrong said on February 24th, 2009 at 2:05pm #

    Finally! Now Italy can finally see who their overlords truly are.

  10. Murray Rothbard said on February 24th, 2009 at 2:57pm #

    The country’s bankrupt and our rulers are STILL building more foreign imperial bases?! Long Live Obama the Warmonger!!

  11. E-Liz said on February 24th, 2009 at 2:59pm #

    Mr. Kenny seems to have Ranstein and Rhine-main a bit confused.

  12. Michael Kenny said on February 24th, 2009 at 3:18pm #

    My understanding is that the entire surviving fleet of 20 B2s are based in Ramstein and I doubt if the US Air Force will tell us one way or another!

    The thing I loved about E-Liz’s comment is how it demonstrates exactly what I was saying about Vicenza being a PR disaster for the US. On the one hand, he tried to sidetrack the debate into a discussion of where some bombers were based, as if that mattered a damn, but in so doing, put his foot squarely in it by raising the bombing of Serbian civilians and the expulsion of the population of the British island of Diego Garcia, who recently won the right to go back to their homes in the English courts! Naturally, nobody beleives that the US will comply the Court’s decision!

    Notice also the use of “we”, as if he was part of the USAF. Nobody in the military would be foolish enough to post a message in such arrogant terms on a politically sensitive subject or blab on the internet about where this or that type of aircraft is based and how they get from A to B!

    Indeed, I am often intrigued by the fact that Ms Westbrook carefully avoids any direct criticism of the US Government or the USAF. You’d expect her to lambaste them both. There’s another slice of PR disaster for you!

  13. E-Liz said on February 24th, 2009 at 3:59pm #

    Mr. kenny,
    You are such a dumbass,
    # 1 what makes you automaticly think I am a guy? Are that much of a f****** pig that you think only a man can fly this beast?

    #2 Vicenza is an ARMY base it wil contain the 173 Airborne Infantry Brigade.

    #3 Anyone in the military can post or say anything we (except classifed stuff of course) but for your fucking information we are Americans also.
    my Husband posts here all the time.

    And as for information being kept secret, the following is from google.
    it shows that there are 21 no 20 and they are all at Whiteman as I said

    I have also included the names of the ships and some of the call signs. and date of delevery

    Air Vehicle Aircraft # Name [*] Ordered Delivered to USAF Arrived
    Whiteman
    AV- 1 82-1066 Fatal Beauty n/a 17 Jul 89
    AV- 2 82-1067 Spirit of ARIZONA
    Ship From Hell
    [Murphy's Law] n/a 19 Oct 90 20 Mar 98
    AV- 3 82-1068 Spirit of NEW YORK
    Navigator / Ghost
    [Afternoon Delight] n/a 18 Jun 91 10 Oct 97
    AV- 4 82-1069 Spirit of INDIANA
    Christine n/a 02 Oct 92 22 May 99
    AV- 5 82-1070 Spirit of OHIO
    Fire and Ice [Toad] n/a 05 Oct 92 18 Jul 97
    AV- 6 TOV&V 82-1071 Spirit of MISSISSIPPI
    Black Widow / Penguin
    [Arnold the Pig] n/a 02 Feb 93 23 May 98
    AV- 7 88-0328 Spirit of TEXAS
    Pirate Ship 1987 29 Aug 94 31 Aug 94
    AV- 8 88-0329 Spirit of MISSOURI 1987 11 Dec 93 17 Dec 93
    AV- 9 88-0330 Spirit of CALIFORNIA 1988 16 Aug 94 17 Aug 94
    AV-10 88-0331 Spirit of S. CAROLINA 1988 29 Dec 94 30 Dec 94
    AV-11 88-0332 Spirit of WASHINGTON 1989 27 Oct 94 30 Oct 94
    AV-12 89-0127 Spirit of KANSAS 1989 16 Feb 95 17 Feb 95
    AV-13 89-0128 Spirit of NEBRASKA 1990 26 Jun 95 28 Jun 95
    AV-14 89-0129 Spirit of GEORGIA 1990 25 Sep 95 14 Nov 95
    AV-15 90-0040 Spirit of ALASKA 1991 12 Jan 95 24 Jan 96
    AV-16 90-0041 Spirit of HAWAII 1991 21 Dec 95 10 Jan 96
    AV-17 92-0700 Spirit of FLORIDA 1992 29 Mar 96 3 Jul 96
    AV-18 93-1085 Spirit of OKLAHOMA 1993 13 May 96 15 May 96
    AV-19 93-1086 Spirit of KITTY HAWK 1993 30 Aug 96
    AV-20 93-1087 Spirit of PENNSYLVANIA 1993 05 Aug 97
    AV-21 93-1088 Spirit of LOUISIANA

  14. E-Liz said on February 24th, 2009 at 4:04pm #

    Sorry everyone I was so mad i did not proof a everything I wrote. nothing pisses me off more that some pig thinking that a sweet little ol girl can’t possible fly the hottest warbird in the world.

  15. Tree said on February 24th, 2009 at 4:49pm #

    E-Liz, do you write for the New Yorker? You’re a regular Dorothy Parker.

  16. Scott Harmon said on February 24th, 2009 at 9:53pm #

    Pelosi needs to get some of that spackling off the face and listen up: the Great Game is so out of date and impractical. We are being led around by our collective nose to protect the Europeans from the Big Bear, and we are acting like we have the money and resources to do it. It is over. Better that we just consolidate within our own region, and leave the economic/demographic forces do what they will in the other regions. Europe is simply a ball and chain, and would be useless to us except for the elitist ties to the banking institutions. Time for a remake. We’ve got so much more in our own hemisphere.

  17. stasicana said on February 25th, 2009 at 9:18am #

    Pretty soon these bases will be the only territory these clowns will have . . . they’ll have to flee to Israel.

  18. Entrogenesis said on February 26th, 2009 at 8:08pm #

    E-Liz, I could care less what gender you are, but it is obvious that you care little for those who have been on the business end of your beloved warbird. No matter how innacurate some commenters may have been in their understanding of the locations of various aircraft, the larger point to me seems to be that ordinary Italians are sick of being a province of an Empire dedicated to the worship of all manner of mechanized destruction. I wonder if you have children and how you would feel to have some raving sociopath proudly dropping bombs on them from a comfortable height before going back to base to enjoy a good night’s sleep. That the hand which drops the bombs is female makes little difference…a killer is a killer is a killer.

  19. E-Liz said on February 27th, 2009 at 9:41am #

    I wonder if you have children and how you would feel to have some raving sociopath proudly dropping bombs on them from a comfortable height before going back to base to enjoy a good night’s sleep. That the hand which drops the bombs is female makes little difference…a killer is a killer is a killer.

    At this point, I would ordinarily ask if you ever knew anyone in the military. However, from reading your post I feel that this would be a profound waste of time. Not I or anyone I know ever dropped on a child, unless that child was living in a military target or a civilian command and control target. If they were, good, we need to get those dumb bastards out of the gene pool anyway. We gave up pattern bombing in the seventies.

    Sociopath maybe raving not hardly. My husband tells me that I am a cold-blooded killer, I kind of like that it keeps him walking the straight and narrow.

    As for someone dropping of my kids if I had any. Well that’s the best part of being an American we don’t have to worry about that. We own the sky!!

  20. Entrogenesis said on February 27th, 2009 at 12:54pm #

    E-Liz

    My brother and many others in my family have served in the military and I have met many military people in the course of my work, and most of them have had a profound respect for life, especially some I have met who did their killing on the ground rather than from the air.

    I suppose I should be glad that an admitted potential sociopath is safely stationed (hopefully) thousands of miles away from me, but I wonder when your commanders will see fit to have bombs dropped on neighborhoods here in the good old USA that need their gene pools cleaned out.

    It’s probably my ridiculous regard for life that leads me to disagree with you, a self-styled “cold blooded killer” , who believes that dropping bombs on civilian targets is good for the gene pool, I can already see you whooping it up as you drop a smart bomb on some terrorists in Dayton, Ohio or god knows where.

    Live by the sword, die by the sword. You may be proud of all the dead people your armies have made, the only thing they are good at making, but the bones of your victims cry out for justice, and your murderous ways will damn all of your countrymen before long. I do not support you or your mission, and your response to my first comment only strengthens my belief in the evil of war and those who glory in it. But hey, you might be a ruthless bloodletter, but at least your husband’s well in line.

    That much is a laugh, at least.