NATO has recently been staging its largest-yet exercises, Trident Juncture, across Spain, Portugal, and Italy. A number of Trident Ploughshares members from Scotland, England, and Wales travelled to Spain to offer practical solidarity to the resistance.
Local campaigners had elected to make the Andalucian fishing town of Barbate our main port of call. Some 40% of the town’s estate, at the nearby Sierra del Retin, has been commandeered by the Spanish Ministry of Defence for amphibious warfare training, including live firing, and local marine and road traffic is restricted during exercises. These impositions have stunted Barbate’s prospects, hobbling the fishing industry and confining the tourist trade to two months of the year.
No compensation is paid by the Ministry for the use of the land and sea, and the stark consequence is that Barbate enjoys an unemployment rate ranging from 40-60% over the course of the year.
(In some ways, this situation is reminiscent of that in parts of Scotland, where the Ministry of defence retains huge estates offering minimal local employment and precluding other development; twice yearly Scotland is invaded, blockaded, and bombed by NATO forces in the regular Joint Warrior exercises.)
Most grimly of all, seven local people have been killed by the delayed detonation of munitions fired onto the Sierra and nearby beaches. An unofficial seafront memorial commemorates these casualties of war; locals yet risk life and limb by foraging in the restricted area.
We arrived in Barbate and announced ourselves at a public meeting. As a call-out had been made through the European Antimilitarist Network, we were joined by comrades from Sweden and around Spain.
The next day, we joined with over 1,000 local residents in a march on the training area’s main gate. Whole families turned out together, donning white T-shirts and bearing banners proclaiming ‘Retines de Barbate’ (‘The Retin belongs to Barbate’). When instructed by police to clear the road, we made sure to take our time returning to town.
Over the following two days we decided on a plan of action; it was agreed that we would stage a symbolic incursion into the military area. As this was the first time that such had been attempted, we had no idea regarding the level of police response or consequence to expect. We did know that our movements were under surveillance, and that activities on military land could lead to prosecution by military tribunal.
We carried out a dress rehearsal and got some sleep. Our plan was to set off in convoy and hit the soft target of a north gate, fifteen minutes’ drive from the police and military presence at the main entrance. This would virtually guarantee success unless we were met by a mass police mobilisation.
In the event, the gate was unguarded and we were able to roll on through. We then set to work reclaiming a nearby hilltop with anti-war banners and carrying out a thorough redecoration of the gate area.
Despite blocking, and painting, a military vehicle full of surprised Spanish marines, we were able to remain in the area unimpeded for around an hour, until a brutal rainstorm drove us back to our cars.
We then returned to formation and headed down to the main entrance. On reaching it, we found the gates open and the nearest military presence at some hundreds of metres’ distance.
Seizing the opportunity, we occupied the road to the NATO base camp, blocking several vehicles to the frustration of the commanding officer on-site.
National police were summoned to clear the road. On their arrival, some of our number doused themselves in red paint to confound their removal.
Unfortunately the police were not up for nonsense and threatened force in return for non-compliance. Having escorted all those willing to walk off-site, they set to pepper-spraying the remainder before dragging them bodily out. This included one declared asthmatic. They also impounded any cameras or telephones they encountered.
Luckily, there were no permanent injuries, and, perhaps conscious of their heavy-handedness, the police didn’t write out fines for our disobedience and no-one was taken into custody.
A few hours later we recovered our things from the police station, although all photographs and videos had mysteriously disappeared from the confiscated devices. Just as well, then, that these had already been preserved for posterity by the magic of the internet upload.
At this point we bade a fond farewell to Barbate, with Aragon our next destination. The hope is that the relationships and modes of action established in Barbate will prove fruitful in the future.
In Aragon, we found the communists, anarcho-syndicalists, and Aragon nationalists of Zaragoza united in demonstration against NATO, which held extensive exercises in the region and hosted a media day in the city. Meanwhile, local antimilitarists had taken a tank simulator out of action with pink paint, the day before it was due to be exhibited to children at an open day.
It was clear that, locally, a diverse range of groups was working on various local campaigns, including opposition to the NATO manoeuvers, but also that many of them were fixated on next month’s Spanish elections, with the communists, Aragon nationalists and anti-austerity Podemos hoping to make gains.
Nevertheless, the dedicated anti-militarist group had managed to organise events for every day of the NATO exercises, and the anti-electoral CNT trade union turned up in numbers for a street demonstration, fulfilling a personal ambition for some of us to march under anarcho-syndicalist flags in Spain.
Our main function here was addressing a public meeting, reflecting critically on the short history of the European Antimilitarist Network and our longer experience in the British anti-nuclear campaign. We hope to have shared useful advice on solidarity, networking – and direct action tactics.
Our last point of call was the Basque Country, where we teamed up with friends we’d made in Andalucia for a demonstration against a Spanish barracks outside the pretty town of Mungia. Not content to await ploughshares fashioned from redundant bayonets, protestors overcame two lines of comedy soldiers to plant leeks at the facility’s gates in a clear statement of intent.
A fun family day out in unseasonably hot and sunny weather was had, and we were pleased to hear that this was one of the largest demonstrations against the base in recent years.
We had just about enough time to wolf some delicious paella, and take the kind of Atlantic swim only possible on the Queen’s shores for about half-an-hour in late July, before setting sail for home. Back in Blighty, we were inspired by the sight of HMS Victory, sometime imperial terror of the seas, now permanently moored in Portsmouth as a visitor attraction. Someday all weapons of war will be of such quaint curiosity – warnings from history counselling against our coarsened, bellicose times.