No War, No Cluster Bombs
Protest at Cluster Bomb Factory in Colleferro
In solidarity with the "Declaration of Peace"
The town of Colleferro, just outside of Rome, has a long history with the arms industry – it was, in fact, founded under Fascism as a factory town, the factory being a gunpowder concern. One of the streets, for example, is named via degli Esplosivi (Explosives Way). The town is currently home to a number of companies operating in the weapons industry, including Simmel Difesa, a munitions manufacturer and cluster bomb producer.
On September 23, local peace groups, who have been working to raise consciousness and reconvert the town's industrial base from military to civilian, organized an event that included a march through town, a sit-in at the gates of the factory, debates on the town square, films and presentations. [See the original appeal]
The date of September 23 also fell within the week of the Declaration of Peace, endorsed by over 500 groups in the U.S. planning close to 400 actions in the United States calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq and the launch of a new era of peace and justice. For our group, U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome, it was a perfect opportunity to show solidarity to both activists back home as well a local groups here in Italy, who welcomed the opportunity to link to the events in the U.S.
As we waited for the march to start, we had a chance to talk with local activists who told us of their struggle against the indifference of the townspeople as well as the very real problem of few alternatives for jobs. However, events such as this have succeeded in bringing attention to the kind of products coming out of these factories: for example many of the local residents were completely unaware that cluster bombs were produced in Colleferro.
Alberto, a volunteer with Emergency showed us the dossier he has put together on Simmel Difesa. If you look at the home page of the Simmel web site, you find a denial that they produce cluster munitions, stating that they have the capability to produce them but have not done so since 2000. The very fact that this is the one and only thing on their home page makes you wonder. Alberto had information on Simmel's presentations at international weapons expos and trade fairs, which included the cluster bombs. And in fact, as late as October 2004 Simmel still had their 2004 catalog on-line, which also included cluster bombs. Following actions by the local groups, Simmel took their catalog offline. But thanks to the Way Back Machine at Internet Archive, you can still find the catalog. (click on the link for Oct 15, 2004)
As a side note, the aluminum tubes the Bush administration claimed Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase for the Iraqi nuclear weapons program – but which the Iraqis said all along were instead for producing artillery rockets – match the tubes that Simmel produces for its rocket, the Medusa 81. In fact, you can see on www.fredsakademiet.dk/library/lies.pdf, (page 12) that the tubes match down to a fraction of a millimeter as well as the specific type of aluminum used.
The march got underway behind the lead banner which read Reconvert the Death Factories. There were about 150 participants,
ten percent of which were U.S. citizens!
We were carrying U.S. peace flags and signs that read "Cluster Bombs: The New Landmines", "Drop Today. Kill Tomorrow" and "AAA Unexploded bomblet seeks innocent child. Contact Simmel Difesa," all making reference to the high rate of unexploded submunitions that remain on the ground, killing and maiming long after the initial bombardments.
We stopped for a sit-in in front of the factory and a large red "bomb" was launched over the closed gates. The march continued back to the town square and we gave out flyers (150 in all!) to the people along the way who had stopped to watch.
Back at the town square, the debates began with Alberto of Emergency who presented more of his dossier on Simmel and the local arms industry, which also included detailed information on bank transfers tracing the sales of weapons.
As a representative of our group, I was invited to speak and talked about the militarization of the U.S., with the provision in the No Child Left Behind legislation which forces
public high schools to give the Pentagon personal data on all students to be used for recruitment, militarization of research at the university level, with 50% of funds coming from the Department of Defense, 70% in faculties such as engineering and computer science. I also talked about the events taking place in the U.S. as part of the Declaration of Peace. This got a round of applause from the crowd.
Massimo, a nurse and also a volunteer for Emergency gave a presentation on the organization's work, including their hospitals in Afghanistan where 75% of the population has been injured by mines.
He announced that Emergency had recently recruited volunteers and formed a sister organization in the U.S. (See www.emergencyusa.org)
He also talked about Italy's history as a leading producer of landmines, including the notorious Valmara, designed to pop up to about waist height before exploding. We commented on the mindset of the engineers who designed this "feature."
The rest of the evening, which went on until midnight, included locally produced wines and breads and more discussion of the issues with the locals. The organizers commented on our U.S. peace flags and asked where they could get one, so we gave them one to keep for use in future events.
This was a local event, but by no means a "not in my backyard" type protest. And for us it was a chance to build community with Italian activists outside of Rome and get to know the local reality, as well as a chance for local residents to get to know the "other" America.
The following message was sent by Gene Rizzo to our list calling on members to participate in the demonstration.
Why Go to Colleferro?
I choose to demonstrate tomorrow because cluster bombs are about the most awful, the most inhuman things yet devised. If possible, they are even worse than landmines, which at least are map-charted and in theory defusable at a later date (at what cost!).
I feel anything that can be done to throw a monkey-wrench into the production of cluster bombs, or at least to call attention to the deep shame of their production - to raise people's consciousness concerning these malefic weapons - is time well spent.
Let's get the word out!
Read the accompaning article that appeared in Haaretz.
And that's what the ISRAELIS are saying about them ... just imagine being on the receiving end!
The United States is the largest producer of these unspeakable devices, and the largest supplier. WE and we alone gave Israel thousands upon thousands of cluster bombs, and sure enough they were employed - practically all in the final days of the attack on Lebanon, when it was already known there was to be an imminent halt to hostilities!
Could anything be more cynical and inhuman?
Moreover, by their very nature, cluster bombs primarily affect civilians - often years after they've been seminated. Just take a moment (and a deep breath) to think about the implications of that.
All of this is WHOLLY UNACCEPTABLE, and I want to play my part - however small - in having this awful scourge unequivocably banned from the face of the earth.
Come to Colleferro!
Eugene Raymond Rizzo - USC4P&J