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News ::
Smoke and Mirrors in Antwerp Harbor (english)
16 Nov 2002
A translation into English of Gegevens, tegenstellingen en conclusies over US oorlogstransport in A’pen by Peter Mertens
Facts, rebuttals and conclusions regarding U.S. war-transport in Antwerp

Summary: Facts, rebuttals and conclusions regarding U.S. war-materials transport in Antwerp Harbor and regarding the role of the government parties Agalev [Flemish Green Party] and SP.A [Social Progressive Alternative Party]

Resolved: Offensive sting-action on Saturday, November 16 at 2 p.m. at the Groenplaats in Antwerp

The Facts

1. According to dockworkers at Vrasene Dock, 3,000 American military vehicles (jeeps and trucks) have been loaded onto ships at the Vrasene Dock. Since last weekend, ten American and four Netherlands military officers have been present there to supervise the activities.

2. Both the Harbor Captain Services and the Hazardous Materials Service at Antwerp Harbor have stated that the permission of the Core Cabinet is necessary for military transport. [In the Belgian government, the Cabinet consists of a Prime Minister, Vice-Prime Ministers and Ministers. The Core Cabinet (kernkabinet) consists of just the Prime Minister and the Vice-Prime Ministers.]

3. Agalev Chamber of Deputies member Peter van Houtte has stated: “Let it be clear that not one single authority has ordered this or given formal permission for it…. The authorities have had no say in this.” (Indymedia Belgium 11/14/02) [Translator’s note: I couldn’t just let this one go by. The first sentence strikes me as a classic example of Lawyer-speak: First he says, “Let it be clear.” Then he says, “Not one single authority has ordered this or given formal permission for it.” What about two or more single authorities, or two or more authorities acting together? Then he tosses out a folksy idiomatic expression à la G.W. Bush: “De overheid heeft daarrond niets in de pap te brokken.” A literal translation would be: “The authorities have nothing to crumble into the porridge around that,” which, in a Dutch-speaking person, awakens an image of having no bread to crumble into the porridge and creates a sense of having no say in the matter. But that’s not what Van Houtte !said!. Beware of politicians who speak in pictures.]

4. Baron Leo Delwaide (VLD [Flemish Liberals and Democrats Party]), the Harbor Master at Antwerp, stated in the Economy of Antwerp Council Commission: “The autonomous harbor operation does not take part in military activities.” (GVA [?] 11/14/02)

5. Agalev Chamber of Deputies member Peter van Houtte states further: “We have received no clarification from Defense regarding the final destination of the cargo, because no formal advance consent is necessary. However, it appears to be quite clear that this cargo forms part of the military buildup around Iraq.” (Indymedia Belgium 11/14/02) That means that Defense does not deny [the existence of] the military cargo, but they do not wish to give any information about its destination. So there are indeed military cargoes being loaded at Antwerp.

6. According to various dockworkers, there has been “increased” American military activity at Antwerp Harbor for some months now. And by that, they are not talking about the already increased American military activity following September 11, 200[1], which, among other things, consists of supervising all transport to the United States (including the use of very expensive container-scanners and an increase in the number of American customs officials). Instead, they are referring to increased military-transport activity at Churchill Dock, Delwaide Dock, the North Sea Terminal and Vrasene Dock. The dockworkers themselves compare the present situation with Operation Sandy Cocktail, the 1991 American war-transport through Antwerp Harbor to the [Persian] Gulf region. Operation Sandy Cocktail was the largest war-transport operation to take place in Antwerp since 1945.

7. According to the Ministry of Defense, nothing unusual is going on in Antwerp Harbor, and there has been “military transport [there] since 1945.” The Ministry denies that there is “increased” activity, just as they did at the time of Operation Sandy Cocktail. Peter van Houtte: “According to Defense [staff], these movements--in this case, the unloading and loading of ships with materiel--fall within the scope of ordinary agreements that apply to all NATO allies.”

The Rebuttals

It is clear as day that the rebuttals are accumulating. Everything cannot be true at the same time. That means that certain people have found it necessary to give a twist to the truth. Why? Is it because, as Harbor Master Leo Delwaide says, “nothing military” is going on anywhere in Antwerp Harbor? That appears highly unlikely to us, because that would mean that all the other sources (including the government) are lying. And then too, what would all the fuss be about? A list of the rebuttals:

1. According to Leo Delwaide, there is “nothing military” going on anywhere in the harbor (except the security measures regarding the ordinary transport to America following September 11).

2. According to the Ministry of Defense, there is no “increased military activity.” These two contentions contradict one another: either there is no military activity at all, or there is no “increased” military activity. According to all of the workers from at least four different docks who have spoken with us, there is indeed “increased military activity.” And it is highly exceptional that 22 American Apache helicopters have been placed behind a wall of shipping containers at Churchill Dock. And it is highly exceptional that ten American and four Netherlands military officers are permanently stationed at Vrasene Dock.

3. According to Leo Delwaide, “nothing military” is going on; according to Agalev Chamber of Deputies member Peter van Houtte, the Ministry of Defense has given “no clarification regarding the destination of the cargoes.” That means that there are indeed cargoes.

4. According to both the Harbor Captain Services and the Hazardous Materials Services of Antwerp Harbor, the Core Cabinet must have given their assent before military transport could take place. According to Peter van Houtte, “the authorities [have] no say in the matter.” According to the Ministry of Defense, everything is decided in accordance with the “ordinary NATO agreements.”

The Conclusions

On Indymedia today, SlowMo had this to say: “I think that Van Houtte is right: it’s probably unnecessary to get the consent of any authority at all because everything has already been arranged within NATO. That’s convenient for the so-called progressives in the Belgian government: they can oppose the war to suit public opinion while providing the necessary cooperation in the preparations for the coming war.” (Indymedia Belgium 11/14/02)

The problem lies in “I think that….” and “presumably”: it has to do then with an interpretation of the arguments. It is also just as easy to say that in the case of the weapons deliveries to Nepal. The government contended at first that everything was being arranged in accordance with international cooperation agreements. Eventually though, it became apparent that the consent of the Core Cabinet to the weapons deliveries had been necessary after all (as stated by the Harbor Captain Services and the Hazardous Materials Service).

1. The Core Cabinet, including Agalev and the SP.A, are indeed responsible for the American war transport in Antwerp Harbor. In the same way that the Core Cabinet approved the weapons transport to Nepal. Both parties [meaning Agalev and the SP.A] are thus (a) complicit in the war which, according to American generals, cannot be waged without the support of the European harbors; and (b) liars because they have signed a policy statement, in which is stated: “that Belgium will in no manner provide support--not even logistical--to the acts of war against Iraq and in the [surrounding] region.”

2. Belgium indeed becomes complicit in the war-transport, and consequently also in the war, under the authority of NATO and the Ministry of Defense. In that scenario, Agalev and the SP.A are (a) complicit in the war by participating in a government that commits itself to such NATO agreements. Also, let us not forget that the SP.A has itself groomed and furnished to NATO one of NATO’s recent Secretary-Generals, Willy Claes. And (b) complicit in the establishment of a NATO war-dictatorship in our country where, as Guido put it today on Indymedia, !nobody! has anything to say in the matter.

3. The fact remains that it is necessary to introduce discussion of the participation of Belgium in the war into the public debate. The fact remains that it is hypocritical to demonstrate against the war together with the political parties in government, parties that are at least complicit in the preparations for the war. Change the World, the Youth Movement of the PVDA (Labor Party of Belgium [Communist]) can get the ball rolling and compel the Harbor Master, the Ministry of Defense and the political parties in government to react [publicly] to what usually goes on “in secret.” The Youth Movement of the PVDA also brings to light all of the protestations and lies of those responsible. We can do that because, first of all, we have witnesses in the harbor itself among the dockworkers who talk to us. Because we are building a Communist youth movement that joins together young workers, young intellectuals and young migrants.


The Youth Movement of the PVDA continues to call out for an offensive sting-action at the Groeneplaats in Antwerp next Saturday, November 16 at 2 p.m. No to the hypocrisy of Agalev and the SP.A. No Belgian complicity in the war against Iraq. All American troops and material out of Antwerp Harbor. Invest in safe working conditions for the dockworkers and not in those of the warmongers. Belgium out of NATO, and NATO out of Belgium.

[See also Strategic importance of European ports in US military deployment against Iraq by Mischa van Herck at]
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