The news about moving the G8 meeting to the earthquake region of Abruzzo puts National Security Agency under pressure.
The latest announcement of Berlusconi, to locate this years G8 meeting, under the responsibility of the Italian presidency, in the earthquake region of Abruzzo instead of hosting it on the Sardinian island of La Maddalena (1) puts great pressure on the National Security Agency. After 8 months of preparation work for La Maddalena (2) Berlusconi ditched it. The decision has the support of the Italian cabinet. To argue his case Berlusconi said (3) that with the relocation huge costs would be saved and demonstrators would be held away: “I don’t believe that anti-globalisation demonstrators will have the nerve to organize violent demonstrations in this region so hard hit by the earthquakes”.
The new meeting place will be in the customs and tax police “Fiamme Gialle” (Yellow flame) academy “Maresciallo Vincenzo Giudice” in Coppito at the west side of L’Aquila. Coppito is the biggest police academy of Italy.
At a 48 hectare area with 1500 video camera guarded parking places and with modern accommodations and buildings (4) . This facility has a lecture hall for 1500 people, a cantine for 3500 people and a conference hall for 450 people. There are 2.300 sleeping spaces in rooms of 4 beds, 300 single bedrooms and single apartments on top of that. All types of helicopters can land on the facility. As can fighter jets with short runway take off and landing capacity. A high ranking person, Colonel Paolo Carretta is quoted to say that the US army is impressed by the complex: ”When the marines came here to be educated by the mountain infantry for the war in Afghanistan they told us: ‘if we only had a barracks like this one!’”.
The Coppito complex is regarded to be the only remaining accessible construction after the earthquake. The 50.000 square meter concrete-steel-construction is completely intact after the quake. The central element of the fort is an extended mirror image of the building, build underneath it. In bunkers, accessible by cars, the state keeps its reserves of money. The facility that also holds “combat support reserves” is a main operation centre in case of an attack on Rome, including cyber attacks.
At this stage Guido Bertolaso, chef of civil defence, is located in the barrack along side hundreds of his co-workers, including volunteers as well as 1.300 members of the finance-police. Because of the collapse of a large number of buildings, in which officials were stationed here resides also Prefect Franco Gabrielli and all officials that don’t have offices any more in L’Aquila. An information office has set up camp to document minister and state secretary journeys. “By July the seismic activity should have reduced” said Franco Barberi professor for geo-chemistry and vulcanology at Romes university Tre.
For the G8 meeting that takes place in July in L’Aquila 3.000 delegates, 3.000 accredited journalists and 16.000 police staff are expected. Chief of civil defence, Bertolaso, is convinced that the capacity of the casern in Coppito will be enough.
Nevertheless thought is being given in Italy to accommodating delegates in Rome, amongst other places in the embassy quarter: “We have begun to concern ourselves with that” said a high ranking executive from the department of public safety (5). The representatives of the G8 would travel the 100 km from Rome to L’Aquila in 20 minutes with a helicopter. However delegates as well as accompanying vehicles, security forces and interpretors will have to travel by road. The roads in question are the A24 and A25, which connect L’Aquila with Rome and Pescara (6).
The cruising liner “MSC Fantasia” which fits 4.000 passengers, equipped with 99 luxury suites, which was supposed to be moored at La Maddalena, will possibly be stationed at the regional capital Pescara, 70 km. away from L’Aquila. The shipping company gives no information out about that.
Re-location of G8 meeting should restore its popularity
On the 23. of April The newspaper Repubblica reported (7), that the decision to relocate the G8 meeting was taken by Berlusconi, government leader Gianni Letta and chief of civil defence Guido Bertolaso when they met on La Maddalena, already one week before it was made public. Although it is uncertain on who’s initiative this decision was made. At this point the minister of internal affairs, chief of police, the president of the Abbruzzo region, the president of the province, the mayor, the leader of the local government and the commandant of “yellow flame” got informed (8). The Sardinian counterparts were however not informed.
The minister of internal affairs, Maroni, stated that security could be guaranteed. Nine days before the visit to La Maddalena, Berlusconi put the decision for debate in the cabinet, where it was surprisingly well received, despite comments from foreign minister Frattini, just a week before, that re-locating the meeting was simply impossible. Alteo Matteoli, minister of infrastructure in Berlusconis fourth cabinet vetoed any surprise decision and said: “Re-locating the G8 meeting is not plausible”. Shortly later he was forced to admit through gritted teeth that this had been a political statement.
The ministers of defence and internal affairs immediately began to inspect the region and the re-location of the G8 office also began immediately. The fact that the city centre of L’Aquila has been blocked since the earthquake has proved useful for security planing because the barracks are only accessible from one side.
Sardinian politicians have criticised the governments decision. Rome has assured them that after the 500 million Euro re-construction of La Maddalena, the region will possess a centre for summits and conferences in the Mediterranean which will be unequalled. In an interview with La Repubblica (9), chief of civil defence Bertolaso said that the greatest projects in the area of rejuvenation and tourist improvement will take place on Sardinia.
Through local demonstrations against the meeting in La Maddalena and its relocation in the earthquake ridden area in the middle of Italy, Italy seems to intend to provide the G8 with renewed popularity. In recent years massive protests were regular at the meetings, repeatedly marked by large and wide participation. In 2001 the demonstrators defended themselves against massive police attacks in a registered demonstration in Genoa. A short while later the 21 year old Carlo Giuliani was shot by a member of the Carabinieri forces. The opposition of the critical movement against globalisation led to far-reaching compartmentalisation and exclusion from large spaces, not specified as protest zones.
The 2009 meeting is supposed to keep an official image, internally and externally, of being “more simple and serious”. First and foremost they want to reduce the number of delegates. In spite of announced (10) moderation, the conference facilities in Coppito will not suffice for all the delegations’ meetings. Whether the extensive 1000 strong US delegation will be reduced or not is still uncertain. “220 millions will be saved, which had already been intended for La Maddalena” Berlusconi announced, to explain the relocation to L’Aquila. All in all the undertaking of the G8 meeting in La Maddalena was supposed to cost some 400 million Euro. It is unclear what will happen with the 180 millions left: will they be used to conclude measures already started in Sardinia, or will they in fact serve the victims of the catastrophe as Berlusconi’s government promised?
“In La Maddalena the security costs proposed were 118 millions, where two ships would have had to be rented to host the 3000 accredited journalists. With the relocation to L’Aquila these numbers will be reduced to an amount which will hardly count. The costs which will fall on us, item by item, are for interpreters, promotion, and the light adjustment constructions of Guidice-casern in Coppito. A contract which could lie between 10 and 30 million Euro”. – Bertolaso, Chief of Civil Defence (11).
Approval from participating governments
The relocation of the meeting surprised many. The location of La Maddalena was imposed by Berlusconi’s predecessor, Prodi. After the April 2008 election Berlusconi, well known for his use of symbolic power behind the scenes, tried to move the meeting into a more attractive place. Naples and Milan were mentioned, as well as Berlusconi’s own surroundings of the Costa Smeralda. All proposals were dismissed by the chief of Civil Defence Bertolaso, on security grounds.
In preparation of a security architecture for a major event, in this case the G8 meeting, involves the norms of those countries participating. Regulations from the US delegation are taken especially seriously, in this respect. At the time when La Maddalena was inspected, in order to decide if the relocation of the meeting should be risked, the question of the US president’s security at the originally intended meeting place, was still open. It had been demonstrated that the ship which was intended to bring together the representatives and the delegates, could not land at La Maddalena due to insufficient depth of waters. Also, facilities for accommodation of the accredited press were not easily available.
American and the UK are supposed to have agreed (12). Lynn Eccles, Downing Street’s speaker, agreed with support: “The decision to relocate the meeting is paid for by the Italian Government. The UK will support Italy in any way needed.” The EU’s foreign commissar, Ferrero-Waldner, saluted the decision as “solidarity with the people hit by the earthquake”; supposedly Japan have also given a green light. The German government also had no choice but the accept Berlusconi’s coup (13): “We trust that our Italian partner will take the logistic measures necessary for a successful meeting” (14). The German delegations should stay in the Hotel of Campo Imperatore by the Gran Sasso, where Mussolini was under custody for a few weeks in 1943 before he was freed by German combatants.
Militarised Catastrophe Arrangements in Abruzzo
The extraordinary minister cabinet called together on the occasion of the emergency appointed Franco Gabrielli as prefect of L’Aquila (15). Gabrielli started his career at the political police “Digos” in Imperia and later switched place to the central in Rome. At the end of 2002, the Police coordinated an action against the successor organisation of the Red Brigades, under Gabrielli’s administration, after which the two arrested for the death of Massimo D’Antona and Marco Biagi, were held responsible. After the operation he was made chief of the internationally operating secret services “Servizio Centrale Antiterrorismo”. For a few years he co-wrote a handbook with the current chief of Police, Antonio Manganelli, about investigation procedures.
However the situation in many towns of the earthquake region is highly critical. State support initiatives came late and did not function properly. On the other hand representatives of the government have declared that the measures provided were highly efficient. A handful of towns, which were portrayed as ideal renovation projects, are frequently visited by the media. This very strong and media-supported care given to the image of efficiency and capabilities is supposed to be related to Italy’s polished image, internationally. The country is among those states considered in danger of bankruptcy in the current crisis. Those voices are also growing in number which see, in Italy’s development, signs of the destruction of democracy. This seems to be thus interpreted in government circles: In the last weeks the Italian government urged numerous foreign newspapers (16), among those French and German, to cease labelling Berlusconi’s politics as “post-fascist”.
J. de St. Leu, Matthias Monroy