Friday, November 26, 2010

Taking It to The Streets: School of the Americas Watch

For many years I have heard about the School of the Americas (SOA)which is located at Fort Benning in Columbus, GA. As a justice loving resident of Georgia whose tax dollars support The School of the Americas, AKA, the School of the Assassins, I chose to let it be known that the use of my tax dollars to destabilize governments and kill in my country's name is not acceptable to me. I have some ties to Ft. Benning because my father was stationed there many many years ago (around 1947)when he met my mother. However, that romantic link has not blinded me to the fact that some very unsavory and unethical actions take place behind the sequestered grounds of Ft. Benning. This year I put my faith into action and I accompanied approximately 15 individuals from Chicago through the orientation and auspices of the Chicago Religious Leaders Network (CRLN) to add our voices to the thousands of individuals that have gathered annually since 1990 (the week-end before Thanksgiving) to protest the existence of SOA and demand its closure. Changing its name to Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) has not changed its mission. The military personnel trained from Latin America return to their respective countries as trained assassins and our Latin American sisters and brothers lives are negatively impacted by their death and destruction wreaked by military personnel.

My neighbor, Virgilio Vincente, a refugee from Guatemala many years ago fled hos country seeking asylum after 43 members of his family were massacred in his village. This was the time during sanctuary and University Church offered him sanctuary.

In Honor of the Victims - No Mas! No More!
Below you will find the text read by the leaders. It was followed by fifteen statements about countries and the executions and murders that have taken place. I will cite Guatemala and dedicate it to Virgilio:

"Today we are privileged to stand in the traditions of Gandhi, Aung San Sui Kyi, Dorothy Day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and all those who have gone before us in the way of justice. We can name only some victims here, but they call to memory the other hundreds of thousands who has suffered and died. May our witness honor them all.
In Guatemala, the SOA played a key role in the three brutal military dictatorships that ruled from 1978 to 1986. SOA graduates comprised four of eight military officials in the cabinet of Lucas Garcia, six out of nine under Rios Montt, and five out of ten under Mejia Victores. Three top leaders and many officials of the fearsome Guatemalan intelligence agency D-2 (AKA G-2) were SOA graduates. The brutal SOA counterinsurgency strategies that were implemented in Guatemala left over 200,000 people dead and no SOA official has ever been held accountable. We Cry (participants shout Presente!)

If you are not outraged then you are not paying attention.

As part of the SOA vigil participants had prepared crosses with victims names, date of their death and country. We then marched holding these crosses and as the hundreds and thousands of victims names were read we shouted, "Presente." When we reached the fence in front of Ft. Benning we placed the crosses in the chain link fence. The wall of white crosses covered the fence almost completely the length of the fence which stretched perhaps perhaps fifty yards.

Read about some of these atrocities and weep if you must for some are heartbreaking. Then get angry enough to do something. Two hundred and eighty-nine prisoners of
conscience have committed acts of civil disobedience to register their outrage.

We were invited to reflect on two key questions posed by one of the many speakers over the course of the three days (November 14-21), Who is profiting from the violence and mayhem? and what and who can make a difference?.

One speaker contends that the SOA Watch is the "longest sustained action since the Vietnam War." Whether that is fact,fiction or partial truth, what cannot be contested is since Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois began the SOA vigil in 1990 it has become a focal point for activists addressing human rights violations in Latin America.

Some of the assassinations of coup resistance leaders in Honduras since President Pepe Lobo took office in September, 2010 include the following:

Oscar Yovani Ramirez, age 17 killed on June 20, 2010. Ramirez belonged to the Aurora MUCA land reform community. He was tortured and then murdered by police and security guards of wealthy businessman Miguel Fcusse. The tortured, dead body was personally presented to CRLN by a leader of the six MUCA land reform communities. That same day, five others from the community were taken captive by the police, and at least some of them tortured before being released some time later after the Aguan communities assembled at the police station.

David Enrique Meza Montesinan, age 51, a journalist was killed on March 11, 2010 after being shot dead in his car by unidentified men who followed him in another vehicle. Fatally wounded, Meza, crashed into a fence a few yards from his home in La Ceiba. He served as a advocate for the poor and reported on El Patio radio staion for more than 30 years.

Two nurses, Vanesa Yaneth Zepeda Alonzo, age 29 and Juana Bustillo, age 49 were killed. Bustillo, killed on September 17, 2010 was a nurse for 20 years and president of the social security workers union SITRAIHSS (Workers Ujion for the Honduran Social Security Institute)for 11 years. She was shot by unknown assailants after leaving a union meeting in the city of San Pedro Sula and shortly following her participation in a demonstration organized by the resistance movement. Alonzo, a mother with young children, was killed on February 4, 2010 after she had been abducted that afternoon while leaving a union meeting.

"The U.S. government has trained over 10,000 of Colombia's military troops at the SOA in Ft. Benning, GA. And SOA training manuals which the Pentagon was forced to turn over in 1996 show that the U.S. encouraged these troops to engage in torture and murder of those who, inter alia, do "union organizing and recruiting", pass out "propangand a in favor of the interests of the workers," and sympathize with demonstrators or strikes."

"As a consequence of the official vilification of trade unionists by the Colombian and U.S. governments as well as corporations in Colombia, Colombia has led the world in the number of murders of trade unionist." (source SINALTRAINAL, et al v. The Coca-Cola Co.")

Healing and Transformation
Our art, music and dance are medicine for healing. There was wonderful music throughout the weekend. Some serious and some humorous. Here is one example of the lyrics: "Are you ready for a better way to be? There's an answer swinging in our family tree. If baboons can work it out so can we! Everybody lives more fully when there is not bully. Are you ready for a better way to be?"

One of the songs we learning in a plenary included hand gestures. You can guess the gestures when you hear the words, "Peace before us; peace behind us; peace under our feet; peace within us and peace all around us."

One speaker reminded us that Mother Earth loves it when we act lovingly towards each other and that Mother Earth benefits. Another informed us that there are now 12, 692 soldiers in Haiti and that just three protesters had been killed in the Northern part of Haiti. It occurred to me that I did not know what countries had "peace keeping troops" in Haiti. Do you?

A huge sign on the stage read in big letters, "Welcome Peace Makers. Close the School of Assassins"

I close with the Community Blessing that we recited in unison at the SOA:
"May love and mercy go with you as you speak in solidarity with those who have been silenced by death and repression. Through your witness, may their voices be heard here at the School of Americas in the White House, in the halls of Congress and in the hearts of people across the Americas so that the School of the Americas will be closed forever."

Rev. Qiyamah