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Home About Us Prisoners of Conscience Court Statements STATEMENT TO FEDERAL COURT, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA, ON JANUARY 28, 2004 [reconstructed]
Starting in 1986, I have made more than ten trips to Latin America?mostly in the context of faith-based delegations sponsored by organizations like Witness for Peace. A major emphasis of these trips was to learn about the effect of U.S. policy in the country visited. I also lived for over a year in Guatemala. There, and in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and?most recently?Colombia, I have heard of the devastating effect of U.S. foreign policy, and of the horrendous violations of human rights perpetrated by?and/or under orders from?graduates of the School of the Americas (SOA, now known as WHISC or WHINSEC).

Twice, I have participated in Witness for Peace delegations to Colombia, in the summers of 2001 and 2003. On the first trip, in 2001, we went to the southern province of Putumayo, where we saw the devastating effects of the fumigations sponsored by the United States through Plan Colombia. We saw the food crops adjacent to a family?s home destroyed by the fumigations, while the coca plants nearby were growing hap-pily. We learned that no more than 50% of the fumigated area was planted with coca; the rest was homes, schools, food crops, water supplies and the like. Local people did not believe the purpose of the fumiga-tions was to eliminate drug crops; rather, they saw them as part of a broader effort to protect U.S. economic interest in the plentiful local oil. Mothers brought their new-born babies to us to show how their little bodies were covered with lesions from the deadly fumigations. But no one dared talk about the recent massacre by paramilitaries of eighteen villagers. Their mutilated bodies had been thrown into the river, and the river ran red.

This past June, our Witness for Peace delegation traveled to the southwestern province of Cauca, a rela-tively peaceful part of the country. There we heard the weeping of women whose husbands and other loved ones had recently been ?disappeared?. Some 70 individuals in this small province had been disap-peared in the opening months of 2003 alone. Every single disappearance sends ripples of fear throughout the disappeared person?s community and well beyond it.

The success of the low intensity warfare we are waging in Colombia depends in large part on this imposi-tion of fear. It also depends greatly on the acknowledged link between the military?whom the U.S. sup-ports with training and funds?and the paramilitary?which the U.S. has officially condemned as a terrorist organization.

Everywhere our delegation went, this past summer, as we heard the names of military personnel associ-ated with human rights atrocities, we were told that the perpetrators had been trained at the SOA.

Some of the groups with whom our delegation met?upon hearing that I had been arrested during the vigil and witness on November 23rd?put themselves at great personal risk of these same atrocities by writing a letter to you, Judge Faircloth, on my and their own behalf. (I belong to a local group at home in Howard County that is developing a sister relationship with one of these groups.) I told them that I had been ar-rested at the demonstration against the SOA. They responded that they had heard about it. They were excited to learn that one of those arrested was someone they knew, and?on their own initiative?wrote this letter to you:

January 15, 2004

Esteemed Judge:

We are social organizations of southwest Colombia. We are small farmers, men and women. Historically we have lived under conditions of poverty and exclusion. We are those who work daily to make social justice possible in our native Colombia, represented in equal opportunities and conditions for all.

With our hard work of organizing, supporting and training the less favored communities, we are trying to make life with dignity possible for us and for our sons and daughters. Achieving our dignity means?for a small privileged part of the Colombian population?recognizing that their great accumulation of wealth ought to be distributed in a just and equitable manner. It also means that our extensive national resources go toward achieving the wellbeing of our people and not to guarantee the opulence and abundance of a few people here, and the inhabitants of other countries. In this historic struggle we have been repressed, killed, disappeared, imprisoned, tortured, massacred, forcibly displaced, persecuted and designated terror-ists by government organisms of our country. The repressive practices that are applied here against the defenseless population are acquired through military training in the School of the Americas, by thousands of Colombian military personnel who attend there. We fully share the struggle of the North American people for closing this school, given that it generates terror and death not only in Colombia but in all of Latin America. Under such fear and sorrow it is impossible to fulfill the dream of constructing really democratic societies. Our obligation as people of Colombia and the obligation of the people of the United States is to walk in solidarity and brotherhood in search of the dignity of our peo-ples.

If there is a desire to support peace, democracy and dignity for the world, the School of Death should be closed once and for all.

[Signed by:]

Corporation of Women of Cauca ?We are Women?
Committee for the Integration of the Macizo Colombiano CIMA
Campesino Movement of Cajib?o
Association of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared ASFADDES

As a friend of these people and as a follower of Jesus, I feel a deep obligation to call the United States government to repentance for this School and for all its other methods of supporting the comfort of a few at the expense of the many poor?with total disregard for their lives and their rights as fellow human beings.

The people of Colombia who wrote this letter, and others throughout Latin America, have begged us as U.S. citizens to close the SOA, now known as WHISC or WHINSEC. I tried legislative advocacy, without success. I cried during the solemn procession on November 23, as the names of so many martyred Latin Americans were read aloud, not just names of bishops and priests and church workers, but also of some of the hundreds of thousands of lesser-known people equally loved by God. I had to do something more. Putting my own comforts on the line is the least I could do, and it is the way I have felt called to work toward this end.

Will my risking up to six months in prison change things? I do not know. I can only say, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah,

You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped;
You were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
I say to myself, I will not mention God, I will speak in God?s name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it (Jeremiah 20:7a, 9-10, NAB).

Like Jeremiah, I could not endure not speaking out. More. After much prayerful discernment I felt I must do whatever I could to close the SOA, now known as WHISC or WHINSEC. I could not do otherwise.

# # # #

Betsy (?Frances Elizabeth?) Lamb, 65, lives in Columbia, Maryland, and is a member of the national Board of Directors of Witness for Peace. She has done pastoral work in Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Mon-terey and the Archdioceses of San Francisco and Baltimore, and is nationally known for her workshops and materials for and about small church communities in English and Spanish. Presently she is coordinating educational programs for the Office of Hispanic Ministry of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and is involved with Jonah House in Baltimore. She holds a Master?s degree in theology?with an emphasis on religion and society?from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. Twice previously she has been cited for crossing the line at Fort Benning. On Wednesday, January 28, 2004, she was found guilty of mis-demeanor trespass charges and sentenced to six months in federal prison and a $500.00 fine.

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