REPORT-back from the border encuentro

Friends and supporters,

At the heart of this year’s School of the Americas Watch Border Encuentro in Nogales, Arizona/Sonora from November 16-18 was increasing awareness of the militarization and expansion of the US-Mexico border throughout Latin America and inside the United States, as well as the criminalization of immigrants, asylum seekers, refugees and people of color. Now in our third year, the Border Encuentro was a space to call for active solidarity at a time when all eyes are on the borderlands, and during a moment in which we see the unquestionable connections between the historic legacy of violence of the US in Latin America, the violent state responses to mass migration, and the criminalization of our communities resisting in the US. This year, the Border Encuentro was a space to come together and reinforce solidarity at a critical moment when xenophobia, racism and imprisoning humans for profit are at an all-time high.

Beginning on Friday, November 16, hundreds of migrants, refugees, torture survivors, students, members of religious communities, veterans, and human rights activists throughout the region gathered outside of Tucson-based Milkor USA calling to “Shut it Down!” Milkor is the manufacturer of M32A1 grenade launchers used by the Mexican military special forces. This US company is directly responsible for the sale of arms and machinery that murder and disappear people, and further militarize our communities. Immediately following this action, we continued our caravan to Eloy Detention Center for a vigil led by Phoenix-based immigrant and human rights organization Puente Arizona to call for the release of the incarcerated migrants, for an end to profiteering of human suffering, and for the abolishment of ICE. Speakers addressed the connection between US militarization in Latin America and forced migration to the United States, and through personal testimony described the horrors of living and surviving inside for-profit detention centers.

During the vigil at Eloy, we heard moving testimony from Alejandra Pablos, an immigrant rights and reproductive justice activist and two-time detainee at Eloy Detention Center. She, alongside other immigrant rights activists throughout the US, is being targeted for her activism and for boldly denouncing systems of injustice and in defense of her community. Alejandra has been added to a growing list of names of immigrant and human rights defenders in the US who are being targeted by ICE for deportation. Earlier this week, she, alongside other social justice activists in the US testified in a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC about the pattern of criminalization of human rights defenders in the US. The vigil at Eloy was powerful because it created a space for us to listen to those most directly impacted by the systems that criminalize and dehumanize our brothers and sisters, and to not lose sight of the connections between the policies of displacement in countries of origin and the policies of criminalization, detention and deportation in the US.

Check out this video that captures the spirit of the Encuentro:

On Saturday, November 17, veterans took to the streets to march to the militarized US/Mexico border wall alongside other social justice activists as a show of solidarity with migrants who have embarked on long and perilous journeys and to denounce US intervention in Latin America. Soon after, hundreds of activists from across the Americas converged at the US/Mexico border wall in ambos Nogales to build a collective analysis around the political moment. Speakers from across borders – the Tohono O’odham community, the Maya Mam community, veterans, human rights defenders and survivors from Mexico and Guatemala, families searching for their disappeared, and activists fighting to demilitarize the borderlands – all came together to speak truth to power. Throughout the afternoon we engaged in workshops and panels that all spoke to this year’s theme and political demands as a way to re-imagine grassroots responses to state violence in the US, Latin America and other parts of the world. Saturday was a day to recognize that borders have not succeeded in separating our connected struggles, and we built and deepened our transnational networks of solidarity and resistance. And because joy is one of the most powerful tools of resistance to oppression, artists held the space at the border wall to resist through music, spoken word, celebration and dance, as no border can ever contain the human spirit or our right to dream.

On Sunday, November 18, as has been our long-held tradition within SOA Watch, we commemorated those whose lives were taken as a result of state violence over several decades, whether in Latin America, or through policies of forced displacement and death across borders. We witnessed the powerful and raw testimony of Taide Elena, grandmother of sixteen-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, who was murdered by Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz on October 10, 2012 in Nogales, Sonora. Just this week, the US Department of Justice decided to abandon the prosecution of Swartz on charges of voluntary manslaughter. To date, there has not been a fair trial and the US Border Patrol continues to commit violent crimes with complete impunity. It is clear that the justice system lacks the political will to adequately prosecute state agents for these crimes. We will continue to demand justice for Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez alongside his family who has valiantly led this struggle for the past six years.

On Sunday, we stood together, divided by a dehumanizing border wall, but united in our resolve to dismantle border imperialism and the structures that maintain it. Together, we called out the names of those whose lives have been taken from us, singing Presente!, to affirm that they are with us, that they are not forgotten, and we will continue to resist US state violence in their name. Nonviolent direct action is a meaningful tradition in the SOA Watch movement. The construction of a new restricted pedestrian area along the US border wall presented an opportunity for us to “cross a new line” with our civil disobedience. As the souls and names of the 123 people found dead in the Arizona desert this year were memorialized from the stage, fifteen people risked arrest and crossed into this area to stage a die-in. As each person laid on the ground holding a cross with the numbers of people found dead crossing the desert each year over the past decade, and as others planted marigolds, the space was transformed into what the wall and the border really represent – a mass grave. While no one was arrested this year, this action renewed our movement’s commitment to crossing the line to expose the truth of our government’s policies.

Check out photos by Steve Pavey, Hope in Focus, that capture the spirit of the Encuentro: 

Simultaneous actions across the region demonstrated support not only for the Border Encuentro, that we are most grateful for, but also highlighted the importance of articulating struggles across networks, movements, and borders. In this sense, the weekend of the Border Encuentro was, for our friends in the struggle in Chile, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina and Costa Rica, a space to feel and be a part of the continued struggle of SOA Watch to close the School of the Americas and put an end to the systems of oppression that affect us all. Our gathering reinforced solidarity and the realization that we must fight to change the racist system of violence and domination.

The Encuentro was a space to simultaneously uplift the struggles of migrants and immigrants, while also holding a space for historical memory, connecting these stories of displacement, disappearances, torture and death, to place them all in the history of US-led violence and intervention throughout the region. As the migrant exodus continues to rightfully seek a life of dignity without persecution, we are reminded of the role the US has in creating conditions of violence, impunity and displacement. The litany reading on Sunday was an offering to our movement to remember the atrocities being committed against our humanity across borders. It was also a reminder that we refuse to be silenced and that communities everywhere are fighting back. You can read the litany here as a gentle reminder to continue to resist. 

Please support our work in 2019 and beyond!

As 2018 comes to a close, we continue to do the follow-up work necessary to build a stronger analysis of the political and social moment we are living in. We have compiled a survey in which we invite you to offer your insight so that we may continue to expand our work rooted in solidarity. With your support, we will continue to challenge ourselves to take on new perspectives and to continue connecting and growing alongside social movements across borders to adequately respond to the need for justice for present and future generations. Also, we need your financial support to continue to push the international and US community to demand an end to impunity and US-led violence in Latin America. Your dedication and generosity are what keeps the movement going and growing! 

In solidarity, with gratitude and respect,
SOA Watch 


encuentro weekend schedule of events

(all events, except for the Milkor USA action & vigil at Eloy Detention Center will be in Nogales, Arizona/Sonora)
  • Thursday, November 15

  • Friday, November 16

    • 7:00am [AZ]: Encuentro registration - Hotel Americana, 639 N Grand Ave. Nogales, Arizona
    • 8:00am [AZ]: Art build & Nonviolent Direct Action Training - Hotel Americana
    • 8:00am [SON]: Art Build - Escuela Primaria Abelardo L Rodriguez, Fenochio 23, Fundo Legal, Nogales, Sonora
    • 1:00pm [AZ]: Caravan from Nogales, Arizona to Milkor USA rally & vigil at Eloy Detention Center - Hotel Americana
    • 2:30pm [AZ]: Rally at Milkor USA - 3735 Romero Rd., Tucson, Arizona
    • 5:30pm [AZ]: Vigil at Eloy Detention Center - 1705 E. Hanna Rd., Eloy, Arizona
  • Saturday, November 17

    • 7:00am [AZ]: Encuentro registration and Tabling - Hotel Americana
    • 7:00am [SON]: Tabling - Escuela Primaria Abelardo L Rodriguez
    • 7:30am [AZ]: Veterans For Peace-led march to US/Mexico Border Wall - Hotel Americana
    • 8:30am [BORDER]: Encuentro Welcome Forum
      • [AZ]: International St. & N. Dunbar Dr. in Nogales, Arizona
      • [SON]: Calle Internacional & Calle Ninos Heroes in Nogales, Sonora
    • 12:00pm [AZ]: Workshops & Panels - Hotel Americana
    • 12:00pm [SON]: Workshops & Panels - Escuela Primaria Abelardo L Rodriguez
    • 7:30pm [BORDER]: Evening Concert
      • [AZ]: International St. & N. Dunbar Dr. in Nogales, Arizona
      • [SON]: Calle Internacional & Calle Ninos Heroes in Nogales, Sonora
    • 10:30pm [BORDER]: Overnight Vigil in Solidarity with the Refugee Caravan
      • [AZ]: International St. & N. Dunbar Dr. in Nogales, Arizona
      • [SON]: Calle Internacional & Calle Ninos Heroes in Nogales, Sonora
  • Sunday, November 18

    • 8:00am Blessing
    • 9:00am Speakers & Musicians
    • 10:40am No Mas, No More Litany
    • 11:00am Presentes
    • 12:00pm Puppetistas! followed by Funeral Procession
    • 4:00pm Encuentro Closing
*All events on Sunday will be at the US/Mexico Border Wall in Ambos Nogales
  • [AZ]: International St. & N. Dunbar Dr. in Nogales, Arizona
  • [SON]: Calle Internacional & Calle Ninos Heroes in Nogales, Sonora

Packing List

  • Form of identification (US Passport, Driver's License, LPR Card, Work Permit, etc)
  • Comfortable walking shoes and comfortable clothing - Check the weather forecast and pack accordingly
  • Sun protection
  • Water bottle - Remember you are coming to the Sonora Desert. Stay hydrated. Water is life.
  • For any and all legal questions, please contact the Legal Collective at southernarizona@nlg.org
  • For any other questions, please contact SOA Watch at 202-234-3440