¡No Mas! No More! We must stop the Dirty Wars! Print
Written by <b>Elizabeth "Betita" Martinez, <i>Z Magazine</b></i>   
Saturday, 01 January 2005 00:00
Note: Z Magazine carried a follow-up article, also by Elizabeth Martinez, to this one in their February issue. Click here to read "Combatting Oppression Inside and Outside".

As 16,000 people listened, the names of 767 Salvadorans massacred at a single village rang out, one after the other, on a sunny afternoon last November in Columbus, Georgia. After each name we shouted PRESENTE! - a salute to the dead.

Cristina Guevara, 25 years old - Presente!
José Francisco Reyes Luna, age 5 - Presente!
Vicenta Marquez, 80, widow - Presente!
Elena Rodríguez, 16 - Presente!
José Romero, 6 months, son of Lucas Guevara and Rufina Romero - Presente!
Orbelina Marquez, age 45, seamstress - Presente!
Mirna Chicas, 10 - Presente!
Fabián Luna, 20, day laborer - Presente!
Domingo Claros, woodcutter, and 15 family members down to an 8-month old daughter - PRESENTE!

On and on went the list of Salvadorans murdered in and around El Mozote by a U.S.- trained battalion during Ronald Reagan's "war on communism." Of the victims, 45 percent were children under 12. And when those names finally ended, a group of Colombians arrived at the stage with a 3-page list of recent victims in their country. The atrocities born at Fort Benning's School of the Americas have never stopped.

It was impossible not to weep during the two-hour naming, especially though not only for a Latina. It was also impossible to watch the memorial procession marching by the stage at the same time, a human river stretching too far to be seen, and not feel the promise of an ever-growing movement.

The protest on November 19-21, 2004 at the entrance to the School of the Americas, now an annual event, affirms no minor cause nurtured by a scattered handful of peace-lovers. It speaks loud and clear to the mounting danger from an empire-driven militarism engulfing the planet. It evokes, unmistakeably, the torture of Iraqi prisoners in the current U.S. war. It speaks loud and clear of today's growing liberation forces in Latin America that the empire will surely move to crush even more intensely than in the past. It speaks to the racism historically rooted in so many U.S. wars on humanity here and abroad, a racism inseparable from imperialism.

Too many of us do not know the longrange reach and effects of the School of the Americas (aka School of Assassins) whose purpose is so simple: to guarantee Latin America's political, economic and social conditions never threaten U.S. hegemony. No price for that is too high, it seems.

The names read on Nov. 21 did not include the 2 million Colombians killed or displaced by civilian-targeted warfare under the direction of SOA graduates. Or the hundreds of thousands of indigenous people murdered, tortured and disappeared in Guatemala when SOA graduate Ríos Montt ruled the country. Or the 30,000 killed or disappeared in Argentina when SOA graduate Leopoldo Galtieri headed the military. Or the ten SOA alumni indicted with Pinochet in Chile. Or the murders in Bolivia, Honduras, Mexico and Haiti?

We may have heard of the 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter murdered in 1989, but without knowing that 19 of the 26 Salvadoran soldiers cited for it were SOA alumni. Or that two of the three cited for assassinating Archbishop Oscar Romero as he conducted mass and that three of the five soldiers cited for the killing of four U.S. churchwomen were also SOA graduates from El Salvador. Or that the slaughter continues today, no matter claims by SOA brass that the worst abuse has ended. No matter that this terrorist training camp was so gently renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) three years ago.

TRAINING 64,000 IN REPRESSION

Since it opened in 1946, the SOA has trained 64,000 Latin American dictators, death squad leaders and assassins in the repression of their own people. The curriculum ranges from sniper training to psychological warfare to interrogation techniques. After being kicked out of Panama in 1984, the SOA settled at Fort Benning. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used for torture, extortion and execution. Public outcry nearly led Congress to close the SOA.

Activist protest dates back to 1990, when 13 demonstrators did their first vigil at the SOA gates. A few later, they numbered 3,000. Ten years ago. an independent grassroots organization called the SOA Watch took on the campaign for abolition and has since drawn together thousands of people from all over the country.

SOAW has a national office in Washington D.C. to carry out fasts, non-violent direct action, media and legislative work. Its 7 paid staff members operate non-hierarchally, each a coordinator of specific work There is a council (instead of a board of directors) made up of regional representatives who collect feedback from SOAW groups in their region. 15 working groups composed of hard-working activists from all over the U.S. make events happen and build the movement. All that is possible only because of volunteers.

?CROSSING THE LINE?

Not long ago, in order to call public attention to the SOA, it was possible for thousands of participants simply to walk "across the line" at SOA's entrance and be arrested. But since 9/11, protesters have had to climb over two separate fences, each topped with barbed wire. This was the challenge again last Nov. 21 as hundreds of demonstrators watched, each holding a wooden cross bearing a Latin American victim?s name.

On the base, 15 people were arrested for crossing, including two minors (who may therefore not be prosecuted). 14 were released on bond and one, who is blind, had his charges dismissed. Three others were arrested in Columbus.

The hour of "crossing the line" was a memorable moment in a powerful weekend. From 9 a.m. to midnight on Saturday there were trainings, speakers, music, gatherings of different affinity groups, films, discussions at different buildings in Columbus. The same kind of rich program unfolded all day Sunday with a wondrous array of huge "puppetistas" leading the way. Throughout, the level of organization and punctuality was amazing.

One high point was the appearance of Carlos Mauricio, who had been tortured in El Salvador and won a lawsuit in a Florida court against the generals who had ordered it and been living in the U.S. for years. His victory was based on the same U.S. doctrine of "command responsibility" that can be invoked against those who ordered the U.S. torture in Iraq. Carlos' current campaign emphasizes halting the impunity often granted to those like his torturers.

For the SOAW action, Carlos obtained a Veterans for Peace bus and drove a group of demonstrators from San Francisco across the U.S., stopping in 10 cities. One rider, Aaron Schuman, reported the warm and educational welcome they received that included meeting with Sanctuary movement activists along the border at El Paso/Juarez; seeing ¡Alto a la impunidad!? (Stop the Impunity) graffiti on the dry riverbank; meeting with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Austin, Texas, and visiting organizing projects in New Orleans warehouses.

The SOAW has a huge network. Those 16,000 students, activists, veterans, union workers and others, of all ages, from all parts of this country, represent a vast array of church groups and many other local organizations. To ask someone "Where are you from," which I often did, the answer would be Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, as often as California or New York.

Surely they did not all agree politically beyond the need to speak out against the SOA and stand in solidarity with the peoples of Latin America. But there was an unmistakeable climate of community not always found in our movements. Differences about the meaning of "non-violent" have generated energetic debate. Some participants express a wish that the goals were more explicitly anti-capitalist. Such complaints and suggestions reflect growing pains as in all healthy movements.

As one participant, Chris Crass, coordinator of the Catalyst Project, a center for political education and movement building, commented, "The overall sense of community and the shared meaning of struggle was deeply powerful. It felt like an education on U.S. imperialism in Latin America joined to a spiritual base of struggle for human liberation."

ISSUES OF RACE AND GENDER

One huge absence has long diminished that sense of community: participants of color. It has been a serious absence in many anti-war, global justice organizing projects. Two years ago SOAW began concrete steps to address the problem by establishing an Anti-Oppression Working Group. The group has worked to bring anti-racist, anti-sexist and other anti-oppression politics into the SOAW so as to undermine such oppression internally while building a movement able to challenge the forces that make possible a school of assassins in all its oppressiveness. Much of this year's anti-SOA agenda was devoted to Working Group activities. (See sidebar to article, Combatting Oppression Inside and Outside.)

To be self-critical about internal, organizational weaknesses does not happen as often as it should in our movements. Along with itsl strengths in advancing a huge protest movement, SOAW organizers often manifest a striking modesty that might even be called humility. There are reasons for that, and the best-known one is Father Roy Bourgeois, founder or the SOAW.

As a Maryknoll priest in Bolivia, Father Bourgeois was expelled by the military dictatorship for his work among the poor. When two Maryknoll Sisters he knew were raped and killed by Salvadoran soldiers, he traveled there and again saw the suffering inflicted by a government the U.S. supported. He began openly protesting those policies and founded the SOAW.

Roy's first arrest for an anti-SOA action came when he sneaked onto Fort Benning grounds one night and climbed a tree by the barracks where SOA students slept. For them to hear, he played over a loudspeaker a tape of the last speech by Archbishop Oscar Romero before he was murdered in 1980 by an SOA graduate. That was the beginning of three years in prison for various anti-SOA actions.

The more SOAW grew organizationally, the less Roy Bourgeois felt needed to run the show. In a rare example of rejecting what can be called "founder syndrome," he has stepped so far into the background that at the 2004 protest his assignment was reportedly to guarantee the supply of toilet paper in the porta-potty by the stage. And yes, there was always enough.

With such a tradition of humanity and humility, SOAW can inspire us all. Latinos and Latinas, in particular. should think about SOAW's work. If its present whiteness seems a barrier, don't stop there. Its commitment to change is political, spiritual and very real. It can help save the future of OUR America and its people. History tells us that nothing has ever been stronger than los pueblos unidos jamás vencidos. ¡¡Adelante siempre!!
Last Updated on Friday, 07 June 2013 16:36