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Home News Organizing Updates 33 Young Leaders from 18 Countries Gather at SOA Watch Youth Encuentro in Venezuela!
33 Young Leaders from 18 Countries Gather at SOA Watch Youth Encuentro in Venezuela! PDF Print E-mail
Pain. Joy. Sorrow. Happiness. New friendships. Dynamism. Energy. All of these feelings and so many more permeated the SOAW Youth Encuentro in Venezuela this July, where I had the privilege of joining 33 amazing young leaders from 18 countries across the Americas. Each of these incredible young people are on the front lines of struggles for justice and self-determination in their communities, standing up against militarization and empire. Day-to-day they are defending their communities from being poisoned by multinational mining companies, calling for justice for their disappeared family members, prosecuting military officials responsible for human rights violations, demanding respect for Indigenous autonomy, organizing against deportations and deaths on the border, and constructing alternatives to corporate looting and militarization of our hemisphere.

We gathered to share struggles, strategies, and dreams for building a world where all people have the right to justice and self-determination. We cried together with one participant as he shared about the military state of siege declared in his municipality and the recent murder of a close friend, all for standing up against a Canadian silver mine.  We resisted looking away as another participant shared photo after photo of Indigenous people murdered, bloodied, and attacked for defending their communities from destruction by a corporate dam. We shared stories of pain and resistance, of families displaced by armed conflicts and bodies found in the desert, and also stories of hope and autonomy, of building food sovereignty and of people and countries determining their own paths. This discussion of alternatives was complemented by a much-awaited trip at the end of the Encuentro to the home community of one of the Venezuelan participants, where we witnessed just how possible it is to build another world, community by community, country by country.

The the
me of the Encuentro was "Rooted in Resistance, Sowing Sovereignty
".  While in the U.S., we often do not think in terms of sovereignty, in Latin America, soberania (the Spanish term for sovereignty) describes the growing movement to affirm self-determination and independence from empire, the weaving of unique and diverse initiatives that reflect equally unique and diverse cultures and histories.

Before leaving, the young leaders made commitments, including to deepen and strengthen the network of young activists throughout the Americas, to hold actions on November 21st while we are gathered at Ft. Benning, and to remember 16-year old
Topacio Reynoso, a dear friend of one of the participants who was murdered in Guatemala this April for her leadership in the struggle against a multinational mining company that threatens to poison water, land, and lives.  Join them in taking action by signing a petition calling for justice in Topacio's murder today. 

As the Encuentro came to a close and we all said emotional good-byes, the young leaders issued an insightful declaration analyzing the current realities of our hemisphere – including military training and joint meetings of military officials, criminalization of social movement leaders, and structural reforms that favor corporate profits, especially extractive industries such as mining, over the welfare of communities.  The declaration -- which you can read here -- also analyzes the hopeful trends, including the reconfiguration of power in the continent and increasing regional integration and articulation of alternatives to US imperialism coming from Latin America, closing with these words:

“We reaffirm our conviction to building a free and sovereign continent, in harmony with Mother Earth, where as the people we determine the direction of our steps, free of imperialism, capitalism, violence, injustice, exploitation, oppression, discrimination, racism, and patriarchy.

Grounded in the understanding of our historical responsibility, we call on the young people of the Americas to organize and continue the struggle for a dignified life, with social justice for everyone.

For the unity of our America!”

To read moving reflections from the Encuentro, click here and here for a photo essay.

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