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Media Release: Police Deny Street Permit for Annual Vigil at Fort Benning, Georgia PDF Print E-mail
For immediate release
July 22, 2014
Contact: Hendrik Voss, 202-234-3440

Constitutional Rights Under Attack in Georgia

Police Deny Street Permit for Annual Vigil at Fort Benning, Georgia

Columbus, Georgia – The Columbus Police Department, continuing its history of antagonizing the movement to close the US military training camp known as the SOA/WHINSEC (School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), has this year placed unjust, unsafe and unconstitutional restrictions on the annual SOA Watch Vigil, essentially attempting to shut down the peaceful protest at the main gates of Fort Benning.

In a letter to grassroots solidarity group SOA Watch, Police Chief Ricky Boren explained that the thousands expected at this year’s Vigil, the group’s 25th, would have to somehow limit themselves to no more than 200 and stay on sidewalks five feet back from the street. The permit for the stage and sound, which has for years lifted up the voices of those targeted by the infamous military training school, like Padre Melo from Honduras, who’s been threatened since speaking out against the SOA graduate-led coup in 2009, was also denied.

Nevertheless, SOA Watch pledges to return to Ft. Benning, hold the annual vigil, and continue its nonviolent tradition of protecting family-friendly, safe and legal protest. In response to police chief Boren, the human rights group writes, "we have responsibilities and freedoms under our constitution to peacefully assemble and to speak truth to power."     

“This year, more than any other, we are called to demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Latin America, 25 years after SOA graduates committed the brutal massacre at the University of Central America,” said veteran and founder Father Roy Bourgeois. He continued, “When our military training continues to target communities, forcing the unaccompanied migration of thousands of refugee children, we must speak out. It is no surprise that when the stakes are this high, our movement is faced with political attacks on our constitutional rights.”

The Columbus Police Department and the military have a history of active opposition to SOA Watch’s right to free speech, including harassment and intimidation by plainclothes officers, low-flying helicopters used to disrupt the solemn vigil, changing insurance requirements in a last-minute effort to target SOA Watch, and more. In 2001, the city tried to stop the protest in court; in 2002, police conducted mass warrantless searches of all participants, for which SOA Watch filed suit. In both cases, federal courts vindicated the movement’s constitutional right to free speech and assembly.  

Thousands of human rights activists have gathered every November for the demonstration since the first anniversary of the 1989 SOA graduate-led massacre of 16-year-old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba Ramos and six Jesuit priests at the University of Central America in El Salvador. The November Vigil commemorates those who have been killed by SOA/WHINSEC graduates, and calls for the closure of the institute, which perpetuates coups, torture, extrajudicial killings, and human rights abuses in the face of social and political problems. The SOA/WHINSEC made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released SOA training manuals that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Among its graduates are at least 11 dictators as well as leaders of infamous Central American death squads. Currently, SOA graduates are linked to the Honduran military coup and the repression campaign against social movements there, among other humanitarian crises.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 15:18
The Humanitarian Crisis at the Border is Actually a Foreign Policy Crisis PDF Print E-mail
Written by Arturo J. Viscarra   
Monday, 07 July 2014 21:53
The Root Causes of Migration: End U.S. Funding of the Drug War and the Corrupt Honduran Regime

The heartbreaking stories emanating from the immigration detention centers near the border have rightly been making the news. However the U.S. media has largely ignored the real lessons from the increasing number of Unaccompanied Minors being detained near the U.S. border. This “humanitarian crisis” has not been caused by the criminal nature of the people of Central America, irresponsible parenting, or the clichéd pursuit of the “American Dream”. Children and their families are coming to the U.S. to survive. At its root, they are too often trying to escape the devastating consequences of past and present U.S. foreign policy in the region.

CLICK HERE to urge your Senator and Representative to end the counterproductive funding of the Drug War and the corrupt Honduran Regime

The number of children attempting to cross the border into the United States has risen dramatically in the last five years: In FY 2009, roughly 6,000 unaccompanied minors were detained near the border. Credible estimates project that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will detain as many as 74,000 unaccompanied minors by the end of FY 2014. Approximately 28% of the children detained this year are from Honduras, 24% from Guatemala, and 21% from El Salvador.The particularly severe increases in Honduran migration are a direct result of the June 28, 2009 SOA-graduate led coup, the abusive policies of the resulting Honduran regimes, and the shameful U.S. support for these corrupt governments that emerged after dubious elections in 2009 and 2013.

Since 2008, the U.S. has spent over $800 million in security aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador through the “Central American Regional Security Initiative” (CARSI) in addition to millions more in bilateral military and police aid to each country. The current humanitarian crisis on the border, is a direct result of the drastic U.S.-led militarization of the drug war, unequal economic relationships (e.g. Free Trade Agreements that have ravaged campesino communities), and U.S. support for the cartel-infiltrated post-coup government of Honduras.

By every conceivable measure - the availability of drugs, mass incarceration, mass immigrant detention, and the effective use of tax money in the U.S.; homicide and violence rates, corruption, the overall power of drug cartels, and migration rates in Central America – the "war on drugs" has been an abject and costly failure. It is time, it has been time, for the U.S. government to take real responsibility for its role in the root causes of migration from Central America. The region will never be “cured” of its ills without an honest, fact-based re-evaluation and a resulting re-implementation of U.S. foreign policy.

CLICK HERE to urge your Senator and Representative to end the counterproductive funding of the Drug War and the corrupt Honduran Regime

The patterns of violence and forced migration established during the dirty wars of the 20th century have continued unabated. It is no surprise that Central American children travel alone to the U.S. to escape violence, especially if one or both of their parents already live there.

Increased militarization under the pretext of the drug war has led to massive human rights violations, including illegal land grabs, and the persecution of indigenous and grassroots leaders, too often at the hands of the military and police funded and trained (many at the School of the Americas) under U.S. security programs. In particular, the situation in Honduras has dramatically deteriorated, yet the U.S. continues to fund the corrupt and brutal Honduran security forces 5 years after the June 28, 2009 SOA-graduate led military coup. Why should the people of Central America continue to suffer and be scapegoated when the root causes of migration are all too often created by damaging U.S. foreign policies?

Peace and struggle,
SOA Watch
Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 23:54
Honduras: 5 Years of Militarization and Repression PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brigitte Gynther   
Thursday, 26 June 2014 16:21

Five Year Anniversary of the June 28, 2009 SOA Graduate-led Coup in Honduras

Five years ago, SOA graduate Romeo Vasquez Velasquez and others forced their way into the home of democratically elected Honduran President Mel Zelaya and put him onto an airplane out of the country, an airplane that first stopped to re-fuel at the US Palmerola military base.  As Hondurans massively mobilized to demand the return of their President, they were met with repression and violence that continues today.  The ultra-right party that took power in the military coup consolidated their stranglehold on the country through elections marked by fraud and vote buying this past November.  Now, with murders and killings taking place across the country, the judicial system seems to be more efficient at prosecuting those who speak up for justice than those who murder and plunder the country. The government has intensely militarized the country in the name of security while meticulously turning Honduras' resources and public goods over to private corporations.  It's no wonder thousands of children are fleeing Honduras to the United States.

Click here to call on the US to cut military aid to Honduras and on the Honduran authorities to respect the human rights of those who speak out for justice.

In spite of the violence, the resistance continues across the country.  In one example, the Lenca people of San Francisco de Opalaca have spent the past five months in a round the clock, day-in-and-day-out blockade at their Municipal office to prevent the government-imposed Mayor, who used fraud to claim he won November's elections, from taking office.  They elected an autonomous Mayor and Municipal Council in a massive Municipal-wide Indigenous Assembly and are exercising their rights to demand democratic governance that obeys the will of the people and that public funds be used for public good, not for corruption. As a result, the Indigenous Assembly-elected Mayor and Municipal Council, as well as community leaders and radio program hosts, have been accused of sedition and 36 community leaders are currently facing trial.  At stake in San Francisco de Opalaca is not only good governance but also acres and acres of pristine forests and other natural resources the communities depend on but that corporations and the World Bank want for projects such as the oxygen trade, dams, and mines.  Two community leaders have already been murdered, one by Municipal employees in broad daylight just a short distance from where hundreds of people were gathered. 

Click here to tell the Honduran authorities to stop the murder and criminalization of those who speak out for justice across the country and the US to stop military aid to Honduras.

To do more, join a delegation to Honduras this August to accompany communities standing up for their rights amidst intense militarization and repression.

Or organize a spontaneous action this Saturday, June 28th, the anniversary of the coup, by putting up SOA Watch's WANTED or MISSED posters related to Honduras in your community. 

SOA graduates play a major role in enforcing the US corporate agenda in Honduras.  Not only are the head of the Honduran Armed Forces and Army SOA graduates, but the same goes for many of the Commanders of Military and Military Police units currently patrolling the country. On May 21, hundreds of Xatruch III soldiers under the command of SOA graduate Col. Rene Jovel Martinez violently evicted small farmer families from their land in the Bajo Aguan, destroying their belongings and injuring people. On May 13, the Honduran Military Police and COBRAS attacked opposition LIBRE party Congresspeople with tear gas and batons inside the Congressional chambers as well as demonstrators protesting outside the Congress with tear gas.  Several LIBRE Congresspeople were injured in the attack and taken to the hospital, suffering from tear gas inhalation and physical attacks by the Military Police or police, including a fractured arm. In a separate event, on June 18, three soldiers and a policeman attacked and murdered 62-year old José Husbaldo Guzmán Argueta, throwing him to the ground and firing two shots with an M-16, while he was working on trying to get a potable water project.  Military tactics are also used by the police. On May 25, two Rio Blanco residents – where the Lenca people have been resisting an illegal hydroelectric dam in their territory for over a year – were tortured by the police, who brought them to a private home, where they beat them, forced their heads under water so they almost drowned, and then put rubber hoods on them so they couldn't breathe.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez has rapidly increased militarization of the country, inaugurating programs such as “Guardians of the Fatherland,” which aims to bring 25,000 children and young people – from kindergarden and up – to military facilities for formation in morals in values, but is heavily criticized as recruiting of children and military indoctrination.  Hernandez and US Ambassador Lisa Kubiske also just celebrated last week the release of the new TIGRES – meaning Tigers – hybrid police-military unit trained by US Special Forces and the Colombian Jungle School in mountain operations, intelligence, and rural operations.  The stated goal is to combat drug trafficking and organized crime but when asked about the three areas he had mentioned the TIGRES would work in, Hernandez refused to specify.  If the new Military Police, a major push of Hernandez, are any indication, one area of work could be targeting the opposition political activists and social movements. 

As the people of Honduras continue resisting five years after the military coup d'etat unleashed widespread repression on the country and five months after the inauguration of President Hernandez following fraudulent elections, it is more important than ever to speak out against continued militarization and repression in Honduras. 

Click here to tell the US to stop funding the Honduran military and police and call on the Honduran authorities to respect the lives and rights of activists.

Click here for more information about an August delegation to Honduras to accompany communities struggling for their rights in the face of intense militarization.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 19:06
Art is Not a Crime - Another Victory for SOA Watch! PDF Print E-mail
Written by María Luisa Rosal   
Thursday, 05 June 2014 21:48

Do you remember the Art is Not a Crime Campaign we launched just over a few weeks ago? Well, I am very happy to say that we have GREAT news to share with you!

Today, myself, along with fellow SOA Watch Activists Dominique Diaddigo-Cash, Gail Taylor and Nico Udu-gama appeared before the Washington, DC Superior Court for our arraignment hearing. We had been arrested and detained for six hours after having put up a beautiful mural with other friends and activists - about a dozen of us total - to commemorate just some of our sisters and brothers from across Latin America who have been murdered at the hands of SOA graduates.

The pressure created by supporters like you made a huge difference!

This is truly empowering news! Over 1,200 supporters from across the United States and Canada signed a petition asking US District Attorney Ron Machen to drop the charges, which carried a maximum penalty of 180 days in prison and a $1,000 fine. We are especially grateful to our attorney Mark Goldstone - criminal defense and constitutional lawyer - for having represented us. Today, all of the charges against us were dropped! We challenged the system and won!

We felt supported by each and every one of you, as you never left our side. This is what solidarity looks like! This is what our movement is all about! You all continue to inspire us, and it is encouraging to see just how big the impact of solidarity can be when we continue to stand together and build a culture of peace and justice.

In response to the attempts by Washington, DC police to silence us, supporters throughout Denver, Colorado, Guatemala City, Guatemala, Los Angeles, California, Takoma Park, Maryland and UC Riverside, California, have put up more posters to continue to denounce the human rights violations that continue through the training of Latin American military and police at SOA/WHINSEC, funded through US tax dollars. Download the posters today and send us a picture when you put it up in your town!

Our fellow comrade Nico was absolutely right - "Our message is too powerful to be locked behind bars." Let's continue to spread the message through creative actions! As for me and the rest of the Washington, DC staff, as well as our vibrant community of local activists, we remain committed to putting up more art, because we know just how important it is to never forget. We know how important it is to continue taking a stand for justice and exposing the realities of US Foreign Policy in Latin America. Ultimately, we know why we must close the SOA.

Let's keep walking together. I'll see you at the gates of Ft. Benning this November!

in solidarity,

María Luisa Rosal

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 June 2014 23:59
Job Opening and Internship Opportunities
Join the resistance! Join the SOA Watch family! We are looking for candidates for the SOA Watch Latin America Liaison position in Latin America, and for activantes in Washington, DC.
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