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Feb 23rd
ˇPresente! Home
A Place of Initiation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Hector Aristizábal   
Some say there is healing in remembrance. We remember our wounds so that we can make sense of them, acknowledge them, and then re-member ourselves in order to heal.

This is what our yearly vigil in front of the SOA/WHINSEC has become. It is not just a protest or a movement, but a distinctive place of healing for us as individuals and as a culture.

Every year at the SOA Watch vigil a sudden village is created, elders come with groups such as Veterans for Peace and The Wailing Grandmothers, youth cross the country in buses from colleges and high schools, and children are brought by their conscientious parents. As this village is created the grounds of Fort Benning are transformed from a place that trains assassins to a place of initiation into political awareness. It becomes a place where the young see elders capable of finding meaning in their lives, elders courageous enough to say what is wrong and to face arrest if necessary to have their voices heard.  Thanks to the festive, colorful nature of the gathering, with music and beauty sprouting everywhere, youth find a place that honors and embraces their wild imaginations. Here they can scream, dance and express themselves for two days and nights, because the village holds a container big and imaginative enough for them to create culture.

In November 2007, puppetistas from all over the country, including Bread & Puppet of Burlington, Vermont, brought to life bigger–than-life figures including that of the late Rufina Amaya. She was Presente!  More than 400 of the 25,000 gathered found themselves recruited to be performers. Some people carried giant ears of corn made from cardboard boxes, some carried huts and flags and some became drummers while recreating the images of daily life in a South or Central American village.

Suddenly the winds of WHINSEC, represented by the birds of destruction and the helicopter of death, came to destroy and burn the villages. In front of the gates of the military base, all of us died symbolizing the massacres of El Mozote and so many other massacres across the South in which SOA graduates have participated.  It looked impossible to overcome this valley of death until we heard the sounds of flutes and charangos playing “El Condor Pasa”. Through my tears I witnessed how the giant puppet of Rufina Amaya appeared in front of the devastation (as she did in real life in 1981 as the only survivor of the El Mozote massacre) and opened her arms for her ashes to be spread as a sign of healing. victory over the birds of hatred and destructionOut of her soul came the waters of life that brought the villages back to life and celebration and forced the birds of hatred and destruction to retreat.

These ashes were not only symbolic. Two people who passed away this year asked for their ashes to be spread at the SOA Watch vigil.  Don Hasselfield was the first to cross the fence in the form of ashes in a small ceremony. Again from the stage, I had the honor of spreading his ashes two more times to start our return to life ritual. And in the flags of Rufina Amaya, we carried the ashes of a puppetista extraordinaire who used to come to the vigil every year. 

The November 2007 vigil calls for much celebration! A small protest that started in 1990 with a handful of people has turned into a true massive healing ritual. There is an increasing amount of youth participation because they come to have an experience . SOA Watch had another major success of citizen’s diplomacy when five countries in South and Central America announced the withdrawal of their students from WHINSEC.

We are going beyond saying NO to the insanity of our government’s policies.  We are stating and creating the world that we want. We are redefining WHINSEC as a true Institute for Security Cooperation by creating real cooperation based on respect, creativity and our common humanity. The challenge for us in November 2008 is to make it more clear what we are working for  by building, if only in front of the gates of Fort Benning, bigger images of the world we want, one that is indeed cooperative, beautiful and, most of all, secured by justice.

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Featured Article
Download the Spring 2016 issue of Presente

The Spring issue contains mobilizing information for the SOA Watch Border Convergence, which is taking place from October 7-10, 2016 at the US/Mexico border in Nogales, and also focuses on recent developments in Latin America and within the SOA Watch movement.

Click here to download a PDF version of the Spring 2016 issue.

As this issue of Presente went to print, our hearts were heavy. The assassination of our dear friend and comrade Berta Cáceres, and the increased repression against social movement groups, have left us shocked and saddened. SOA Watch Latin America liaison Brigitte Gynther traveled to Honduras the morning after she learned about the assassination and has been coordinating SOA Watch’s response together with our partner groups on the ground. If you do not already receive Urgent Action emails from us, please click here to sign up now.

The recent decision by the U.S. judge in North Carolina to extradite one of the perpetrators of the 1989 massacre at the University of San Salvador gives us hope that justice will prevail in the end. It will take all of us to create change! Please join us as we mobilize to the U.S./Mexico border from October 7-10, 2016!

Other articles in this issue cover a protest by SOA Watch in Chile against US bases in Latin America, the FBI surveillance of SOA Watch, updates from Colombia and Mexico, news about the first Border Patrol agent to receive training at WHINSEC, background information about Direct Action, the Youth Encuentro in Guatemala, and more.

Download this issue of Presente here.

SOA Violence
Image SOA Grads Responsible For UCA Massacre Face Extradition, Military Officers Arrested in El Salvador The 1989 massacre of 16-year-old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba Ramos, and six Jesuit priests in El Salvador, that galvanized opposition to the U.S. relationship with Central American death squads and that sparked the movement to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas, is making headlines again.
International Human Rights Encuentro in Bajo Aguán, Honduras

fathermila.jpgInterview with Father Fausto Mila in Honduras

SOA Watch participated in the International Human Rights Encuentro in Honduras in February 2012. Laura Jung spoke with Father Fausto Milla, a religious leader in the Honduran movement who has been persecuted by the State of Honduras.  

Local Organizing
For 25 Years the SOA Watch Movement has been on a Journey A journey to live into the radical hope that marked the lives of  14-year-old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba, and Jesuit priest dissidents Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J., Ignacio Martín-Baró, S.J., Segundo Montes, S.J., Juan Ramón Moreno, S.J., Joaquín López y López, S.J., Amando López, SJ.
Direct Action
Moving the 2016 November Vigil to the Border? The 2015 Vigil is still going to take place at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, but there are discussions within the SOA Watch movement to move the 2016 vigil to the militarized U.S./Mexico border. What do you think?
Image Latin American Resistance & U.S. Solidarity Latin America has a 500 year history of resistance to the violence of colonialism, militarization, and elite domination. It is a legacy to treasure and honor.
SOA Watch in Latin America
SOA Watch Chile Declassified List with Names of WHINSEC Graduates

By Pablo Ruiz, Equipo Latinoamericano of SOA Watch
SOAW Chile achieved an important victory; to declassify the names of over 760 Chilean soldiers who took courses at the School of the Americas/WHINSEC during the past decade.

Image Looking Back to Move Ahead I was asked to write a piece about people of color organizing to attend the 2009 SOA Watch vigil and about our plans for 2010. I believe everything happens for a reason.
Ron Teska Ron Teska, a stone carver and organizer from Wind Ridge, Pennsylvania worked on this piece of art throughout the November Vigil weekend in Georgia.


Love is so short and forgetting is so long.

-Pablo Neruda


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