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Feb 20th
¡Presente! Home
A New Path of Dignity and Sovereignty PDF Print E-mail
In late February I traveled to Nicaragua as part of a small SOA Watch delegation with Father Roy Bourgeois. We visited as part of the SOA Watch Latin America Project, an initiative that seeks to visit all the countries that send troops to the School of the Americas/WHINSEC in order to build ties with human rights activists and to dialogue with government officials about their continued presence at a school which has brought so much suffering and sorrow to their land. Since 2006, SOA Watch delegations have visited fifteen countries. Of these, five countries, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela, have made decisions to withdraw all soldiers from WHINSEC.

Thanks to efforts by former SOA Watch prisoner of conscience Father Joe Mulligan, a Nicaraguan resident of many years, and by other Nicaraguan and North American organizers, our delegation was able to meet with several key government leaders, including included President Daniel Ortega, Army Commander General Omar Hallenslavens, Defense Minister RuthTapias, Public Defender Omar Cabezas. The delegation also held several meetings with Nicaraguan solidarity and human rights organizations.

Just as the School of the Americas has been a window through which U.S. policy towards Latin America can be viewed, so has tiny Nicaragua has been a concrete example of what this policy can look like in action. Coveted as a possible canal site because of the short distance between its Atlantic and Pacific coasts, Nicaragua is a case in study of  U.S. meddling, bullying, intervention and outright invasion, ranging from the colorful to the outrageous. In 1856 U.S. mercenary William Walker declared himself president. From 1912 to 1934, the U.S. Marines occupied Nicaragua until they were able to turn the country over to the National Guard and their chosen leader Anastacio Somoza. For the next 45 years, the Somoza dynasty received complete U.S. support, ending in 1979 with the Sandinista Revolution. Freedom from U.S. domination, however, was short-lived. Within a year, the illegal training and scandalous funding scheme for the Contras was set into motion by the Reagan administration, bringing the experience of sovereignty to an end, along with the end of 10% of the nation’s population.

But Nicaragua is also an example of the amazing tenacity of a tiny country. Its 3 million citizens have resisted earthquakes, volcanoes and dictators, while producing world-renowned, poets, musicians, artists and heroes such as Augusto Sandino. Decades after Somoza Sr. ordered Sandino’s disappearance, thousands of poor and mostly young Nicaraguans took up his cause of sovereignty. In successfully overthrowing the brutal and corrupt Somoza Jr., their victory became the victory of an entire continent reeling under the devastation of dictatorships and thousands of disappeared and killed.

During the 45 years of the Somoza dynasty, officers of  the National Guard were regulars at the School of the Americas. After the Sandinista victory in 1979, the National Guard was disbanded and the country’s defense was put into the hands of the new Nicaraguan army, filled by the rank and file of the Sandinista fighters. Invitations to the Georgian halls of Ft. Benning stopped. Even after the U.S.-backed candidate removed the Sandinistas from power in 1990, the SOA continued to distrust Nicaragua’s army for a decade. No Nicaraguan soldiers attended the SOA between 1979 and 2001, but under the 2002-07 presidency of Enrique Bolaños, Nicaraguan troops again returned to the halls of Ft. Benning.
Our small delegation visited a a Nicaragua in the midst of change. In 2006 former president and Sandinista comandante Daniel Ortega was re-elected president, and we found a country divided over what this change would bring. Some expressed concerns about alliances that allowed the return of a Sandinista to power, while others shared hope that initiatives strengthening public education and health care were a positive beginning. To the eyes of any visitor, Nicaragua is a country of extremes. New malls and U.S. companies share the streets with beggars. Ortega inherited a country with the dubious status of being the hemisphere’s second poorest country.

While Nicaragua may be divided over Ortega’s return, the Bush administration is not. The U.S. Department of Defense’s Southern Command quickly deemed Nicaragua a country of special security concern (along with Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador) because of its “radical populism.” This is the new term used by the Bush Administration to admonish leaders who dare to use their nation’s resources for such things as education, health care and food for their people. One needs only spend about half an hour on the streets of Nicaragua to wonder what the U.S. army could possibly fear from this very poor and very tiny country.

Shortly after we arrived in Nicaragua, President Ortega invited Father Roy to speak about the School of the Americas at an event at the Engineering University, where Ortega was scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate. After Roy spoke, Ortega took the podium to direct his words to Roy. “The Rev. Roy Bourgeois has been liberating a battle not just now, but for decades.... mobilizing thousands of youth, thousands of patriots, so that no more soldiers of Latin American military will be trained [at the SOA]. They were used as instruments of repression and death against their peoples.... Several thousand...of the Nicaraguan National Guard were trained there...to assassinate the people of Nicaragua.”

“I want to express to Rev. Roy Bourgeois that the people and government of Nicaragua fully support this battle which they are liberating and that we also will direct ourselves to the Congress of the United States so that they will close this school.... Let us join forces!  I commit myself to unite forces with you, Reverend, and with the members of the U.S. Congress and Senate who have taken on this issue, so that finally, the School of the Americas may disappear.”

Ortega went on to call Roy to the podium with him, saying, “I want to ask you to authorize me to share this doctorate with Rev. Roy Bourgeois, so that he may take it to the North American people who are struggling in the United States. It is not easy to struggle in the United States!... We are going to put this medal on his chest which is full of love for our peoples...so that he may take it to his North American brothers and sisters who continue to liberate these battles for justice, for peace, for humanity.”

President Ortega placed the honorary doctorate medal on Roy to a standing ovation. While we were very moved by the words of support to the struggle to close the SOA, we were concerned that in the same speech that Ortega indicated that troops were continuing to attend the SOA under his watch. This seemed a contradiction to us, and so we were glad when he invited us to meet with in private on the last day of our visit.

We were privileged to spend several hours with this busy head-of-state, one who seemed to relish the opportunity to reflect thoughtfully on the changes that are sweeping through Latin America. The key words Ortega used in defining these changes were words we were hearing over and over again on our visits:  sovereignty and dignity. He told us that Nicaragua was opting for an economic model different from the free market model of untethered capitalism. He described it as a complementary rather than competitive model, one based on solidarity, justice and fair trade. President Ortega made it clear that this choice is not received well by its large neighbor to the north, and that any major shifts made by Nicaragua – such as withdrawing its troops from the SOA – could bring major repercussions.

Roy and I left the president’s home genuinely moved by the sincerity of the conversation and hopeful that Nicaragua may chose to reaffirm its sovereignty along with other nations who have said NO MORE to the SOA. We also realized the responsibility we have to U.S.-based activists to share the serious nature of such requests and the real consequences that small countries may face for choosing this option.

Our delegation was greatly hearted by a wonderful meeting at the Ben Linder house in Managua with dozens of Nicaragua and U.S. organizers. There was tremendous interest in the issue of the SOA/WHINSEC and enthusiasm for encouraging Nicaragua to choose the path of dignity and sovereignty by saying NO MÁS, NO MORE. We are confident that many of the people at this meeting are following up on this issue in Nicaragua.

Finally, one of the important victories of our visit to Nicaragua was an invitation extended to us by Nicaragua’s Public Defender, Omar Cabezas, who is also the president of the Ibero-American Federation of Ombudsman (FIO). The FIO is an organization of government and non-governmental human rights leaders of 17 countries. Upon Dr. Cabeza’s invitation, we traveled to Mexico City to share with the FIO about the campaign to close the SOA/WHINSEC, and to make a request that they join this campaign by promoting public awareness of the school and asking their government leaders to withdraw troops from WHINSEC. As I write this article, we are awaiting the decision of this board in regard to this request.

What is, perhaps, even more important is the fact that the the issue of the School of the Americas is being brought to the public forum in Latin America. Heads of state, human rights leaders and local organizers are affirming their dignity and their sovereignty by saying NO MORE to this hall of shame. In April of this year, individuals and organizations from ten countries in Latin America joined thousands of counterparts in the U.S. in a fast calling for the closure of the SOA/WHINSEC. Together, North and South, we can and we will close this School of Assassins, and our joint efforts will give us strength to create a world which honors the sovereignty and dignity of all peoples.
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Stop the War!
written by Dapo Sobomehin, November 18, 2008
We must strive--do everything within our power to make sure we kill each other anymore. We can do it--we can stop war and start educating the people. We must feeding the hungry, clothes the people, and cure diseases. War takes faher away from the sons and daughters. War takes grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles and aunties away. War is deadly. It is evil. Stop the torture for God sake. Feed the people. Join me at all level so we can achieve peace--loving each other, caring for each other. We take care of each other. Stop the war.
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Download the Spring 2016 issue of Presente

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