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Feb 21st
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Why We Come to Fort Benning PDF Print E-mail
Voices from Movement Activists - Why Do We Mobilize Each Year to Fort Benning?

We asked several movement activists why they return each year to Fort Benning, and why they continue demanding the closure of the SOA/WHINSEC. What are your reasons for mobilizing?

Kathleen DeSautels

 Kathleen DeSautels, 8th Day Center for Justice, Chicago; former SOA Watch Prisoner of Conscience

The SOA Watch November week ends since 1997 have become for me a kind of spiritual homecoming. The November event renews my spirit of hope that a better world is possible. What could be more enlivening to one's spirit than enriching educational workshops, riveting political insights, and enlivening music at the stage in front of the gates all Saturday afternoon. The culminating event on Sunday morning of the sacred ritual procession commemorating the lives of our sisters and brothers in Latin America who have been disappeared, murdered, abused by the graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC continues to haunt me each year. To be perfectly honest I join SOA Watch at Ft. Benning gates not because the SOA Watch movement needs me as much as I need the creative and welcoming spirit of the community that gathers to feed my resolve to keep on, keeping on in the struggle for justice.
Bob King

Bob King, United Auto Workers President, Detroit

Our union sisters and brothers in Colombia are being murdered at the hands of SOA graduates. Union solidarity demands that we speak up and stop the killing.

Ka Rodriguez

Ka Rodríguez, Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana

During the past three years I got involved with the SOA Watch Movement on campus either by helping organize the 10 hour ride to the vigil, distributing “¡Presente!” or screening documentaries. I am part of this movement and participate at the vigil because I believe that too much money and resources have been and still are invested in militarization, violation of Human Rights and setting up military bases Latin America. In this, the School of the Americas has a crucial role. TOGETHER at the vigil we can say NO! to this and shut down the School of the Americas.

Mario A., metallurgist and torture survivor from Guatemala

I am Guatemalan and a world citizen. I am a metallurgist and a torture survivor. Twice in my country, I was kidnapped by paramilitaries and brutally tortured. One of my friends with whom I was kidnapped the second time, is dead. He committed suicide when they released us, as he couldn't deal with the trauma of this terrifying experience. Two of my children live in exile; they were also kidnapped when they left school, still minors. Now they are adults, but despite the years, they cannot overcome that horrendous episode.

Guatemala lived through a genocide that left almost a half million people massacred or disappeared. Among them, thousands of disappeared children were taken and sold in other parts of the country and the world. Many of our dead ones will never be found as they were thrown into the sea.

Now, let's ask ourselves, after 66 years of this horrible, tragic and demonic project exisiting, how many hundreds of thousands of dead and disappeared would there be?

The rich and military of our countries are now the economically powerful and sell our natural resources to the highest bidder. The more the poor work, the more miserable they are. This is in my country and in many places in Latin America. The question is, will we have to close this damned school? Yes, of course, and all similar schools that exist on the planet. Our generation definitively deserves a future without torture, without wars, and without misery. Now our people are miserable like Victor Hugo's great play.

Ending militarism depends on us. In Guatemala, a murderer just came to power, named Oscar Pérez Molina. This killer graduated from the SOA and the US government knows this and has it all documented.

So let's close this school of horror. Let's return until it no longer exists y we free the birds that exist in that land. We'll sow flowers of peace and let the butterflies and the hummingbird pollinate them to create a great harvest of love for humanity.

Fr Luis BarriosFr. Luis Barrios, John Jay College; Director of Pastors for Peace; former SOA Watch Prisoner of Conscience

Our annual peaceful journey to Columbus, Georgia is an expression of our solidarity, love and spiritual resistance to close the SOA; it is God’s mandate that we rise up against oppressive structures.

Karina MaciasKarina Macias, SOA Watch Los Angeles

Globalization has placed the actions of United States in the fore front for our immediate action. We can't sit idle and watch as Latin America and our regions are militarized and stripped of their rights. This is the main reason that I mobilize for the SOA Vigil and am involved in the effort to close the SOA. It is the duty of citizens to stand up for our fellow brothers and sisters. Somos Una America!!

Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor of Tikkun Magazine; Chair of the Interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives

One of the great travesties in American politics is the way our leaders of both parties proclaim America to be the great champion of human rights while simultaneously engaging in activities that systematically undermine those rights around the world. The use of torture, the incarceration of young people of color in massive numbers, the drone attacks on civilians in the elusive search for terrorists, the president's "kill list" of people (including US citizens) Rabbi Michael Lernernever convicted by any jury is only part of the story. At the School of Americas at Ft. Benning in Georgia,the US trains Central and South American police and military in the techniques of repression, subversion, and torture that get used against democratic movements and governments that are perceived as a threat to American corporate interests. The annual vigil sponsored by the School of Americas Watch, led by progressive Catholics, but welcoming to people of all faiths or none, has become the one place in which these hypocritical policies of the U.S. get brought to public attention. It is morally incumbent for those of us who can to be there each year and force our governmental leaders to address the ways that the US continues to defy universal standards of human rights and to sully the vision of what America could and should be in the world.

ChantalChantal DeAlcuaz, White Rose Catholic Worker, Chicago

My commitment to attending the School of the Americas vigil developed during my years at Su Casa Catholic Worker – a community founded to offer hospitality to political refugees from Central America, many of whom were survivors of torture.

Years of disciplined inquiry into the SOA have revealed shameful facts about the US military’s culpability in the torture and murder of countless people throughout Central America. Under a new name the SOA (WHINSEC) continues to train soldiers in violence, and additionally, the school is an important symbol of an ongoing military policy that wreaks havoc on our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

The annual vigil at the gates of Fort Benning is a gathering place for a wide and diverse community, from the seasoned activist to the first-time protester. We bring our bodies – our very selves – to this particular seat of destruction. We honor and re-member the dead, we beg for mercy and forgiveness, and we hope and pray for a world without the SOA.

Simon Sedillo, film-maker based in Oaxaca, MX

Attendance to the SOAW November vigil at the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia is extremely important. The overwhelming amount of detailed information Simon Sedilloshared at the vigil is nothing less then irrefutable proof of consistent covert US military strategies throughout Latin America in order to secure political and economic interests for the US and their allies in those countries. Furthermore we see substantial evidence of a continuing US military counter insurgency strategy in Mexico, Central America, and South America, which targets indigenous communities who practice traditional forms of self governance and self determination. The imposition of US political and economic interests through militarism and direct financial and political support for corrupt and violent governments throughout Latin America, is the number one reason for the destabilization of the entire region. This is also the number one reason for mass migration to the United States. It is all of our responsibility to change this, and the November vigil against the SOA is a perfect place to start.

Adrienne Pine, Professor of Anthropology at American University

The movement to close the School of the Americas has provided not only solidarity but also indispensable tools in the popular Honduran struggle for justice following the 2009 coup, carried out by SOA graduates. Thanks to the hard work of SOAW activists who have organized and participated in actions like the November vigil, the nature of U.S. complicity in the coup and in subsequent, ongoing state violence against Hondurans has been exposed. This solidarity work greatly strengthens the position of those who risk their lives to fight the U.S. war machine from within Honduras.

Adrienne PineJust as the U.S. Military's Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) strategy extends beyond training soldiers and police officers in coups and torture at the School of the Americas, SOAW has been remarkably effective in challenging many other insidious forms of militarization throughout the hemisphere. SOAW activists from the U.S. have worked in solidarity with activists throughout Latin American and the Caribbean to close U.S. military bases; to expose initiatives like the SOUTHCOM "Strategic Culture" program set up to legitimate U.S. occupation of sovereign nations; to convince foreign nations to stop sending their troops to the SOA; and to call out the Obama administration and its client media on the hypocrisy of funding murderous and coup-mongering military and police forces and increasing the number of U.S. bases on foreign soil, all the while claiming to respect democracy, multilateralism, and sovereignty of Latin American and Caribbean nations. This work has had a powerful impact measurable in concrete policy changes, widespread press attention to its campaigns, and State Department machinations exposed in released Wikileaks cables, among other things.

SOAW activists have played a key role in forcing the Obama administration to answer to its atrocities, like the May 2012 DEA killing of indigenous Honduran Miskitu people in a region militarized as part of the failed U.S. War on Drugs. They have successfully lobbied Congress Members to take a stand against dangerous U.S. military policies and have provided a framework to see our struggles for justice and democracy at home as intimately linked to the same struggles throughout the hemisphere. Because U.S. military and economic policies are forcing Latin Americans to leave their homes and come to the U.S., SOAW activists fight for immigration justice; because the budgetary choice to spend so many U.S. tax dollars on militarization abroad and not on hospitals at home has resulted in countless deaths in both contexts; SOAW activists fight for healthcare justice; because the criminalization of immigrants is directly tied to the racist prison-industrial complex (PIC) that also disenfranchises vast numbers of African Americans in the U.S., SOAW activists fight against the PIC and for racial justice. And because the U.S. government is structured to respond to corporate interests and not those of the people, SOAW activists use the tools of direct democracy to make their voices heard.

The vigil at Fort Benning has been and continues to be the annual epicenter of this vibrant and ever-more-necessary movement. It is a vital space to strategize, struggle, celebrate, renew, and—for those who haven't been previously involved—to join the fight for justice and an end to U.S. militarization of the Americas.

(Leer en español)



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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.

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Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.

- Albert Einstein


Book Tip

Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer's book cover



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Which part of the campaign to close the SOA are you most interested in?

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