|The Audacious and Evangelical Experience of Crossing the Line|
|Written by Padre Melo, Honduras|
In the midst of thousands of demonstrators, a man with his head painted completely white and his whole body covered in black and white, spelling the words Study war no more approached me, gave me a hug and said “Bless me, Father, for I will cross the line”.
Straight away he climbed the huge barbed wire structure protected with spikes. He held unto the fence staunchly with his thick gloves and jumped to the other side of the wall, one of his gloves staying behind entangled on the wires. Heavily-armed soldiers on the other side captured the 60-year-old man and led him inside the fort surrounded by a strong operative, where he disappeared from my sight and from the sight of the thousands of people who had witnessed his civil disobedience act. Some looked bewildered, some had tears in their eyes, and all of us yelled in unison that the School of the Americas must close down.
It happened at the end of the procession full of crosses that ended the activity organized by SOA-W (School of the Americas Watch), the Observatory of the School of the Americas, and which, year after year, rallies hundreds of organizations and activists together to proclaim their solidarity with the victims of military repression and demand that the School of the Americas be shut down. This anti-military action takes place around the date commemorating the murder of six Jesuit fathers and their two helpers, at the Central American University (Universidad Centroamericana UCA) in San Salvador.
Activities began on November 16 with an encounter for people belonging to religious orders, convoked by “Pax Christi” in order to pray and reflect upon the new kinds of war equipment, such as “drones”, planes manned from operation centers and which are launched against specific, previously identified victims. In essence, the memory of the Jesuits murdered by officers trained at the School of the Americas and who bore weapons manufactured in the United States hovered in the background. I was listening to the presentations and songs when I heard my name. They were calling on me to close the event, which had been full of mystique and words from the Gospel. I was surprised by how deeply my words were in tune with the atmosphere surrounding the event. It was a spiritual, struggling atmosphere, full of gratitude and memories that I could breathe in among the hundreds of people congregated in the room of that University. Hugs and applauses bound the participants together in a single voice as we sang, at the end of that first evening, the emblematic song “We shall overcome”. I felt myself to be friend and brother to so many people I had never seen before in my life, and the profound flavor of the demanding and loving presence of the God of Life. It was all I could do to keep Lucy and Pamela –two friends who share in the same Spirit and who have accompanied me constantly and been very near my life the past two years—from discovering my tears of gratitude.
After the first events, we went to the area surrounding Fort Benning in the County of Columbus, on the border between the State of Georgia and the State of Alabama. It was like a full-fledged popular fair posters, tee-shirts and huge banners dotting the event with legends against war and demands to close down the school of assassins permanently. In the background, a few meters from the main gate of the military installations, a huge scenario had been erected. On it a musical group was singing songs in “Spanglish” evoking the counter-culture of resistance struggles all across the continent. From the distance I could make out the leading voice of the protest song group, its pitch being very familiar to me. It was the activist and singer Francisco Herrera, from San Francisco, California, whom I hadn’t seen since 1987, the year we had met, sang and walked together accompanying the return of forcefully displaced people and war refugees, back to Salvadorian soil. Back then, grey hair and thickness around the waist were still exotic for us, something just belonging to ‘old people’. The hugs and forceful expressions of solidarity from Radio Progreso and the ERIC were the best testimony to the fact that distance and all the years that had passed between us had done nothing to separate us. Francisco and his people in California truly know us well and they have shown their solidarity with the people of Honduras after the blows our homeland received in the form of a coup d’état in June 2009.
On November 17 the official inauguration of the SOA Watch vigil took place, a great crowd of people gathering in the main hall of the University of Columbus in Georgia. The event began with the virtual greetings of those in several countries of Latin America who were joining us on a giant screen. Then they asked us to speak in “whispers” to whoever was standing next to us, telling them what we do in our communities against militarization. I had to talk to a Canadian of Oriental origin. In my broken, not-at-all-perfect English I managed to tell him that in Honduras we seek to raise awareness and to train people through radio communication networks active in the struggle against violence and inequity.
The highlight of the inauguration was the official recognition voiced for those countries in Latin America that have to date withdrawn their army officers from attending the School of the Americas: Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. It was an act of “deserting” allowing these countries to “Graduate in Sovereignty”. SOA Watch allowed me the honor of presiding this “graduation”, expressing what it means to break free from the School of the Americas and to award a symbolic diploma of graduation in sovereignty to the six Latin American countries in question that have deserted from the school of assassins. We concluded the session listening to the beautiful music of an Andean Group made up of youngsters from the United States of Latin American origin.
On Sunday November 18, as each of the myriad of pre-candidates in Honduras were striving to lead the people to the ballot boxes to deposit a vote in their favor, a multitude of civil and human rights activists crowded around Fort Benning to take part in a procession honoring faith and memory. Each of the participants held a cross in our hands, while a choir directed by Francisco Herrera called out, name by name, the Stations of the Cross of those assassinated under the orders of School of the Americas graduates. The names of the martyrs killed at the UCA University fused together with the names of our other martyrs from Honduras and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. .
The procession was headed by a banner saying “From the School of the Americas to the border ¡No more deaths!” and holding the banner was, among other people, the indisputable founder, soul and guiding light of SOA Watch, Father Roy Bourgeois, who asked me to walk alongside him in this procession of love, struggle, resistance and spirituality. Across from us there was another banner held by a woman leader from Colombia, one from Guatemala, one from Mexico and one from Paraguay. And so it was that I marched alongside Father Roy, who headed the procession followed by thousands of activists, many of them young people in the very flower of their joy, young people from all corners of the United States.
The procession filed past the huge barbed main entrance to Fort Benning. And each of us placed the cross we had been carrying at the gate of this school of assassins. There were so many crosses left on the huge barbed wall that eventually it was completely “crucified”. Each one of us, in silence, laid down his or her cross, while in the background the voice of Francisco Herrera and his group continued to speak out the litany of continental martyrs. And this is how we were standing when the 60-year-old man, member of the Christian community “Koinonía Farm” born fifty years ago during the struggle against racism in South Atlanta, approached me to ask for my blessing before he jumped the barbed gate and was put in prison in the name of freedom and peace for the peoples of the world.
Nobody could have imagined at that moment –and me especially--, that Father Roy, due to his personal testimony in defense of evangelical equality between women and men within the Catholic church, was about to receive, just the following day, a letter expelling him from the Catholic church. El The man with his face painted white and Father Roy, each in his own way and from his specific spirituality, both decided to cross the line of orthodoxy, formal legality and prudence. Both of them knew their stand would mean a severe punishment. But by losing their civil and religious rights, they have won the right to continue convoking the fiery struggle for peace, justice, freedom and equality, unequivocal signs of the glorious presence of the God of Life and His kingdom.
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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.
Interview 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.
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.
For more info about ¡Presente!, go to About US.
My blood is drunk by the roots of the tree from that one day the fruit of freedom will ripen.
- Nelson Mandela
A challenging new documentary has quickly become one of the
widest-reaching films to encapsulate the history of the SOA Watch
An in-depth look at the torture practices of the United States in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, focusing on an innocent taxi driver in Afghanistan who was tortured and killed in 2002.