School of Assassins Faces Protest, Congressional De-Funding November 21, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: D’Abuisson, death squads, fort benning, Hugo Banzar Suarez, human rightss, john laforge, Latin America, Manual Noreiga, military dictatorships, otto perez molina, Rios Mont, roger hollander, soa, soa watch, torture, whinsec
add a comment
The US Army School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia is a notorious training operation for Latin American officers and soldiers. It’s associated with some of the worst dictatorships and human rights violators in the hemisphere. For over 20 years, the grassroots School of Americas Watch (SOA Watch) has grown into one of the most dynamic, multi-generational, cross-continental movements against militarism in the Americas.
This weekend, November 22-24, will see thousands gather for a massive rally at Ft. Benning in the ongoing campaign to shut down the school. Vans from colleges and universities will make the trek with students who’ve studied the grim history of U.S.-sponsored military coups and U.S.-friendly dictators, many of whom got their inspiration and training at the SOA (now renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC).
Among the more infamous SOA graduates are Gen. Jose Rios Montt, who was convicted May 10th of committing genocide between March 1982 and August 1983 during his Guatemalan military dictatorship; death squad leader Otto Perez Molina who under Rios Montt directed massacres of Maya people, and who recently maneuvered Guatemala’s high court to reverse Rios Montt’s conviction; Gen. Manual Noreiga of Panama, who moved from dictatorship via SOA to the BOP (Federal Bureau of Prisons that is) on drug charges; Roberto D’Abuisson, leader of El Salvador’s death squads in the 1980s; and Gen. Hugo Banzar Suarez of Bolivia who seized power in 1971 and who jailed, disappeared and assassinated suspected political opponents for eight years. SOA graduates led military coups in Venezuela in 2002 and the 2009 coup in Honduras.
For more background, “Somos Una America” — a new documentary that focuses on the campaign against the Pentagon mindset that promotes U.S. domination and ‘military solutions’ in the Western Hemisphere — is available online for free (visit: soaw.org/somos).
This past April, the SOA Watch campaign won a long-sought court victory over the U.S. government’s refusal to release the names of the trainers at the SOA/WHINSEC. Federal Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton in Calif. ruled that the Pentagon has no grounds for refusing to release these names. President Obama has OKed the Justice Department’s appeal of this ruling, protecting the Pentagon’s effort to keep the information secret. As SOA Watch points out, this is because instructors there have coached “torturers, death squads and military dictators throughout the Americas.” The president’s decision to appeal puts the lie to his claim that his administration would be the most transparent in history. And you thought after his persecution of whistle blowers Julian Assange, Pfc. Manning and Edward Snowden that Obama could not get more cynical.
Teaching Torture the World Over
The SOA burst into the news in 1996, when the Pentagon released copies of its torture training manuals. The Sept. 21, 1996 Washington Post, in “U.S. Instructed Latins on Executions, Torture; Manuals Used 1982-91, Pentagon Reveals” by Dana Priest, notes that the manuals promote the use of “fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum.” By 1996, 60,000 military and police officers had been through SOA training.
The torture manuals were distributed to thousands of military officers from eleven South and Central American countries, although the actions advocated in them violated U.S. Army law at the time. The Pentagon ordered the manuals destroyed, but only a few thousand were ever recovered. They have doubtlessly been reproduced and employed by militaries and counterinsurgency forces the world over. U.S. military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan appear to be direct beneficiaries, considering the torture regimes conducted at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq (2004) and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Afghanistan has become a torture regime too — first under U.S. forces and now by their Afghan trainees (See “U.S. Practiced Torture After 9/11, Nonpartisan Review Concludes,” NY Times, Apr. 16, 2013, and “Government Panel in Afghanistan Confirms Widespread Torture of Detainees,” Jan. 21, 2013).
Demands to abolish the SOA/WHINSEC now come from across the political spectrum. From the point of view of the victims, more than 300 human rights defenders have employed nonviolent direct action at the base, and as a result have collectively spent over 100 years in prison and served additional years probation. (Disclaimer: I did 6 months in the Duluth prison camp for trespassing at SOA back in 2006. My cellie R.J., who was doing eight years, put me straight when he announced, “I see him doing his exercises, his yoga. He’s just here for an oil change.”) From officialdom, the Latin American Military Training Review Act of 2013, H.R. 2989, would suspend operations at the school. It also mandates an investigation into SOA’s connection with abuses of human rights. It’s got 40 co-sponsors but needs more.
If you’re not heading down to the Georgia for the rally, at least push your Congressional Rep’s to join the shutdown effort.
Tags: eban yanes, foreign policy, honduran police, Honduras, honduras elections, honduras military, honduras repression, human rights, libre party, roger hollander, soa, soa watch
add a comment
Justice for Ebed Yanes!
One year ago this week, 15-year old Ebed Yanes was returning home in Tegucigalpa by motorcycle when he was murdered by the Honduran military. Soldiers pursued him in a Ford 350 truck donated by the US government to a checkpoint staffed by the US-trained, vetted, and equipped special forces. Second Lt. Josue Antonio Sierra, a 2011 graduate of WHINSEC/SOA, and member of the unit specially vetted by the US, gave the order to start shooting at the unarmed 15-year old. Ebed died immediately, his life forever cut short. Click here to call for justice for Ebed Yanes and an end to US military aid to Honduras.
Tomorrow, 6 military officials – 4 of whom are SOA graduates – will appear in court where they are being charged for covering up Ebed’s murder. The cover-up runs deep and includes several high ranking officials, some of whom have since been promoted despite their role in hiding the murder of an innocent young person. Three-time SOA “Distinguished Graduate” Col. Jesus A. Marmol Yanes, the Commander of “Operation Lightning” and the checkpoint, is said to have lied to investigators. SOA graduate Lt. Col. Juan Rubén Girón told the soldiers involved to return to the scene of the crime and remove evidence of the murder while SOA graduate Lt. Col. Mariano Mendoza suggested to the soldiers who were to be questioned the testimony they should tell the investigators.
Ebed is just one of the hundreds of Hondurans murdered by military or police since the 2009 SOA-graduate led coup, often with funding or training from the United States. In spite of links to numerous human rights abuses including extrajudicial executions, many of these U.S.-trained soldiers have been vetted by the US for human rights compliance. Such is the case of Col. Funes Ponce, the previous Commander of Honduras’ 15th Battalion, who turned over the wrong weapons to investigators so that ballistics testing wouldn’t trace the soldiers to Ebed’s murder. The 15th Battalion, with SOA graduate Selman Arriaga in command of its special forces, is also funded and trained by the US and has been implicated in repression against campesinos in the Lower Aguan Valley, where almost 100 campesinos have been assassinated since the 2009 military coup.
This week in the Lower Aguan Valley, members of the Honduran military’s Xatruch III joint task force, commanded by SOA graduate Col. German Alfaro, together with private security guards of Honduras’ most powerful landowner, have been inside the Paso Aguan Plantation firing automatic weapons to intimidate the campesinos of the neighboring La Panama community. The bodies of two campesinos who disappeared in the past year have been discovered on the Paso Aguan Plantation and it is widely believed that there may be additional clandestine graves of other missing campesinos there. In addition to his forces terrorizing the La Panama community in conjunction with paramilitary security guards, Col. Alfaro has also been waging a media campaign aimed at discrediting the campesino movements struggling for their land in order to publicly justify the mounting number of murders.
Despite widespread human rights abuses by the Honduran military and police, the US continues to pour millions into military and police aid in Honduras. US-vetting and certification unfortunately do not seem to mean much. In 2012, the State Department certified that Honduras was making sufficient progress on human rights to be able to receive the 20% of aid that Congress had specified should be withheld pending human rights certification. This starkly contradicts the reality on the ground, where repression, murders, and impunity still reign. Click here to contact your Senators, representatives, the State Department, and White House to demand an end to US military and police aid in Honduras.
With the Honduran presidential elections just six months away and the new LIBRE party — which grew out of the resistance to the military coup — leading in the polls, the repression is only expected to increase between now and November. Click here to receive updates and action alerts from the SOA Watch activantes on the ground in Honduras and add your voice to that of thousands of Hondurans calling for justice and self-determination.
Year after year, Honduras continues sending more and more soldiers to be trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. As the ongoing repression by Honduran military forces against the Honduran people show, it is more important than ever to close the SOA and demand a change in US foreign policy. Stay tuned for an update on organizing for this November’s Vigil at the gates of the SOA in Ft. Benning!
US Complicity in Guatemalan Genocide May 12, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Foreign Policy, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: genocide, guatemala, guatemala genocide, Latin America, mayan indians, perez molina, rios-montt, roger hollander, ronald reagan, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch
add a comment
Roger’s note: these are excerpts from the SOA (School of the Americas) Watch newsletter:
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards Justice.
SOA Watch celebrates the guilty verdict against the former Guatemalan dictator and School of the Americas Graduate Efraín Ríos Montt, who was sentenced to 80 years in prison. We celebrate and stand in solidarity with the Ixil Mayans, the survivors of the genocide and crimes against humanity committed under his dictatorship (1982-1983).
SOA Watch renews the demand that justice also visit those who trained, equipped, and facilitated his genocidal regime. School of the Americas graduates formed the backbone of the presidential cabinets under the dictatorships of both Montt and his predecessor, Romeo Lucas García. They were also deeply involved in the Guatemalan Intelligence Agency (D-2), in the formation of the notorious civil defense patrols, and in planning and executing “Operation Sofia”. This military maneuver wiped out some 600 Mayan villages, part of a broader campaign “of genocide against groups of Mayan people,” as concluded by the 1999 UN-backed truth commission. Montt is the first ex-president to be found guilty of genocide by a Latin American court—it indicates that the tide is turning against impunity in the region, however, we must also hold those in the United States accountable, who trained and equipped the right-wing military dictatorships and made the genocide possible.
After a meeting with Ríos Montt in Honduras during the US-backed Dirty Wars in Central America, then-president Ronald Reagan stated that Ríos Montt was “a man of great personal integrity . . . totally dedicated to democracy”. The next day, December 6, 1982, the Kaibiles, the Guatemalan special forces which have extensive ties to the SOA, entered the village of Las Dos Erres, systematically raped the women, and killed 162 inhabitants, 67 of them children. Current President of Guatemala Otto Peréz Molina, also a graduate of the SOA, spent much of his time in military service as a member of the Kaibiles. This military unit was developed by the Guatemalan government in 1974, and its initial leader was a fellow SOA graduate by the name Pablo Nuila Hub. Also during the military career of Molina, he served as Montt’s Ixil field commander, under the alias Major Tito Arias. For a more detailed SOA Watch report about the Kaibiles, click here.It was the current administration of Peréz Molina who, fearing Molina’s complicity in much of the evidence brought forth in the trial against Montt, who stood to benefit from the temporary suspension of the trial. Thankfully justice prevailed and the trial resumed.
YO SOY CHAVEZ , TU ERES CHAVEZ, TODOS SOMOS CHAVEZ March 8, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Venezuela.
Tags: bolivarian revolution, chavez death, economic justice, Hugo Chavez, Latin America, lisa sullivan, poverty, revolucion bolivianiana, roger hollander, roy bourgeois, soa, soa watch, Venezuela
add a comment
Greetings friends and thanks for so many lovely messages from so many of you. We are living through such a painful moment here in Venezuela, but an extraordinary moment as well: the passion, conviction and hope of my friends and neighbors is inspiring.
YO SOY CHAVEZ , TU ERES CHAVEZ, TODOS SOMOS CHAVEZ
Reflections by Lisa Sullivan on the death of President Chavez
Barquisimeto, Venezuela May 5, 2013
In the past hours my inbox is bursting with messages of condolences from El Salvador, Haiti, Chile, California, Oregon, Spain, Michigan, Italy, North Carolina, Costa Rica, Miami, Nicaragua, Japan, Honduras, and just about everywhere in between, expressing solidarity with my loss. The notes are profound and personal. It’s as though Chavez were my father.
The truth is, Chavez is my father, and he is the father of all of my Venezuelan compatriotas with whom I have had the immense privilege of sharing my life and raising my children for so many years in this beautiful and generous land. Twenty of those twenty-eight years have been defined, in great part by Chavez.
When I received the news of Chavez’s passing yesterday, the only feeling I can describe is that of being suddenly left an orphan. I immediately called my daughter in Virginia, as I knew she would understand. Several years ago when we went to live in the US for her high school senior year, Maia would tell me: I miss papa so much. And, I miss Chavez. I miss hearing his voice on tv as I go to sleep. I felt so safe. as though nothing could happen to me, nothing could happen to Venezuela.
Indeed, the people of Venezuela, the people of Latin America, the people of the Caribbean, feel suddenly orphaned from those strong and powerful arms that held us to his heart like a man defending his most vulnerable child against a raging storm. He believed in us. He told us stories and sang us songs and reminded us of our unique and dignified history. He affirmed and upheld our best qualities, he told us that we were as lovely as the stars as bright the sun, as free as the wind, as deep as the ocean and as powerful as all the forces of the universe.
And now, he is gone. But as I took the streets last night and this morning, like millions of other Venezuelans, to embrace strangers and cry in their arms, I found too that we had grown up. In those two decades on the Venezuelan public scene and 14 years at the helm, Chavez had given the most precious gift a surrogate parent can offer: the gift of adulthood. Let there be no doubt: the Venezuelan people have come of age. Chavez is gone, but this what resonates on every street and every plaza today: yo soy Chavez. I am Chavez .I am the leader, the dreamer, the visionary, the teacher, the defender of justice, the weaver of a another world that is possible.
That phrase brought me back to 2005, when I was visiting a nun on a hillside barrio in Caracas, one of those of thousands of barrios where Venzeuelans had been relegated like unwanted trash. No water, no sewage, no schools, no streets. Her name was Begonia , and she was telling me how she had walked for hours to see Chavez pass by. When teased by other nuns for being a “Chavista” she said. no, I’m not a Chavista, it’s that Chavez is a “Begonista”. He believes in all the things I have held dear for decades: the dignity of the poor, the right of the blind to see and those in chains to be freed.
Two days after I heard Begonia’s story, Chavez himself invited me to talk to him, along with Fr. Roy Bourgeois. He had heard us speak on tv about the grassroots movement to close the SOA and wanted to learn more. Thus, I found myself in the presidential office with a man noted for his long discourses, talking to the best listener I have ever encountered. Chavez was fascinated by Roy’s story of believing so much in his cause that he was willing to go to jail, enthralled by Venezuelan accent in Spanish, and my decision to raise my kids in a barrio. He asked about each of my children’s interests, and made sure that he spelled their names correctly as he signed a poster for each.
Oh, and he ordered Venezuelan troops to stop training at the SOA. Defiantly opening the door for five other countries to follow suit.
That’s who Chavez was. Deeply personal, celebratory, affectionate, and willing to muscle his way to the farthest limb to take a stand for justice, indifferent to the consequences. That powerful muscling was what had turned me off to him at first. Having spent a lifetime taking a stand for peace, I couldn’t fathom looking to a military man for leadership, much less for inspiration. It took family and neighbors to change my thinking: look, Chavez is like the pilot at the helm of a boat. We’re in that boat, and we’re going UP stream. (i.e. against the neo-liberal tide) Not downstream. Who do you want at the helm? a polite weakling? Or someone with muscles?
Fourteen years later, Chavez has guided that boat so powerfully and masterfully that not only are other boats following in its wake, but his power was so great, he seems to have literally reversed the river’s current. We’re floating downstream, on a river of independence, sovereignty, dignity,Latin American unity, in a nation that has the least gap between rich and poor, a nation whose college enrollment rivals several European countries, a nation whose oil now funds schools and hospitals instead of personal bank accounts in Miami.
Fourteen years ago my barrio neighbors didn’t dream of going to college, much less becoming doctors in their communities. Fourteen years ago my neighbors could barely fit in their tin or mud homes, much less envision living in a spacious three bedroom house with indoor bathrooms that cost almost nothing . Fourteen years ago, only those on the wealthy east side of my city felt they were citizens. Now we know we all are (State Department and Pentagon be forewarned).
When Chavez first announced his cancer almost two years ago, I awoke after another sleepless night and listened again and again to his speech. He referred to a song by our beloved singer/songwriter Ali Primera, who also died too young. Chavez repeated the lines: hay semerucos alla en el cerro y una canto hermoso para cantar. (there are cherry trees on the hillside and lovely song to sing). So much beauty around us, so much to do. As someone who spends every free hour planting trees on a mountain and singing with children, that felt like a personal mandate.
Actually, I do believe this is Chavez’s true mandate: Embrace your passion,and then share it with others. If you can play the guitar, teach a kid to strum, if you love basketball, shoot hoops with a teen. If you can fix a bike, teach the skill to an unemployed friend. If you have oil, share it with those who can’t afford their heating oil in Maine, if you have doctors, send them where there are none. Celebrate your beauty, your history, your dignity, and honor those qualities others: as family, as neighbors, as nations, as global citizens.
Today in Venezuela our sadness is deeper than Lake Titicaca, colder than Patagonia, larger than the Amazonia and harsher than the Atacama. But, we also know that together -as Venezuelans, as Americans and Caribeños, we are invincible.
That is Chavez’s legacy. Yo soy Chavez. Tu eres Chavez. Todos somos Chavez.
Message to Washington, DC: Let Honduras Live! December 8, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights.
Tags: Honduras, honduras military, human rights, Latin America, manuel zelaya, porfirio lobo, roger hollander, soa, soa watch
add a comment
Hundreds of Hondurans have been assassinated by Honduran security forces, many of whom are trained, equipped and vetted by the U.S. Tell Washington: No more money for Honduran military and police! Click here to send a message to Congress and the White House.
SOA-WHINSEC graduates are once again stealing the lives of innocent Hondurans, this time with the aid of equipment, funds and vetting by the U.S.military. Honduran soldier Josue Sierra, a 2011 graduate of WHINSEC has been charged with killing and covering up the May murder of fifteen year old Ebed Yanes. Further cover up was ordered by Lt. Col. Reynel Funes, also a graduate of the SOA.
Three years after SOA graduates toppled democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya, Tegucigalpa has become the murder capital of the world. Honduran police and military have made significant contributions, not to the prevention, but to the perpetration of such murders. Over the past 23 months, the deaths of 149 youth have been linked to Honduran security forces that are trained, vetted and equipped by the US military. U.S. agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency have also been connected to recent murders.
After 94 members of Congress signed a letter calling on the U.S. to stop military aid to Honduras, the Obama administration temporarily halted $50 million of military aid in August. This is a concrete victory because people like you took the time to ask. But the halt is temporary.
Please take one more minute of your time to send a letter to White House, to your Senators and to your Representatives, asking them to stop all training and funding of Honduran security forces, and to ask President Obama to close the School of the Americas by Executive order. We are also working with our partner groups to send an organizational sign-on letter to White House aide Denis McDonough, to educate him about the reality in Honduras.
HONDURAS ON THE HEART: REPORT BACK FROM SOA WATCH VISIT TO 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF COFADEH (Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras)
Backyards are such convenient places. That’s where I keep my compost pile, hang out my clothes, start plants in old sardine cans and step out in my old sweats to do my morning exercises. I can’t imagine adorning my front yard with a similar display of drying underwear, rusted cans, rotting tomatoes and sagging hips.
Honduras is our back yard, so it seems. It’s where we dump things and do things there that we never would with front-yard friends. We dump tax-evading fast food joints and cheap-labor-seeking maquilas there. We sprew the land with military bases, and DEA agents, offer rest stops to military commanders overthrowing democratically elected presidents. We vet soldiers and give them trucks to hunt down and shoot young teens who sneak out for dates.
Wait, that last part must be made up, right? Actually, no. A few days ago I found myself sitting in the Yanes family living room in Tegucigalpa, sipping coffee, and looking at family photos. Mostly of their teenaged son Ebed. A good kid who rarely ventured out alone from his gated community. But, being fifteen and in love, one night he snuck out on his motorcycle to see his girlfriend.
Upon return he encountered a road block where men with ski masks and automatic weapons stood by an imposing truck. Like most teens in this situation, he skirted the scary scene, dashing for home. Truck and soldiers took off after him and within minutes he was dead.
That tale wouldn’t probably have gotten much mileage in a country that holds the world record for murders. One more dead delinquent. Except that his dad, Wilfredo, knew this wasn’t the case, and became a driven man in his pursuit of truth. Risking his own life, he found witnesses who described soldiers shooting from the truck, collected the bullet shells, and secretly photographed the truck and soldiers in the same place his son had come across.
Pressing on, he discovered that the Ford 350 truck was one of dozens provided by the US military and that the bullets had come from guns given to troops that had been vetted by the US for respecting human rights. Specifically, the first bullets shot came from the gun of Honduran soldier Josue Sierra, a recent 2011 graduate of WHINSEC, the new name for the School of the Americas. The cover up was ordered by Lt. Col Reynel Funes, also a graduate of the SOA.
Ebed was just one of hundreds of young people have been killed since the 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya. In the past 23 months, 149 of them were killed at the hands of Honduran police themselves. Add to the mix the assassinations of over a hundred who have dared to resist the post-coup government: farmers, lawyers, journalists, LGBT activists, teachers and students The murder of four people returning to their remote village of Ahuas by boat might have been ignored had not villagers seen DEA agents firing.
One of those powerful bullets blasted through the hand of another young teen, Wilmer Morgan Lucas Walter. I had lunch with Wilmer and second mom, Mery Agurcia,one of the devoted staff of COFADEH, whose 30th year anniversary drew us to Honduras. When a fellow COFADEH staffer traveled to the village to investigate last May, she not only brought back notebooks of testimony, but Wilmer himself. He needed medical attention to save his hand, only available in the capital.
While we were having lunch with Wilmer, President Obama’s aide Denis McDonough was in town, sharing snacks with President Porfirio Lobo. Although McDonough did make a reference to the problems of human rights in the country, he said in the same breath that the US and Honduras have never had more robust relations.
McDonough did not meet with Wilfredo or Wilmer or any family members of victims of government repression, or more importantly, with victims linked to US complicity. He did, however, recently meet with a group of SOA Watch activists at the White House to hear their concerns about the School of the Americas. According to McDonough, the SOA was not a current day problem.
So, let’s remind McDonough what life looks like in a country where SOA graduates have helped to change the hopeful dreams of a new society for that of murder capital of the world. Remind him of the pain in the living room of the Yanes family, or in Wilmer’s hand. He will probably actually listen. Already the Obama administration is temporarily suspended $50 million in military aid to Honduras, thanks in great part to folks like yourself who pressured your member of congress to stop military funding to Honduras. Over 94 signed on. Now, please help make sure that not one more young life be taken, and ask that the US immediately stop ALL training and funding of Honduran security forces.
Last night I told my kids that this year we should decorate the front yard with Christmas lights. Maybe I’ll change my mind. I think I’ll decorate the backyard, with lights of justice. Join me.
Our Struggle Continues! Venceremos! November 28, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: civil disobedience, death squads, fort benning, human rights, Latin America, roger hollander, roy bourgeios, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch, whinsec
add a comment
From November 16-18, over two thousand students, prison abolitionists, teachers, nuns, immigrants, musicians, farmers, activists and workers from across the Americas mobilized to the gates of Fort Benning, to once more express our humanity and solidarity against the school of death and destruction. This year, we were fortunate to have so many activists from Latin America and the Caribbean who shared their stories with us and walked with us. It was a true manifestation of the saying: “Somos Una América! We are One America!”
On Sunday, November 18, we called out the names of our martyrs, including Ebed Yanes, 15, who was assassinated by SOA-trained troops in May, 2012, in Honduras. From left: Fr Ismael Moreno Coto of Honduras, Fr Roy Bourgeois, Adriana Portillo-Bartow, Dr. Martin Almada of Paraguay.
Thousands came together, including many for the very first time. This year, the names of people who died crossing the US/Mexico border were read along with those of SOA victims.
Expressing a vision of the world through puppetry is an integral part of the SOA Watch movement. On Saturday, the puppetistas brought out the USS Empire, representing the 520 years of oppression… which was later overwhelmed by our collective resistance!
Nashua Chantal, 60 years old, from Americus, Georgia, as he climbs the ladder over the fence at Fort Benning, to carry our protest onto the base. He faces 6 months in prison. Nashua will be in federal court in Columbus on January 9, 2013 to put the SOA/ WHINSEC on trial.
Fort Benning military police arrest Nashua for crossing the line.
Hundreds watch as Nashua is taken away. Our resistance transcends borders and fences, and we will not stop until they do!
Also, check a report back from Father Melo about his experience at the gates. Nina spoke of her first trip to Fort Benning, as did Dominique, who rode on the Veterans for Peace bus from Minnesota. From Ft Benning to Cairo, Eva reports on her views of militarism. Also, Rebel Diaz rapper Rodstarz wrote of his encounter with undercover police. Check the reports out!
We marched to the Stewart Detention center to protest unjust immigration laws; we connected our issues during caucuses and workshops; we remembered the names of the victims; and one of us took our collective message over the fence. We left with the renewed knowledge that our struggle did not begin or end at Fort Benning, but that we will continue to build a just and peaceful world in our communities every single day of the year!
Thank you to all of you who participated in the Vigil weekend and we invite you to stay connected and continue to spread the word through talks in your communities, video-showings, house-meetings, dances, theater, and legislative work (see you in DC April 8-10, 2013!). Take a rest, and get ready for a rebellious and transformative 2013!
PS: In the coming weeks, we will be delivering a letter to Congress urging them to include SOA/WHINSEC in their mandatory budget cuts. If you haven’t done so, please ask your local, regional or national organization to sign on to the SOA Watch Congressional letter.
SOA Watch Meets with White House Deputy National Security Adviser: Lessons Learned November 15, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: bill quigley, dennis mcdonough, foreign policy, human rights, Latin America, roger hollander, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch
add a comment
|Written by Bill Quigley
(Roger’s note: SOA Watch is one of the most dedicated movements for social justice and human rights I know. Unfortunately, I have little hope or expectation that the Obama Administration has the guts to stand up to the military. The notion of human rights training at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia is a cruel joke.)
|(Bill teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans, serves as Associate Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights and is a longtime member of the SOAW legal collective. You can reach Bill at
Denis McDonough, Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama, met with a delegation from the SOA Watch movement in Washington DC on November 13, 2012.
SOA Watch worked hard to meet with McDonough because he is a critical aide to the President and he has a deep Catholic justice background. A grad of College of St. Benedict and Georgetown, Denis comes from a big Catholic family which includes two priests.
Participating for SOA Watch were Congress Representative James McGovern, Father Roy Bourgeois, Adrianna Portillo-Bartow, Sister Marie Lucey, Father Charles Currie and Bill Quigley.
McDonough admitted he has in the past been a supporter of SOA-WHINSEC but wanted to hear more from the movement. Family members and even former teachers have talked to him about closing the school.
Representative McGovern told him the US underestimates how much of a bad symbol the school is in Latin America. On a recent visit to rural Colombia, grassroots people challenged the US commitment to human rights because of the continued operation of the school. The school is a symbol of all that is wrong with US policy in Latin America.
McDonough did not know and was concerned when McGovern told him the Department of Defense was stonewalling and not releasing the names of the students attending SOA-WHINSEC for the last several years.
Adrianna Portillo-Barrow told McDonough how troops in Guatemala, directed by SOA graduates, executed six members of her family including her 9 and 10 year old daughters. Hundreds of thousands disappeared at the direction of SOA grads. In Latin America, she said, the SOA-WHINSEC is a symbol of horror, pain and suffering and there is deep resentment that it remains open and unaccountable.
Father Roy, Sister Lucey, Father Currie and Bill Quigley highlighted for McDonough: A powerful letter from the UAW calling for the school to be closed; A multi-page list of religious, labor and human rights organizations supporting the movement; That 6 countries have pulled their soldiers out of the school; That 140 catholic bishops in Latin America and even more in the US call for its closure; 69 members of Congress have asked the President to close SOA-WHINSEC; and Four of the generals responsible for the 2009 coup in Honduras were SOA grads.
Father Roy told how the movement to close the SOA-WHINSEC started 22 years ago after the massacre of 14-year old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba and six Jesuit priests in El Salvador. “Closing it would send such a wonderful message to our sisters and brothers in Latin America and to the hundreds of thousands seeking its closure in the US.”
McDonough said he has looked hard at this issue but does not support closing the school. He cannot refute the fact that the school historically has been a symbol of human rights violations but he still supports keeping it open. He will read the materials submitted by the delegation and brief President Obama. He said he thought the militaries in Latin America are institutions like the church, flawed but important for those societies. The US has to find ways to work with and influence them to keep them under civilian control and WHINSEC helps that.
Near the end of the meeting, McDonough admitted that he has just recently met with the Chair of the Board of Advisors of SOA-WHINSEC and was impressed by reports of human rights trainings. At present he supports WHINSEC in concept, its reforms and its oversight.
McDonough promised to look into disclosing the names of the students at SOA-WHINSEC and possibly make changes to that policy. He thanked the group for the visit and respected the passion and intentions of the opponents but said he wanted to be candid about his lack of agreement.
As McDonough started to leave, Adrianna Portillo-Bartow made a powerful last plea. Her voice cracking and choking back tears, she asked him why so many hundreds of thousands have had to die and why so many more will have to die. Closing the school is an act of justice, she stated. It is time, she said, now nearly crying, for the US to stand with the people of Latin America, the oppressed, the poor and the persecuted. Moved and respectful, McDonough excused himself.
Our meeting with the White House Deputy National Security Advisor surfaces at least three lessons for our movement.
First, Denis McDonough has not yet joined our movement. This was our first face to face advocacy with him. He was respectful because this is a movement of hundreds of thousands. His refusal to announce the closing of WHINSEC is instructive to all who hoped the re-election of President Obama would automatically open previously closed doors for justice and human rights. Those doors are going to be opened only because WE are pushing them open. So we will.
Second, the fact that he did listen to the movement is important. He is a very busy and important person. He now knows we can educate him with facts about the school that he did not know previously. He is a smart man. I wonder what he thinks about the WHINSEC people not disclosing to him and the White House that they are not even disclosing the names of their students?
Third, it is up to us to continue to educate and agitate the powerful about the reality of US foreign policy. Adrianna’s pure voice of the victims of US policy teaches us again the power of the individual witness and the power of listening to the organized voices of the people most impacted. In a few days we will gather at Ft. Benning to commemorate the martyrs and celebrate the resistance. We will write, lobby, educate, organize and protest. If the Obama administration keeps the school open, we will be back and converge on DC in April. The school will close. Accountability will come. Human rights will prevail.
Two human rights lawyers assassinated in Honduras: take action! September 26, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: antonio trejo, bio fuel, dinant, eduardo diaz, honduran government, Honduras, honduras assassination, honduras privatization, human rights, mgk group, miguel facusse, roger hollander, soa, soa watch
add a comment
This past Sunday and Monday, two human rights lawyers, Antonio
Trejo and Eduardo Diaz, were brutally murdered in Honduras, bringing to over 60
the number of victims caught in the struggle for life and land in the Bajo Aguan
in Honduras. The debate over the production of food for families versus
bio-fuels for corporations has reached a high note
After the 2009
coup that was led by SOA graduates, massive privatization has become the order
of the day for Honduras, with almost everything, from land to entire cities, on
the docket for privatization.
Lawyer Antonio Trejo had the valor to take
a stand against this. He was defending the right of the MARCA peasant collective
to the restoration of their lands in the Lower Aguan valley. These lands were
seized 18 years earlier by Honduras’ wealthiest man: Miguel Facussé. Facusse’s
Dinant Corporation was using this land to produce African palms, a source of bio
Trejo’s efforts led to initial success, with a June court
decision calling for the return the land to the campesinos, However, pressure
from the private corporation led to an overthrow of the court order, as well as
the arrest of Trejo and other campesinos protesting the
Saturday night unknown assailants riddled Trejo’s body and car
with bullets as he left a wedding. On several occasions, Trejo denounced the
threats he had received to the media and had publicly said that if he were
killed, Facusse would be responsible.
Trejo had also taken a stand on
the controversial proposal by the Honduran government, in conjunction with a US
company, MGK Group, to build three privately run cities with their own police,
laws and tax systems. Just hours before his murder, Trejo had participated in a
televised debate in which he accused congressional leaders of using the private
city projects to raise campaign funds.
Only hours after Trejo’s
assassination, another human rights lawyer, Eduardo Diaz Madariaga was killed in
Choluteca, 84 miles (135 kilometers) south of the capital.
Antonio Trejo and Eduardo Diaz lost gave their lives to the struggle for
dignity. If you have at least 3 minutes to spare or a 3 cents in your pocket,
this is what you can do:
- 3 minutes to spare? Contact
your Member of Congress and demand an end to US military aid to
- 10 minutes to spare? Learn how Nicaragua found the
courage to withdraw their troops from the SOA last month, while neighboring
Honduras continues to pay the price for actions of SOA graduates, by reading the
from a recent SOA Watch delegation.
- 3 days to spare? Go to
Honduras as an
election observer. The National Popular Resistance Front formed a political
party, LIBRE, to compete in next years national elections, and primary elections
for LIBRE and Honduras’ traditional parties will be held this November. Four
LIBRE primary candidates have been killed to date and violence against FNRP
activists and members is committed daily
- 10 days to spare? Join
Witness for Peace and the Friendship Office of the Americas to see the effects
of militarization in Honduras and then take action at the SOA
Watch vigil in Georgia.
- No time, but some pocket
change? Help sponsor
SOA Watch’ Human Rights Accompanier with the PROAH Accompaniment Program of
“Oligarchs beware: the Honduran people of struggle will
continue to place our bet on the construction of a dignified life, until we
achieve a new society and a new country that we will refound with equality,
justice, peace and sovereignty”
- statement by COPIHN, September 25,
Hope: A Message to the Movement July 20, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: bureau of prisons, Criminal Justice, doj, father roy, incarceration, k, Latin America, Latin America military, prisoner of conscience, roger hollander, roy bourgeois, soa, soa watch, theresa cusimano, torture
add a comment
A Letter from Theresa Cusimano, SOA Watch Prisoner of Conscience
Last week I walked out of federal prison, flew home, and was greeted by my smiling parents at the airport gate. Unlike most other prisoners, I didn’t have to take a 14 hour Greyhound bus; or use my bright red, inmate ID card; nor wear my prison clothes en route. My privilege returned to me the moment of my release. Friends picked me up and drove me to the Westin hotel for a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream. Although it was July 11th and there was a heat wave burning through the country, I was still cold from my incarceration.
I entered prison because, like all of you, I believe torture is wrong and should not be a global export or a domestic product. The violence I survived during my six month stay in the five federal “holding” facilities confirmed my conviction. The United States’ Department of Justice likes to aggressively flex its muscles like a violent, bully when it comes to poor, sick and people of color. We spend our privileged fortunes on building expensive cages for them to fail in, without even providing clean drinking water. The Bureau of Prisons does not belong as a branch of the Department of Justice, but rather belongs in the Department of Defense, where torture and mass murder are their specialties. I saw no signs that the Department of Justice was in the business of holding olive branches, as their branding suggests. But they do know how to use the sharp, arrows that the eagle of their logo clutches in its left talon. I’m lucky to still be alive, their arrows nearly killed me.
My body gave out under the stress of being moved to four different facilities in two weeks’ time. My kidneys shut down without water or nutrition. My legs could no longer stand. The darkness of my 44 day seclusion, a “gift” to me from the feds on my 44th birthday, broke me. I lost hope when I was disconnected from all of you and your generous solidarity.
The strength of your collective prayers began to carry me out of the darkness of that rabbit hole. They shot me in the ass like a horse, to silence me. My eyes lost their ability to focus. They made me beg for my food and crawl, naked on concrete because I was unable to walk. You gave me hope that there are people who want to live a different way of life, centered on love. I wish to formally seek political asylum and live in your world.
As Father Roy faces excommunication from the church, and our first African American president fights for his second term…I hope you’ll show up at the November vigil or sponsor someone to attend in your place. This is our time to raise our voices. This is our time to extend our olive branches and request our country do the same. Peace is possible if we commit to nonviolence. When we surrender our fear of death, amazing things can happen. I am living proof and you are the reason I am still alive. Let us all live to rebuild peace in our worlds. See you on November 16-18. We will close the SOA. I owe you a hug.
SOA Watch Prisoner of Conscience
On January 13, 2012, Theresa Cusimano was sentenced to 6 months in prison by Judge Stephen Hyles for her nonviolent action for crossing onto Fort Benning. She was released from Carswell Federal Medical Center on July 11. Read more about SOA Watch Prisoners of Conscience here.
Theresa Cusimano Sentenced to Six Months in Federal Prison for Crossing the Line to Speak out against the School of the Americas January 13, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Imperialism, Latin America.
Tags: bishop romero, civil disobedience, desmond tutu, fort benning, Latin America, non violent protest, roger hollander, roy bourgeois, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch, stephen hyles, theresa cusimano, whinsec
add a comment
“There is but one law for all: the law of humanity and justice” – Jimmy Carter.
Those words adorn the wall inside the courtroom of Judge Stephen Hyles at the Columbus courthouse. And there they remain, strong words that ring hollow in face of injustice, merely adornments. For her act of peacefully crossing the line at Fort Benning, Georgia – a misdemeanor offense – a 6-month sentence was imposed on Theresa Cusimano. Those who train men with guns at the SOA/WHINSEC, those who created those torture manuals, have never had to defend their actions, yet Theresa is being sentenced to six months in prison for nonviolently calling attention to the US military’s role in the violence carried out against her sisters and brothers in the Americas.
Theresa Cusimano wrote the following statement to Judge Stephen Hyles before her sentencing, telling him that his complicity goes on record today as obstructing international justice and U.S. Rule of Law, and that she wished that he had the courage of Father Roy and the honor of being a subversive.:
“22 years ago, Father Roy Bourgeois played a recording of Bishop Romero’s final homily from the day before he was assassinated by School of the America graduates. Romero was labeled a subversive for identifying with the poor. Roy was so sure that once Romero’s community heard this homily, their hearts would be changed. So he climbed a tree with his friends, replaying Romero’s words to Salvadoran soldiers who were being trained at the School of the Americas to kill their brothers and sisters. Roy wore a Navy uniform representative of his military service in Viet Nam. Because of this action, Roy and his friends joined this circle of “subversives” by shining light on the truth of how the U.S. was spending our tax dollars on its gambling game known as U.S. foreign policy. In this dirty war business “subversives” become fair game for U.S. trained and financed militias while the U.S. continues to profit, sitting back and watching the body count grow, with mass graves filled with hundreds of thousands of mutilated children, raped women and countless, faceless corpses of unknowing communities. Who are we?
Columbus is a proud community that does not deserve the stain that the Schools of the Americas brings. The Fort’s barbed wire fence was not built to aid and abet the U.S. from international accountability for the human rights crimes facilitated by the SOA, violating U.S. statutes requiring transparency, not to mention military ethics. Yet you handcuff, videotape and fingerprint me as a criminal.
It seems we are in a bit of a stalemate. Our prisons are over filled, and our courts underfunded. Yet, you, Stephen Hyles, allow this expensive stalemate to continue. You pretend we are here for trespass, wasting precious resources, ignoring talent and idealism that could be put to better use. Because the Columbus magistrates do not recuse themselves despite their conflicts of interest, because you continue to deny defenses that would allow this debate to come to light. Since international law experts are not granted admission to this hearing, you and I are here today on Friday the 13th… you forced to listen and me sentenced to your prison, as a peaceful protestor. Nowhere else but in Georgia can such extreme sentencing be found to protect a base with a tagline, Maneuvers in Excellence. Is this what you call excellence? I want my tax dollars back. I suppose I should be grateful to make use of my tax dollars in another boondoggle economy that lacks accountability, the U.S. prison system.
I beg your pardon while you make a mockery of justice and we pay the price. General Eisenhower warned us of this stalemate as he left the White House. He warned that the military complex would suck all of the resources our country needed for its people, our schools, our hospitals to fuel its addiction to war. Nobel Peace Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu begs Americans to, “Stop exporting U.S. warfare.” My witness today Judge Hyles, is to hold you accountable, for the schools that will close this year, the veteran benefits that will be too expensive to make good on, the national service programs like AmeriCorps that will be threatened because you sat silent as precious resources fund the renamed School of the Americas in its latest Honduran coup. You may not hold a machete, or ask children to detonate the landmines used in U.S. financed coups with the protections of a soldier trained here, but your complicity goes on record today as obstructing international justice and U.S. Rule of Law. You have other choices. I only wish you had the courage of Father Roy and the honor of being a subversive.
With employment at an all-time low, who are we to challenge Georgia’s largest employer? We are 300 prisoners of our conscience who have served more than 100 years in prison, collectively. We are supported by hundreds of thousands of protestors. Our legislative campaign with no real funding comes within ten votes of inviting accountability. Today you could choose justice, Judge Hyles… it’s well within your reach.”
Theresa Cusimano, SOA Watch Prisoner of Conscience, January 13, 2012
Before carrying her protest onto the base in November 2011, Theresa addressed thousands of human rights activists at the gates of Fort Benning with a request:
“…Our message is not being heard in Congress, our lawmakers have been purchased by other priorities, so youth and students in the movement ask for you to help us in the Court of Public Opinion and go online to the Daily Show’s Facebook page, register in for their Forum. Request that Father Roy be invited onto the Daily Show, and the Colbert Report. Don’t stop until we get Roy’s voice into the media mainstream, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann and the Sunday morning circuit. Don’t let my civil action go to waste.”
To read her full speech from the stage and for contact information for some of the media outlets that Theresa mentioned, click here. To send a message to the media through the SOA Watch webpage, click here.