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Not Forgotten: Street Art to Remember the Victims of the School of the Americas May 31, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: If you watch the short video at the end of this posting, you will see a group of young people breaking the law by affixing posters on private property.  Someone obviously called the cops, and you will see them being arrested and taken away.  I don’t know how things turned out, but I suspect they were processed by the criminal justice system and will pay a price, perhaps even a large one, for their “crime.”  The object of their action, their protest, their civil disobedience, i.e., the U.S. government School of the Americas, is responsible for wholesale murder throughout Latin America.  They (the American politicians and military and the Latin American soldiers they train) will not be brought to justice for their deeds, they will literally get away with murder.  This is the world we live in, supported by our tax dollars.

 

by Nick Alexandrov

Víctor Jara was an internationally-acclaimed Chilean singer-songwriter, a theater director and activist. When General Augusto Pinochet took power on “the other 9/11” in 1973, his troops forced Jara and thousands of other political prisoners into Santiago’s Chile Stadium. After a group of soldiers recognized the artist, they tortured him in the arena basement, and then—before the crowd of detainees—cut off his fingers, mocking him as they demanded he perform something, perhaps a composition in the “New Song” genre he’d helped pioneer, and which Pinochet had banned. Witnesses recall that Jara sang “Venceremos”—“We Will Win”—before the guards dragged him away. He was shot 44 times.

Jara is one of the people School of the Americas Watch’s (SOAW) current poster campaign, developed with street artist César Maxit, commemorates. Others include El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel when assassins gunned him down in March 1980; Guatemalan Bishop Juan Gerardi, one of the main figures behind the crucial human rights report Guatemala: Nunca Más!, whose killers pummeled his face with a concrete slab, mutilating it beyond recognition; and Natalia Tuberquia Muñoz, who was only six in 2005 when massacred—along with three men, two women and another child—in the Colombian village of San José de Apartadó. What the musician, the bishops and the child have in common is that they are just four of the thousands of Latin Americans murdered by School of the Americas (SOA) graduates.

The SOA, located at Fort Benning, Georgia, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, 70,000 of whom have studied counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare there since the institution’s 1946 founding. Training manuals the school used for at least a decade recommended extortion, torture and execution as effective means of dealing with the state’s enemies. And the SOAW posters also feature eight of its alumni, including Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, who died last year in jail, incarceration his punishment for committing crimes against humanity, including disappearances, torture, and the killing of 15,000-30,000 dissidents; Guatemalan military dictator Ríos Montt, whom a Guatemalan court last year found guilty of genocide against his country’s Ixil Maya; and Honduran General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, a key official spearheading the country’s 2009 coup, which even the military lawyer—himself an SOA alum—charged with giving the affair a veneer of legitimacy admittedwas “a crime.”

SOA complicity in the recent Honduran coup reveals the institution’s continuing relevance. Its 2001 name-change—it’s known now as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)—was merely cosmetic, and “there are no substantive changes besides the name,” one of its former instructors testified shortly after the rebranding. The school’s consistent aim, in the past and today, has been to facilitate Latin American militaries’ wars of repression against their own people. Describing Washington’s support for dictators like Videla and Montt as stemming from its “anti-Communism,” or as related to the U.S.-Soviet rivalry, misses the point. The term “Communist,” for example, was always incredibly elastic, used to refer to illiterate peasant farmers, church officials, university instructors, women in areas considered guerrilla territory—the label could be affixed to whoever was slated for execution. “The army is not killing guerrillas, despite what is reported,” a U.S. mercenary in 1980s El Salvador explained. “It is murdering the civilians who side with them. By terrorizing civilians the army is crushing the rebellion without the need to directly confront the guerrillas. Attacking civilians is the game plan.” The SOAW posters remembering some of the victims—bishops, young girls, a musician—help capture this reality, still very much a part of Washington’s Latin America policy, as ongoing U.S. support for the repressive Mexican, Colombianand Hondurangovernments makes clear.

To help draw attention to the beneficiaries and victims of U.S. training and aid, nearly a dozen activists gathered on May 14 in Washington, D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, where they pasted up a mural composed, in part, of the SOAW posters. “Though the activists were peaceful in their actions,” SOAW reports, “D.C. police decided that political art was unacceptable in the district.  After the artwork was completed, four of the activists”—Dominique Diaddigo-Cash, Gail Taylor, Maria Luisa Rosal, and Nico Udu-gama—“were handcuffed, arrested and held for 6 hours before being charged with ‘defacing public or private property.’ The charge carries a maximum penalty of 6 months in prison and a $1,000 fine,” and those detained “will be arraigned in the D.C. Superior Court on June 5, 2014.”

But the police intervention in the Adams Morgan art action hasn’t had a deterrent effect: in the last few weeks, SOAW activists have taken posters to other District neighborhoods, as well as the streets of Los Angeles and the UC Riverside campus. “The best way to stand in solidarity with the targeted activists, and to push back against the criminalization of dissent,” SOAW reminds us, “is to keep up the resistance!”

This video, by Beth Geglia, shows footage of the May 14 action, as well as the subsequent arrest of four SOAW activists:

And go here for more information on the SOAW poster campaign. You’ll find the full series of downloadable posters on the website, as well as step-by-step wheat-pasting instructions.

Urge Your Members of Congress to Call on State Department to Denounce Intimidation of Human Rights Defenders December 20, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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http://org.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=Mjhd6VdCQAq++QxWxWp8CdgKpt6q9vfW Last week, School of the Americas (SOA) graduate and Honduran military Colonel German Alfaro made outrageous accusations against a leading U.S. human rights defender, Annie Bird, Co-Director of Rights Action, which is based in Washington, DC. Alfaro declared that the military is investigating Annie for alleged subversive activities with campesinos, including filing false reports about military abuses of human rights. One of the Honduran newspapers, La Tribuna, picked up the story and even ran a picture of Annie, putting her at further risk.* The allegations are completely trumped-up and dangerous given the pattern of violence in Honduras, of which Alfaro himself is a propagator. Please email your Members of Congress and the State Department to demand that they forcefully denounce this attack on Annie Bird and other human rights defenders.

Honduras is in crisis right now, as rampant fraud in their recent elections has allowed the current regime to continue the violence and intimidation against Honduran and U.S. human rights defenders. The Aguan Valley is an area where well over 100 campesino activists have been murdered by the military, police, paramilitary, and private security guards. These attacks on Annie are part of a growing strategy of intimidating and trying to silence international human rights advocates whom report on the state sanctioned violence. It is especially vital that the State Department speak out given that this attack on a U.S. citizen was carried out by a leading member of the US-funded and trained Honduran military, who himself received training at the School of the Americas. Ask your Congressperson and Senator to contact the State Department and U.S. Embassy now.

Information on the recent attack on the SOA Watch election observation delegation can be found here.

*La Tribuna, “Estamos investigando denuncia que una norteamericana desestabiliza en el Aguán”: http://www.latribuna.hn/2013/12/12/estamos-investigando-denuncia-que-una-norteamericana-desestabiliza-en-el-aguan/

School of Assassins Faces Protest, Congressional De-Funding November 21, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Latin America.
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SOA-protest

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.

John LaForge

John LaForge is on the Nukewatch staff and edits its Quarterly.

This American Life Whitewashes US Crimes in Central America, Wins Peabody Award August 3, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Genocide, Guatemala, Honduras, Latin America, Media.
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Saturday, 03 August 2013 02:17 By Keane Bhatt, North American Congress on Latin America | News Analysis

 

Ira Glass.Ira Glass. (Photo: Claire Asher / Flickr)Celebrating 2012’s best examples of broadcast journalism, the George Foster Peabody Awards attracted the likes of D.L. Hughley, Amy Poehler and Bryant Gumbel to the Waldorf-Astoria’s four-story grand ballroom in New York this past May. In a gaudy ceremony hosted by CBS star-anchor Scott Pelley, National Public Radio’s This American Life received the industry’s oldest and perhaps most prestigious accolade. The 16-member Peabody Board, consisting of “television critics, industry practitioners and experts in culture and the arts,” had selected a particular This American Life episode—“What Happened at Dos Erres”—as one of the winners of its 72nd annual awards on the basis of “only one criterion: excellence.”

This American Life’s host Ira Glass had once conceived of the weekly show, which reaches 1.8 million listeners each episode, as an experiment to do “the most idealistic, wide-eyed things that can do…to provide a perspective on this country that you couldn’t get elsewhere.” As is typical for the program, Glass weaved personal narratives and anecdotes together with broader context in “What Happened at Dos Erres,” which focused on a 1982 massacre of 250 Guatemalan civilians at the hands of their government’s elite military commandos—the Kaibiles.

But in his hour-long treatment of a savage period of Guatemalan history, Glass and his producers edited out essential lines of inquiry and concealed a key aspect of the bloodshed and its import for U.S. listeners: Washington’s continuous support of Guatemalan security forces—including the Kaibiles at Dos Erres—as they killed tens of thousands of largely indigenous civilians­ in 1982 alone. Moreover, by distorting the historical record, Glass performed an impressive feat of propaganda—he sensitively related Guatemalan victims’ harrowing personal stories while implying that the only fault of the United States was that it had simply not done enough to help them.

Ironically, “What Happened at Dos Erres” accomplished Glass’s longstanding goal of providing a perspective on the United States “that you couldn’t get elsewhere.” One would be hard-pressed to encounter another contemporary mainstream account of that period so thoroughly sanitized of Washington’s involvement in crimes against humanity.

During his brief 17-month rule from 1982-83, Guatemalan military dictator Efraín Rios Montt escalated to its grim apogee the state terror regularly employed during a decades-long attack on leftist insurgents, suspected sympathizers, and Mayan communities. This American Life correctly described the directives of the Army High Command’s scorched-earth campaign, in which soldiers burned farmland and homes, slaughtered animals, raped and mutilated women and children, and exterminated entire communities like the hamlet of Dos Erres. Glass concluded that state-led massacres “happened in over 600 villages” and added that an overall accounting of the larger conflict by “a truth commission found that the number of Guatemalans killed or disappeared by their own government was over 180,000.”

Glass did not mention, however, that the very same UN-sponsored truth commission also concluded in its 1999 report that the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some state operations” involved in atrocities like Dos Erres. (Both The Washington Post and PBS reported this particular finding at the time.)

 

Notwithstanding This American Life’s omission, the extent of U.S. criminality in Guatemala is astonishing, as is the abundance of publicly available evidence of it. Beginning with a Central Intelligence Agency-organized coup that overthrew Guatemala’s reformist democrat, President Jacobo Arbenz, in 1954, the United States played a dominant and closely documented role in the horrors that ripped the country apart over 40 years, throughout a long chain of dictatorships.

Between 1956-61, for example, the United States trained over 600 Guatemalan military officers either on U.S. soil or within the U.S.-controlled Panama Canal Zone. By 1963, U.S. advisors were providing expertise in domestic surveillance and crowd control, while Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Edwin Martin, in an internal document, lauded the “encouraging progress toward [the] establishment of an effective counter-subversive intelligence apparatus.”

With the help of security adviser John Longan of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Public Safety, that apparatus developed into Operación Limpieza. New York University historian and Guatemala expert Greg Grandin describes the program, created in 1966, as a consolidation of “the operations of the police and military” that allowed them to “gather, analyze, and act on intelligence in a coordinated and rapid manner” with the aid of “state-of-the-art telecommunications and surveillance equipment.” Among its first successes were the tortures and murders of dozens of leftist leaders over a three-day period in March 1966—Operación Limpieza quickly became, according to Grandin, the “cornerstone” of Guatemala’s state repression.

In September of that year, the U.S. embassy hailed Operación Limpieza’s head, Colonel Rafael Arriaga Bosque, as one of Guatemala’s “most effective and enlightened leaders”; by October 1966, he would help carry out the country’s first scorched-earth campaign, massacring eight thousand. U.S. planners were fully aware of the consequences of their ongoing assistance: in a 1968 State Department memo, Longan frankly conceded that Guatemalan security forces “will be continued to be used, as in the past, not so much as protectors of the nation against communist enslavement, but as the oligarchy’s oppressors of legitimate social change.”

Successive U.S. presidents avoided publicly labeling Guatemala a gross violator of human rights for fear that “it would be too difficult to clear a country of such a label once given,” thereby jeopardizing the resumption of military aid, according to State Department officials cited in a 1986 U.S. General Accounting Office report. Nevertheless, under Jimmy Carter’s presidency in 1977, Congress enacted a ban on military assistance to Guatemala. The legislation allowed for a loophole, however: it “did not prevent government arms deliveries previously under contract or commercial export of munitions,” the GAO found.

“While the Carter Administration at least implicitly recognized that Guatemala was a gross human rights violator,” wrote Tanya Broder and Bernard D. Lambek in the Yale Journal of International Law in 1988, “President Reagan’s desire to supply the Guatemalan military [with arms and training]” dealt a coup de grâce to any efficacy of Congressional prohibitions.

By 1982, U.S.-allied proxies such as Israel and Taiwan were tasked with arming Guatemala’s counterinsurgency forces, successfully circumventing U.S. restrictions. The CIA under Reagan also provided regular payments to top Guatemalan military leaders, and the administration illegally deployed advisers to teach Guatemalan cadets “anything our Army has,” according to Green Beret Jesse Garcia, who had arrived in the country months before the Dos Erres massacre. As reported by investigative journalist Allan Nairn, this included “ambushes, surveillance, combat arms, artillery, armor, patrolling, demolition and helicopter assault tactics.” Quoting Garcia, Nairn wrote that the United States provided expertise in “how to destroy towns.”*         

 

On the evening of December 4, 1982, just two days before the Guatemalan Kaibil commandos would initiate their Dos Erres operation, Reagan addressed reporters at an Air Force base in Honduras regarding a “useful exchange of ideas” he had just had with Rios Montt. “I know that President Rios Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice,” he declared. “The United States is committed to support his efforts to restore democracy,” he said in reference to the coup perpetrator, and “my administration will do all it can to support his progressive efforts.”

In a question-and-answer period, Reagan also dismissed accusations of human rights violations committed by Rios Montt and his military: “Frankly I’m inclined to believe they’ve been getting a bum rap,” he protested. It has long since been clear that with these kinds of comments, the Reagan administration was deliberately obscuring Guatemala’s record of atrocities.

After all, following his 1980 election, two retired military leaders involved in his campaign reportedly told the Guatemalan military that “Mr. Reagan recognizes that a good deal of dirty work has to be done.” According to national-security documents unearthed by investigative journalist Robert Parry at the Reagan Library, the United States knew of Guatemala’s longstanding efforts to annihilate leftists’ “civilian support mechanisms.” And nine days before Reagan downplayed allegations of Rios Montt’s criminality for journalists, a State Department report noted, “our Embassy recently informed us of a new, apparently well-founded allegation of a large-scale killing of Indian men, women and children in a remote area by the Guatemalan Army.”

 

Given Reagan and Rios Montt’s close collaboration, along with a Guatemalan judge’s finding of “sufficient evidence tying Rios Montt to the Las Dos Erres massacre,” it seemed obvious that This American Life would touch upon Reagan’s culpability in the course of an hour-long episode dedicated to the atrocity. Indeed, Glass appeared to indicate a willingness to do so, when early in the program he boasted:

OK, before we dive into this story, just a quick history review. Now, I myself was the kind of insufferable, politically correct person who was obsessed with Latin America back in the 1980s. I called Nicaragua “Neek-ar-ah-wah,” and actually went to Nicaragua for a month during the fifth anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. I traveled in Guatemala during the civil war. You, however, might be what we call a normal person and didn’t do any of that.

 

Yet Glass’s history review for “normal people” completely excluded U.S. involvement in violations of international humanitarian law, despite the on-air appearance of researcher Kate Doyle of the National Security Archives, who specializes in declassified U.S. documents. He introduced her early in the episode and focused on an inane line of questioning regarding her personal “list of the ranking of most f’ed up countries” in Central America. As she related to me by phone, the program scrapped much of the rest of her in-studio discussion, in which she highlighted Washington’s participation in atrocities.

In its zeal to avoid all mention of active U.S. assistance in Dos Erres, This American Life also excluded content from its own media partner, ProPublica, which published a written article that coincided with the radio program. ProPublica’s account highlighted the case of Kaibil sergeant Pedro Pimentel, sentenced in 2012 to 6,060 years in prison for his role in the atrocities. Directly after the operation, he was spirited away by helicopter from Dos Erres to the School of the Americas, the U.S. military’s infamous training center for Latin American security forces, where he went on to serve as an instructor. (The School of the Americas had trained Rios Montt in 1950, and would in 1985 train Guatemala’s current president Otto Pérez Molina, who, as a Kaibil field commander, likely committed atrocities himself.)

When asked about such omissions by email, Glass replied, “I certainly know that history,” and admitted that he had talked “to Kate Doyle about U.S. participation in Guatemala.” Nonetheless, he and his co-producers “decided not to get into that in the program simply because we felt like we were throwing a lot of facts and history at our listeners and were worried about how much people could absorb.” He added, “It was a judgment call. And maybe we made the wrong call.”

Retrospection aside, his answer was disingenuous. While it was true that the words “Reagan,” “Jacobo Arbenz,” “School of the Americas” or “CIA” were never uttered in the hour-long broadcast, Glass and his co-producers did not simply omit context. They went one step further, by affirmatively—and falsely—framing the U.S. government as a negligent bystander whose only sin was a reluctance to speak out.

He claimed in the episode, for example, that “Embassy officials heard lots of reports about the Army massacring whole villages throughout Guatemala, which they dismissed,” until, “at the urging of the State Department back in Washington,” they went to “see for themselves if the stories were true.” This American Life’s harshest indictment is that, despite years of repeated massacres after Dos Erres, “the U.S. knew about it but stood by.”

If Glass worried about inundating listeners with too many facts, I asked in a follow-up email, “why did you introduce the factual claim that ‘the U.S. knew about [the ongoing killings] but stood by?’” And how could this characterization possibly be reconciled with his previous email’s description of “U.S. participation” in war crimes?

Glass did not respond.

 

In October 2011, Barack Obama echoed Reagan’s soaring, mendacious, 30-year-old script for his Central American ally. Having invited Honduran President Porfirio Lobo to the White House, Obama thanked him for his “strong commitment to democracy and leadership.” Lobo’s “restoration of democratic practices and a commitment to reconciliation,” said Obama, gave him “great hope.” It would have been impolite, of course, to publicly acknowledge that Lobo had presided over state security forces, trained and financed with millions of U.S.-taxpayer dollars annually, that had killed and continue to kill Honduran civilians as a matter of routine.

Given This American Life’s conformity to official U.S. doctrine regarding Guatemala, it was to be expected that a subsequent half-hour segment on Honduras titled “Some Like It Dot,” which aired in early 2013, would in no way upset the official narrative set by President Obama. The episode predictably excluded crucial, if inconvenient, political context as it centered on the attempt to develop “charter cities” in Honduras—swaths of land to be ceded to international investors and developed into autonomous cities, with their own police forces, taxes, labor codes, trade rules, and legal systems.

Although the show dutifully included a warning by Princeton economist Angus Deaton, who described charter cities as a “reintroduction of colonialism,” This American Life nonetheless enthusiastically portrayed the messianic vision of University of Chicago-trained economist Paul Romer as an exciting solution to Honduran “corruption and chaos and violence.”

That very “corruption and chaos and violence,” This American Life failed to inform its listeners, exploded as a result of a 2009 coup d’etat against the country’s left-leaning, democratically elected leader, President Manuel Zelaya. Strong circumstantial evidence implicates the United States in his ouster. The early-morning plane that spirited the pajama-attired president and his family to Costa Rica, for example, stopped to refuel at the U.S. military base of Palmerola. U.S. officials also acknowledged that they were in discussions with the Honduran military (many of whose leaders were trained at the School of the Americas) up until the very day it deposed Zelaya.

What is known beyond any doubt is Washington’s vigorous efforts in 2009 to bolster the coup government of Roberto Micheletti, and to legitimize the repressive sham elections held under that regime. With the dubious transfer of power from Micheletti to Porfirio Lobo in 2010, the ultimate success of Zelaya’s removal was guaranteed. Unsurprisingly, neither the coup, its consequences, nor Washington’s involvement appeared in This American Life’s episode.

Other than Romer, the episode’s main protagonist was Lobo’s chief of staff, Octavio Sánchez. Besides being the leading Honduran advocate for charter cities, Sánchez was one of the most strident champions of the coup. Writing in The Christian Science Monitor just days after the elected president was removed from the country at gunpoint, Sánchez characterized the event as “nothing short of the triumph of the rule of law,” and urged readers not to “believe the coup myth.” This American Life could not be bothered to point out this fact, or Sánchez’s profound cynicism, preferring instead to describe him as the country’s idealistic “national dreamer.”

In his defense, Ira Glass wrote by email: “What interested our…reporters in that story was the relationship between Octavio Sanchez and Paul Romer, and what it said about the ability of outsiders to come into a country with a development scheme like Romer was suggesting.” Though he claimed his reporters “were well aware of the broader politics of Honduras,” This American Life wanted nothing to do with it. “I think another reporter could make a totally interesting and valid story going into more of the politics you’re talking about, but that simply wasn’t the focus of what we were doing.”

By coding the crux of the debate around charter cities as extraneous “politics,” Glass was able to evade it. But the fact remains: the imposition of “development schemes” by “outsiders” on Honduras would be considered impossible if the overthrow of its democratically elected leader and the resulting decimation of its sovereignty had not occurred.

In response to Glass’s attempt to narrowly circumscribe “the focus of what we were doing,” I raised another question: if Octavio Sánchez’s vigorous coup defense was too far afield from This American Life’s preferred subject matter, was it relevant to the show’s narrative that the most prominent Honduran opponent of charter cities, Antonio Trejo, was murdered in a death-squad-style assassination in September 2012?

Yet again, Glass remained silent.

 

In the 1980s, when U.S. officials were most viciously engaged in Central America’s political violence, they could rely on media outlets as their reliable partners. Journalist Allan Nairn noted in a 1999 interview with Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting that during the period of Guatemalan genocide, “the big corporate press in the U.S. was not covering the U.S. role at all”—it was “barely covering the fact that the mass killings were taking place.” So in addition to condemning the U.S. government, he concluded that “the press also has blood on its hands.”

This American Life’s “What Happened at Dos Erres” mimicked some of the most propagandistic media behaviors of the 1980s. Its producers prohibited even a single sentence from reaching millions of U.S. listeners regarding the murderous policies of their own elected officials, executed with their tax dollars and in their name. It also bolstered the specious intellectual framework for greater U.S. intervention throughout the world on “humanitarian” grounds, by inventing the historical figment that the United States “stood by” in the face of Guatemalan violence. Months later, with remarkable continuity, This American Life concealed for U.S. listeners their relationship to the seemingly far-flung and senseless violence of Honduras.

This American Life’s journalistic misconduct is manifold: First, Ira Glass unreservedly acknowledged that both he and his co-producers were fully aware of the politics of both Guatemala and Honduras. Second, he clearly stated that they deliberately chose to omit them for their U.S. audience (and in the case of Guatemala, they disseminated a pure fabrication). Third, their motivation for suppressing the U.S. government’s hand in the barbarity of the two countries stems from either a disdain for their listeners—Glass condescendingly “worried about how much [history and facts] people could absorb”—or from their willingness to perpetuate Washington’s flattering self-image.

Whatever This American Life’s rationale may be, its two episodes on Central America prove that Glass’s earlier aspiration to do “the most idealistic, wide-eyed things that journalism can do” has been extinguished. Given the generalized dishonesty of the U.S. media and intellectual class, it’s no surprise that Peabody’s “experts in culture and the arts” rewarded the show for its excellence. But this accolade should not distract anyone from the reality that This American Life’s compelling storytelling can in no way be confused with ethical journalism.

* Allan Nairn, “Despite Ban, U.S. Captain Trains Guatemalan Military,” Washington Post, October 21, 1982, page 1

Update (7/29): I spoke with the media watch group Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting on its weekly radio program CounterSpin about This American Life‘s coverage of Central America. My segment can be listened to here. Our conversation touched upon the excellent work of Kevin Young in the latest NACLA Report on the Americas. His piece, “Washing U.S. Hands of the Dirty Wars: News Coverage Erases Washington’s Role in State Terror,” contextualizes the broader trends of the establishment media: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and National Public Radio reported on U.S. support for Latin American dictatorships in only 6% of their coverage from 2008-2013.

Justice for Honduras – End U.S. Military Aid and Training June 1, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Justice for Ebed Yanes!

http://org.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=+htAWLsIBU5A4KMGSAD1bQd89Bm7QiOS

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. http://org.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=ZrIg8dhiTI6XJll2uchG7wd89Bm7QiOSSecond 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 http://org.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=Gsc0lAU821r+xFXZqlqAzQd89Bm7QiOSfiring 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, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Foreign Policy, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Latin America.
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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. http://org.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=WtixO3VvgNzQyPeZce9Vk9GeeaI19pig 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).

 

 

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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, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Venezuela.
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hugo chavez cortejo
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.

So many have asked how we are doing, and so I took a few moments to put together some thoughts, which you will find below. Feel free to share, especially with folks whose only news source is the mainstream press. Best to all, abrazos, Lisa
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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.

Abrazos, Lisa


Lisa Sullivan
Latin America Liason
School of the Americas Watch
Apartado Postal 437 Barquisimeto, Lara
Venezuela
58-416-607-0972
www.soaw.org
www.soawlatina.org

Message to Washington, DC: Let Honduras Live! December 8, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights.
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http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=4IRzDKV2NjB/HTzDE58uKdJKPBE2/8+5 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.
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=k68QtixAdg+djkGQz4XGgNJKPBE2/8+5 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)
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=aCbovGPPW0zfKxWkHIqBI9JKPBE2/8+5 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.
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=U1ATaly0sG1mPBi5dkId8dJKPBE2/8+5Upon 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.
http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=MWxDTLG4LMhSHmg4W/LZQdJKPBE2/8+5 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.

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Our Struggle Continues! Venceremos! November 28, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Latin America.
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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!


Click here to see more photos from Tom Bottolene. If you have any pictures you took and would like to share them, you can upload them to the SOA Watch Flickr page.

 
Special thanks to the Mobile Broadcast Network who livestreamed the Vigil. Check out a clip of Rebel Díaz and Fr Roy here, and of the Puppetista pageant and interviews in Spanish here.

 
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!

 
In struggle,
SOA Watch

 
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, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Latin America.
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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
quigley77@gmail.com)
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.

“SOA-WHINSEC admits they have a few bad apples,” noted Quigley. “But this is not just a few bad apples, this is a bad orchard that needs to be dug up by its roots.”

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.”
President Obama was quite moved when he visited the cathedral in San Salvador where Bishop Romero was assassinated, said McDonough. The justice legacy of Bishop Romero has great personal significance for the President.

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.

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