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SOA (School of the Americas) WATCH June 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America.
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SOA Watch News &   Updates
In this SOA Watch Email Newsletter:

  • SOA Watch Central America Delegation Report Back – FMLN takes over Presidency in El Salvador
  • New Military Base in Colombia Would Spread Pentagon Reach Throughout Latin America
  • All Out to Fort Benning, Georgia from November 20-22, 2009: Close the SOA!

    Winds of Change from the South!SOA Watch Central America Delegation Report Back – FMLN takes over Presidency in El Salvador

    Today the eyes of Latin America – and much of the world – are focused on tiny El Salvador, as representatives from over 100 countries converge for the historic presidential inauguration of FMLN´s Mauricio Funes. Funes´ inauguration marks the end of the two-decade rule of ARENA – an ultra right-wing party that was founded by SOA graduate and death squad leader Roberto DÁbuisson. The new president inherits a nation devastated by poverty and violence, but also filled with hope. The deep commitment of Funes to Monseñor Oscar Romero´s “preferencial option for the poor”, along with FMLN´s long-term dedication to ideals of economic and social justice, bring a spirit of promise to all of Central America.
    A small SOA Watch delegation recently traveled to El Salvador to dialogue with this new government about the participation of Salvadoran soldiers in the SOA/ WHINSEC. Several officials of the new government, including Vice President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, met with the delegation and expressed an open spirit. Organizations within El Salvador echoed the plea that the new government withdraw troops from the SOA/ WHINSEC. At the May Day march, the Comadres (mothers of the disappeared) spoke of this imperative before the crowd of historic proportions. The Dean of the University of Central America (UCA) publicly stated that the continued training of troops at a school noted for teaching torture would be “intolerable”.

    The SOA Watch delegation also visited Honduras, where they met with President Manuel Zelaya, as well as the Honduran Defense Minister and Chancellor. The SOA Watch delegation was privileged to be invited to participate in an all-day meeting with the president, his cabinet, and leaders of the country´s major social movements, to discuss new directions for the country. One of the nine formal proposals brought to this important gathering included the recommendation that Honduras withdraw its troops from the SOA/ WHINSEC.

    Members of the SOA Watch movement in the U.S. are lobbying their members of Congress to sign on to H.R.2567, the bill that would suspend operations at the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC) and set up a task force to investigate the connection between human rights abuses in Latin America and U.S. foreign military training. It is heartening to know that our southern counterparts are also organizing to close the school – by attrition. We are coming together – those whose tax dollars fund the school and those whose countries have been devastated by it, to close those doors of destruction, to open new doors of respect.

    Click here to read Lisa’s article about the Central America delegation.

    Support SOA Watch’s efforts in Latin America with a donation today. Click here to contribute now.

    New Military Base in Colombia Would Spread Pentagon Reach Throughout Latin America

    The Pentagon budget submitted to Congress on May 7 includes $46 million for development of a new U.S. military base in Palanquero, Colombia.

    The official justification states that the Defense Department seeks “an array of access arrangements for contingency operations, logistics, and training in Central/South America.”

    The military facility in Colombia will give the United States military increased capacity for intervention throughout most of Latin America. The plan is being advanced amid tense relations between Washington and Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and despite both a long history and recent revelations about the Colombian military’s atrocious human rights record.

    Click here to read the full article

    November 20-22, 2009: Converge on Fort Benning, Georgia – SHUT DOWN THE SOA!
    From November 20-22, 2009, thousands of progressive activists will converge at the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia for the annual vigil. In this exciting political climate, there is an air of cautious optimism that the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC) will be closed during this Congress. However, we recognize that the School of the Americas has operated under both Republican and Democratic presidents and there is still a lot of work to be done! It will take more than change in the White House to change the foreign policy of violence and imperialism that the SOA/WHINSEC represents, but Washington is feeling the pressure. Now is the time to educate the public and to show lawmakers that we have had enough.

    It is never too early to begin coordinating travel plans and organizing groups to travel to Columbus. Together we can show that the people of the Americas are taking a stand against violence and torture. Let’s mobilize our communities to make our voices heard!

    Here are some valuable resources for your organizing:

    Local SOA Watch groups

    Traveling to Columbus, Georgia

    Where to Stay in and around Columbus, Georgia

    Accessibility at the November 2009 Vigil

    Information for people without U.S. citizenship

    Legal Briefing for People Considering Civil Disobedience at SOA Protest

    We need to raise $70,000 to make the November Vigil to close the School of the Americas a success. Click here to make a donation to SOA Watch today.

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    El Salvador Votes Away Its Bad Past March 20, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Latin America.
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    by Mark Weisbrot

    Last Sunday’s election in El Salvador, in which the leftist FMLN (Farabundo Martí Front for National Liberation) won the presidency, didn’t get a lot of attention in the international press. It’s a relatively small country (7 million people on land the size of Massachusetts) and fairly poor (per capita income about half the regional average). And left governments have become the norm in Latin America: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela have all elected left governments over the last decade. South America is now more independent of the United States than Europe is.

    But the FMLN’s victory in El Salvador has a special significance for this hemisphere.

    Central America and the Caribbean have long been the United States’ “back yard” more than anywhere else. The people of the region have paid a terrible price – in blood, poverty and underdevelopment – for their geographical and political proximity to the United States. The list of US interventions in the area would take up the rest of this column, stretching from the 19th century (Cuba, in 1898) to the 21st, with the overthrow of Haiti’s democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (for the second time) in 2004.

    Those of us who can remember the 1980s can see President Ronald Reagan on television warning that “El Salvador is nearer to Texas than Texas is to Massachusetts” as he sent guns and money to the Salvadoran military and its affiliated death squads. Their tens of thousands of targets – for torture, terror and murder – were overwhelmingly civilians, including Catholic priests, nuns and the heroic archbishop Oscar Romero. It seems ridiculous now that Reagan could have convinced the US Congress that the people who won Sunday’s election were not only a threat to our national security, but one that justified horrific atrocities. But he did. At the same time millions of Americans – including many church-based activists – joined a movement to stop US support for the terror, as well as what the United Nations later called genocide in Guatemala, along with the US-backed insurgency in Nicaragua (which was also a war against civilians).

    Now we have come full circle. In 2007, Guatemalans elected a social democratic president for the first time since 1954, when the CIA intervened to overthrow the government. Last September, President Zelaya of Honduras – which served as a base for US military and paramilitary operations in the 1980s – joined with Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez when they expelled their US ambassadors. Zelaya defended their actions and postponed the accreditation of the US ambassador to Honduras, saying that “the world powers must treat us fairly and with respect”. In 2006 Nicaraguans elected Daniel Ortega of the Sandinistas, the same president that Washington had spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to topple in the 1980s.

    El Salvador’s election was not only another step toward regional independence but a triumph of hope against fear, much as in the US presidential election of 2008. The ruling ARENA party, which was founded by right-wing death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson, made fear their brand: fear of another civil war, fear of bad relations with the United States, fear of a “communist dictatorship”. Almost comically, they tried to make the election into a referendum on Hugo Chávez. (Venezuela kept its distance from the election, with no endorsements or statements other than its desire to have good relations with whomever won.)

    ARENA was joined by Republican members of Congress from the United States, who tried to promote the idea that Salvadorans – about a quarter of whom live in the US – would face extraordinary problems with immigration and remittances if the FMLN won. Although these threats were completely without merit, the right’s control over the media made them real for many Salvadorans. In the 2004 election the Bush administration joined this effort to intimidate Salvadoran voters, and it helped the right win.

    The right’s control over the media, its abuse of government in the elections and its vast funding advantage (there are no restrictions on foreign funding) led José Antonio de Gabriel, the deputy chief of the European Union’s observer mission, to comment on “the absence of a level playing field”. It’s amazing that the FMLN was still able to win, and testimony to the high level of discipline, organisation and self-sacrifice that comes from having a leadership that has survived war and hell on earth.

    This time around, the Obama administration, after receiving thousands of phone calls – thanks to the solidarity movement that stems from the 1980s – issued a statement of neutrality on the Friday before the election. The administration appears divided on El Salvador as with the rest of Latin America’s left: at least one of Obama’s highest-level advisors on Latin America favoured the right-wing ruling party. But the statement of neutrality was a clear break from the Bush administration.

    El Salvador’s new president, Mauricio Funes – a popular former TV journalist – will face many challenges, especially on the economic front. The country exports 10% of its GDP to the United States, and receives another 18% in remittances from Salvadorans living there. Along with sizeable private investment flows, this makes El Salvador very vulnerable to the deep US recession. El Salvador has also adopted the US dollar as its national currency. This means that it cannot use exchange rate policy and is severely limited in monetary policy to counteract the recession. On top of this, it has recently signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund that commits the government to not pursuing a fiscal stimulus for this year. And the FMLN will not have a majority in the Congress.

    But the majority of Salvadorans, who are poor or near-poor, decided that the left would be more likely than the right to look out for them in hard times. That’s a reasonable conclusion, and one that is shared by most of the hemisphere.

    Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), in Washington, DC. His column is distributed to newspapers by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.