SOA Grads Continue to Make Headlines Throughout the Americas February 28, 2015Posted by rogerhollander in Chile, Foreign Policy, Genocide, Guatemala, Honduras, Immigration, Latin America, Peru.
Tags: Daniel Urresti, ebed yanez, guatemala genocide, josue antonio seirra, jovel martinez, Latin America, Latin America military, Pedro Barrientos, pinochet, rios-montt, roger hollander, School of the Americas, soa, soa grads, soa watch, soa/whinsec, victor jara, whinsec
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Roger’s note: Another is my series: your American tax dollars at work in Latin America … to aid and abet murder.
In just the first two months of 2015, we have been horrified, though not surprised, to learn of the continued repression by SOA/WHINSEC graduates against their own people. As the US continues to secure economic and political interests by utilizing military solutions to social and political problems, SOA/WHINSEC graduates continue to make headlines in countries like Honduras, Guatemala, Peru and Chile, underscoring the importance of continuing the struggle to close the SOA/WHINSEC. While some graduates have yet to be held accountable due to the high levels of impunity in their country or in the US, they are all directly responsible for committing grave human rights violations, which include murder, torture and genocide.
As we continue to highlight these atrocities, we invite you to join us in Washington, DC for our Spring Days of Action this April 22-25, Growing Stronger Together: Resisting the “War on Drugs” across the America.
Lt. Pedro Barrientos Nuñez – Chile
In 2013, a Chilean Supreme Court formally requested the extradition of former Lieutenant Pedro Barrientos from the United States to Chile to stand trial for the 1973 torture and murder of folk singer Víctor Jara. Barrientos moved to the US after the Pinochet dictatorship ended in 1990. While the US government has yet to respond to this extradition request, a trial in a Florida court was set to begin on February 23. Though the trial has been postponed, Barrientos, who currently resides in Deltona, Florida, could potentially lose his US citizenship and later extradited to Chile where he would stand trial. In the US, Barrientos has been accused of immigration fraud, as he concealed his participation in human rights atrocities during the dictatorship in Chile. Joan Jara, widow of Víctor Jara, filed the case against Barrientos and has been seeking truth and justice for over 40 years.
General José Efraín Ríos Montt – Guatemala
On January 5, the retrial against SOA grad and former dictator General José Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez was set to resume following the annullment of the historic May 10, 2013 sentence condemning Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison for crimes against humanity and genocide against 1,771 Ixil Mayans. He is the first former head of state to be put on trial for genocide. On the morning of the retrial, the defense motioned for a postponement of the trial, using Ríos Montt’s deterioating health an excuse for not being able to present himself to the courtroom. Through stalling tactics by his defense, including attempts to seek amnesty, the retrial has been postponed once again despite international criticism. Ríos Montt came to power after a coup on March 23, 1982 and remained in power until August 1983. He is 88 years old.
Second Lieutenant Josué Antonio Sierra – Honduras
In January 2015, 2011 SOA/WHINSEC graduate Second Lieutenant Josué Antonio Sierra got off scot free for his role in the murder of 15-year-old Ebed Yanes despite the judges’ finding that “it has been proven Josué Antonio Sierra and Felipe de Jesus also fired their weapons at young Ebed Jassiel, which makes them participants in his death”. Sierra was in charge of the patrol, part of a US-vetted unit in charge of the US-donated vehicle used to chase down and kill young Ebed at a military checkpoint. Conveniently, Honduras’ Public Ministry solely accused a low-ranking solidier who was not part of the US-vetted unit of murder, while accusing Sierra and Rodríguez only of abuse of authority and cover-up. Human rights organization COFADEH had previously tried to include murder charges against them but the government Special Prosecutor for Human Rights decided against it. Now, the US can conveniently report that nobody from the vetted unit, much less a WHINSEC grad, has been found guilty of murder in the case. Click here to continue reading…
Col. Jovel Martínez – Honduras
Meanwhile, in the northern part of the country on the night of January 29, 18-year-old campesino leader Christian Alberto Martínez Pérez was riding his bike near the entrance to Paso Aguán Plantation, which is controlled by security guards for Dinant Corportation and soldiers from the Xatruch III Task Force, commanded by SOA graduate Jovel Martínez. Christian went missing, his bike found at the entrance to the Paso Aguán Plantation. Campesino and human rights organizations proceeded to search for him, finding his shirt on the Paso Aguán Plantation. Over 200 people combed the area for him, until finally on the third day of searching, he was found, blindfolded, barefoot, hands and feet tied up, left in a field. Once rescued, he told how a Dinant security guard approached him with a gun and together with a soldier put him in a vehicle, blindfolded him, and interrogated him about the leadership of the Gregorio Chávez campesino movement. Click here to continue reading…
General Daniel Urresti Elera – Peru
Yesterday in Peru, prosecutors requested 25 years of prison for SOA gradaute, retired General Daniel Urresti Elera, related to the 1988 murder of journalist Hugo Bustíos. As head of the Intelligence Section of the Countersubversive Military High Command Battalion at the time, Urresti is accused of masterminding the ambush and murder of Bustíos. Up until last week, Urresti was in charge of Peru’s police as Minister of the Interior and also made headlines as police repression was unleashed on protests against a law that would eliminate labor benefits and rights for young workers. Twenty thousand young people took to the streets, protesting neoliberal reform.
On January 15, 2015, police unleashed tear gas and detained protesters, and violence was reported between infiltrators and police. Soon after, on January 26, Urresti publicly boasted to the media that the young people would not be able to reach Congress and sent ten thousand police to block them. Nevertheless, the Peruvian youth and social movements prevailed and Congress was forced to repeal the law. Just last week, Urresti apologized for the February 11, 2015 death of 25-year-old Ever Pérez Huaman during protests against a petroleum company in Pichanaki, Peru. Amidst mounting criticism, Urresti admitted political responsibility for the use of firearms by police during the protest, and stepped down as Minister of the Interior.
Your Tax Dollars at Work … to Oppress and Kill Our Neighbors to the South September 16, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: brigitte gynther, deportations, Honduras, honduras military, human rights, Latin America, roger hollander, soa, soa watch, soa/whinsec, stewart detention center
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Roger’s note: Here is a letter from SOA Watch, the courageous that works day and night to shut down the infamous and murderous School of the Americas (renamed WHINSEC) now at Fort Benning, Georgia that for decades has indoctrinated and trained military personnel to do the dirty work of oppression and assassination for Latin American dictators and alleged democracies. The focus of this letter are the atrocities that are taking place on a daily basis perpetrated by the U.S. supported puppet government in Honduras under the leadership of SOA graduates. Honduras, since the US supported military coup against the elected Zelaya government, has become one of the most violent nations on the face of the earth; and this has created the exodus that is putting so much pressure on the U.S. border.
September 13, 2014
My name is Brigitte Gynther and I am the new SOAW Latin America Liaison. I look forward to getting to know many of you and working together to close the SOA/WHINSEC and demand justice for the murders, repression, disappearances, and so many other crimes carried out by SOA/WHINSEC graduates — both in the past and today. My first experience with the SOAW movement was traveling down to the gates of Ft. Benning as a student twelve years ago. Later, I moved to the Florida farmworker town of Immokalee and spent 8 years organizing with religious communities and others to advance the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ Campaign for Fair Food. We frequently attended the SOAW Vigil, but little did I imagine that I would later end up spending two years as an SOAW activante in Honduras, documenting the tremendous human rights abuses unleashed upon the country as the result of the 2009 SOA-graduate led coup.
In fact, I just came back from part of a delegation to Honduras in which SOA graduate Col. German Alfaro — notorious for criminalizing human rights defenders and social movement leaders — attacked the delegation in the media as part of a strategy aimed at silencing those who speak out. The delegation had traveled to the Lower Aguan Valley to learn about the very real assassinations and human rights violations suffered by the campesino communities. When the delegation visited the community of La Panama and took testimonies from victims about a violent eviction by the Honduran military involving tear gas, live bullets, one death, two serious injuries, and the beatings of several people, Col. Alfaro lashed out in the press, accusing the delegation of “encouraging campesinos to launch attacks” and said they were investigating the group for “being in a practically restricted area of the country.” This follows similiar accusations made by Col. Alfaro against Annie Bird of Rights Action – who has extensively documented extrajudicial killings and abuses in the Aguan Valley – and accusations against local human rights defenders and small farmers. It is part of a dangerous strategy aimed at hiding the reality in the Aguan by intimidating, discrediting, and defaming human rights workers who expose what is going on. Click here to call on the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa to condemn the attacks on national and international human rights observers and journalists who document murders and human rights violations in the Bajo Aguan.
Just two weeks after the delegation visited the Aguan, the Human Rights Observatory there reported that military forces under the command of another SOA graduate, Col. Rene Jovel Martinez, purposefully destroyed 52 acres of corn that campesinos had cultivated, some of which was almost ready to harvest. This leaves those families without the corn harvest they need to eat for the coming year.
The delegation finished in Honduras’ capital, where — after telling us about massacre after massacre and murder after murder — one of the people we met with asked us simply, “Who would want to stay in this country?” It is a telling question. Indeed, day after day, people flee the violence in Honduras, heading north to the US. This exodus is the direct result of the military coup and repression by the US-trained and funded military to impose policies that benefit the ultra-wealthy and multinational corporations at the expense of the majority of the population, corrupting the judicial system to ensure impunity for murders. Governed by the rule of the powerful instead of the rule of law, murders and violence have spiraled out of control. The US continues funding and training the corrupt Honduran regime, creating more migration. This is why, on November 22nd, the Saturday of the SOAW Vigil Weekend, we will be gathering outside the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia. Many of those fleeing the violence, repression, and economic devastation of Honduras are now incarcerated at the Stewart Detention Center by the largest private prison corporation in the US.
We will gather at the Stewart Detention Center to protest not only the mistreatment, jailing, and deportations, but also the US policies and military funding that cause so many people to have to leave their homes and migrate to the US in the first place. We will call on the US to respond to increasing migration not by increasing military aid and funding to corrupt and repressive governments, but by changing US polices — such as free trade agreements — that cause migration. We will demand the US to stop training so many Latin American military officers at WHINSEC to protect US corporate interests over human rights, resulting in military officers who go on to murder, threaten, and burn corn harvests of poor campesinos.
I hope to meet you at the gates of Ft. Benning and the Stewart Detention Center this November 21-23! We will be joined at the Vigil this year by some of the amazing participants from SOAW’s Youth Encuentro this summer, where young leaders on the front lines of struggles across the hemisphere came together to build the SOAW movement. Together we will remember those who have been massacred, murdered, and disappeared at the hands of SOA graduates and those who are suffering that reality right now. We will also speak out for the thousands of innocent civilians, children and adults, who flee the reality imposed by SOA graduates and find themselves jailed in the U.S., with our taxpayer money, for extended periods of time for no other crime than doing what many of us would probably do if we found ourselves in their shoes.
Urge Your Members of Congress to Call on State Department to Denounce Intimidation of Human Rights Defenders December 20, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Honduras, Human Rights, Latin America.
Tags: annnie bird, german alfaro, Honduras, honduras election, honduras election fraud, honduras military, honduras paramilitary, honduras repression, human rights, Latin America, roger hollander, School of the Americas, soa, soa watch
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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, 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
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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
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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
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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. 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
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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
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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
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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!
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
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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
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.