One of the longest running, largest non-violent movements in the US is the one to close the School of the Americas/WHINSEC, a U.S. Army school that trains Latin American soldiers. Five members of DJPC attended the annual demonstration and vigil at Ft. Benning, GA on November 20-22, the twentieth anniversary of the SOA-led assassination of 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America in San Salvador.
Jane Covode, Kathryn Rodriguez, Tommy Timm, Sarah Sloane and Denise Peine joined thousands gathered at the Columbus, GA Convention Center Saturday morning to hear introductory speakers, musicians and staffers of SOA Watch, the organization dedicated to closing the school. Three of us were there for the first time and we were all impressed with the numbers and enthusiasm of the participants, which ranged from college students to long time activists to members of various religious traditions. We joined in proclaiming our goal– to close the SOA/WHINSEC and to resist the oppressive policies that it represents; to stand in solidarity with our Latin American sisters and brothers and all those around the world whose lives are impacted by these policies; and to act in a tradition of nonviolence.
Saturday afternoon we went to the gates of Ft. Benning where we heard various speakers reminding us of the immediacy and importance of our mission to close SOA. Bertha Oliva from Honduras spoke about the repression, injustice, disappearances and deaths that have taken place in her country since the June SOA graduate-led military coup. In Colombia, U.S. military intervention intensifies as an agreement allowing U.S. access to seven new Colombian military bases was just signed by both countries, endangering the security and autonomy of neighboring countries.
Sunday morning was chilly and damp, reflecting the solemnity of the funeral procession. During this event, several people on stage chanted thousands of names of the victims of SOA/WHINSEC violence. The crowd responded with “presente”–meaning he/she (the victim) is here with us- and lifted crosses with names of the victims. The marchers slowly passed the razor wire fence surrounding the Fort’s gate, where people left crosses and other memorabilia. Four demonstrators were arrested for “crossing the line” into the Fort.
Six giant “puppetistas” joined the march. This informal group of creative people crafted huge, realistic figures replicating the 6 Jesuit priests martyred in San Salvador. A mock “assassination” was held and then people with signs–love, hope, solidarity, equality, power, justice– arose to carry on the work of the Jesuits and other SOA victims.
The weekend was a powerful event for those involved with the continuing “lucha” for peace, human rights, and economic justice in Latin America. To learn more about SOA Watch, a grassroots organization that works year round to achieve these goals, see http://www.soaw.org.