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12 Members of Congress, 75+ Organizations & 7,000 Human Rights Activists Demand Justice PDF Print E-mail

For immediate release
SOA Watch Contact:
Hendrik Voss, National Organizer,202-234-3440

Constitutional Rights Under Attack in Georgia: US Representatives, 75+ Organizations Demand Protest Restrictions Be Lifted


Columbus, Georgia – The Columbus police department has received some national and international attention after Columbus police chief Ricky Boren announced unconstitutional restrictions on the annual November 21-23, 2014 Vigil to Close the School of the Americas (SOA, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) at the main gates of Fort Benning, Georgia. According to the police, the annual gathering of thousands of should be limited to 200 people. The permit to set up a stage and sound system has been denied.


The suggestion by the Columbus police that SOA Watch should abandon plans for a protest at the main gates of the base, and instead apply for a new permit for a side road near a back entrance, was rejected by organizers, who vow to continue the 24-year tradition of honoring those killed by SOA/WHINSEC graduates at the main gates of the base.


This week, 12 Members of Congress intervened in the conflict. In a letter to the Columbus mayor and police chief, Representatives John Conyers, Jr. (MI), Jim McGovern (MA), John Lewis (GA), Hank Johnson (GA), Sam Farr (CA), Danny K. Davis (IL), Barbara Lee (CA), Michael Capuano (MA), Peter DeFazio (OR), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Maxine Waters (CA), and Luis Gutierrez (IL) asked the local authorities to lift the restrictions and to let the Vigil go forward unimpeded. The lawmakers write “While the demonstration may impede traffic and constitute an inconvenience to Ft. Benning, these types of disruptions are part and parcel of our country’s proud tradition of vigorous free speech.”


Thousands of activists and more than 75 national and international human rights and social justice organizations have signed petitions and written letters to Columbus authorities in support of SOA Watch’s first amendment rights.


Thousands have gathered every November for the nonviolent demonstration since the first anniversary of the 1989 SOA graduate-led massacre of 16-year-old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba Ramos and six Jesuit priests at the University of Central America in El Salvador. SOA Watch calls for the closure of the institute, which exports the militarization of police, perpetuates coups, torture, extrajudicial killings, and human rights abuses in the face of social and political problems. The SOA/WHINSEC made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released SOA training manuals that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Among its graduates are at least 11 dictators as well as leaders of infamous Central American death squads. SOA/WHINSEC graduates are currently linked to the Honduran military coup and the repression campaign against social movements there, among other humanitarian crises.

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Want to know what we've been up to? PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends,

We would like to let you know that the next issue of our bi-annual publication ¡Presente! is about to go to print.

Would you like to receive a free copy of our newspaper in the mail? If you would like to receive one, click here.

¡Presente! is a tool of the movement to close the School of the Americas/WHINSEC that we use to share the news of our struggle and to engage in a broader analysis on how to resist militarization, critique oppressive U.S. foreign policy, speak out against human rights abuses and foster cross-national solidarity with Latin America. We are committed to send ¡Presente! free of charge to everyone who wants to receive the newspaper, but donations to cover the costs of printing and mailing are always welcome.

The upcoming issue of ¡Presente! includes articles on the root causes of migration by unaccompanied Central American minors, police militarization in the U.S./abroad, a report on SOA Watch’s recent "Youth Encuentro" that brought 33 young leaders from 18 countries together in Venezuela as well as important information about our upcoming 25th annual November Vigil at Fort Benning in Georgia - and much more.

You can get even more actively involved in the movement by becoming a distributor of ¡Presente! in your community! You can order the newspaper in bulk at http://soaw.org/order and help us reach more people in your city! Since SOA Watch is a grassroots movement, we need and appreciate the initiative of people like you, who step up and help to spread the word in more places!

In Solidarity,

Karolina
SOA Watch
202-234-3440

 
Denial of 1st Amendment Rights will not halt Nonviolent Resistance on 25th Anniversary Vigil PDF Print E-mail
Written by Hendrik Voss   
Tuesday, 22 July 2014 21:17
Dear Friends, Father Roy Bourgeois

Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren is messing with the wrong movement.

This year, as we prepare to gather for the 25th Vigil to Close the School of the Americas, he is trying to stop us from speaking truth to power at the main gates of Fort Benning as we have done since the first anniversary of the brutal massacre at the University of Central America in 1989.

In the protest permit “approval” he sent me, he’s denied our right to set up a stage and speakers so the messages from survivors of ongoing SOA-graduate violence in Colombia and Honduras can share with us their stories. And he’s said we cannot be in the street, and no more than 200 protesters at a time can be on the sidewalks of Fort Benning Road.

This political attack on our First Amendment rights cannot stand. I give you my word, we will fight this, and ensure a safe and legal space for all who wish to attend this year’s 25th anniversary Vigil (November 21-23). SOA Watch organizers and attorneys from the SOA Watch Legal Collective are working on the case, and we know that justice is on our side.

Will you stand with me, and sign this petition to Police Chief Boren urging him to reconsider his unjust denial of our right to peaceably assemble at the main gates of Fort Benning?

By standing together, our power cannot be denied, and we will raise our voices in solidarity with those struggling on the ground in Latin America against the violence and oppression wreaked by this infamous institute and corrupt US foreign policies. The vigil weekend will also include a march to the nearby Stewart Detention Center, a privately-run, for-profit immigrant prison, where thousands of our brothers are being held simply for seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Many of those who are incarcerated there had to escape the devastating consequences of past and present U.S. foreign policy in the region.

Thank you for your courage and solidarity, and keep an eye out for further updates as we prepare for what will be a Vigil to remember. Make your travel plans!

Yours in struggle,
Father Roy Bourgeois
Father Roy Bourgeois
 
Media Release: Police Deny Street Permit for Annual Vigil at Fort Benning, Georgia PDF Print E-mail
For immediate release
July 22, 2014
Contact: Hendrik Voss, 202-234-3440

Constitutional Rights Under Attack in Georgia

Police Deny Street Permit for Annual Vigil at Fort Benning, Georgia

Columbus, Georgia – The Columbus Police Department, continuing its history of antagonizing the movement to close the US military training camp known as the SOA/WHINSEC (School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation), has this year placed unjust, unsafe and unconstitutional restrictions on the annual SOA Watch Vigil, essentially attempting to shut down the peaceful protest at the main gates of Fort Benning.

In a letter to grassroots solidarity group SOA Watch, Police Chief Ricky Boren explained that the thousands expected at this year’s Vigil, the group’s 25th, would have to somehow limit themselves to no more than 200 and stay on sidewalks five feet back from the street. The permit for the stage and sound, which has for years lifted up the voices of those targeted by the infamous military training school, like Padre Melo from Honduras, who’s been threatened since speaking out against the SOA graduate-led coup in 2009, was also denied.

Nevertheless, SOA Watch pledges to return to Ft. Benning, hold the annual vigil, and continue its nonviolent tradition of protecting family-friendly, safe and legal protest. In response to police chief Boren, the human rights group writes, "we have responsibilities and freedoms under our constitution to peacefully assemble and to speak truth to power."     

“This year, more than any other, we are called to demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Latin America, 25 years after SOA graduates committed the brutal massacre at the University of Central America,” said veteran and founder Father Roy Bourgeois. He continued, “When our military training continues to target communities, forcing the unaccompanied migration of thousands of refugee children, we must speak out. It is no surprise that when the stakes are this high, our movement is faced with political attacks on our constitutional rights.”

The Columbus Police Department and the military have a history of active opposition to SOA Watch’s right to free speech, including harassment and intimidation by plainclothes officers, low-flying helicopters used to disrupt the solemn vigil, changing insurance requirements in a last-minute effort to target SOA Watch, and more. In 2001, the city tried to stop the protest in court; in 2002, police conducted mass warrantless searches of all participants, for which SOA Watch filed suit. In both cases, federal courts vindicated the movement’s constitutional right to free speech and assembly.  

Thousands of human rights activists have gathered every November for the demonstration since the first anniversary of the 1989 SOA graduate-led massacre of 16-year-old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba Ramos and six Jesuit priests at the University of Central America in El Salvador. The November Vigil commemorates those who have been killed by SOA/WHINSEC graduates, and calls for the closure of the institute, which perpetuates coups, torture, extrajudicial killings, and human rights abuses in the face of social and political problems. The SOA/WHINSEC made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released SOA training manuals that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Among its graduates are at least 11 dictators as well as leaders of infamous Central American death squads. Currently, SOA graduates are linked to the Honduran military coup and the repression campaign against social movements there, among other humanitarian crises.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 July 2014 15:18
 
The Humanitarian Crisis at the Border is Actually a Foreign Policy Crisis PDF Print E-mail
Written by Arturo J. Viscarra   
Monday, 07 July 2014 21:53
The Root Causes of Migration: End U.S. Funding of the Drug War and the Corrupt Honduran Regime

The heartbreaking stories emanating from the immigration detention centers near the border have rightly been making the news. However the U.S. media has largely ignored the real lessons from the increasing number of Unaccompanied Minors being detained near the U.S. border. This “humanitarian crisis” has not been caused by the criminal nature of the people of Central America, irresponsible parenting, or the clichéd pursuit of the “American Dream”. Children and their families are coming to the U.S. to survive. At its root, they are too often trying to escape the devastating consequences of past and present U.S. foreign policy in the region.

CLICK HERE to urge your Senator and Representative to end the counterproductive funding of the Drug War and the corrupt Honduran Regime

The number of children attempting to cross the border into the United States has risen dramatically in the last five years: In FY 2009, roughly 6,000 unaccompanied minors were detained near the border. Credible estimates project that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will detain as many as 74,000 unaccompanied minors by the end of FY 2014. Approximately 28% of the children detained this year are from Honduras, 24% from Guatemala, and 21% from El Salvador.The particularly severe increases in Honduran migration are a direct result of the June 28, 2009 SOA-graduate led coup, the abusive policies of the resulting Honduran regimes, and the shameful U.S. support for these corrupt governments that emerged after dubious elections in 2009 and 2013.

Since 2008, the U.S. has spent over $800 million in security aid to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador through the “Central American Regional Security Initiative” (CARSI) in addition to millions more in bilateral military and police aid to each country. The current humanitarian crisis on the border, is a direct result of the drastic U.S.-led militarization of the drug war, unequal economic relationships (e.g. Free Trade Agreements that have ravaged campesino communities), and U.S. support for the cartel-infiltrated post-coup government of Honduras.

By every conceivable measure - the availability of drugs, mass incarceration, mass immigrant detention, and the effective use of tax money in the U.S.; homicide and violence rates, corruption, the overall power of drug cartels, and migration rates in Central America – the "war on drugs" has been an abject and costly failure. It is time, it has been time, for the U.S. government to take real responsibility for its role in the root causes of migration from Central America. The region will never be “cured” of its ills without an honest, fact-based re-evaluation and a resulting re-implementation of U.S. foreign policy.

CLICK HERE to urge your Senator and Representative to end the counterproductive funding of the Drug War and the corrupt Honduran Regime

The patterns of violence and forced migration established during the dirty wars of the 20th century have continued unabated. It is no surprise that Central American children travel alone to the U.S. to escape violence, especially if one or both of their parents already live there.

Increased militarization under the pretext of the drug war has led to massive human rights violations, including illegal land grabs, and the persecution of indigenous and grassroots leaders, too often at the hands of the military and police funded and trained (many at the School of the Americas) under U.S. security programs. In particular, the situation in Honduras has dramatically deteriorated, yet the U.S. continues to fund the corrupt and brutal Honduran security forces 5 years after the June 28, 2009 SOA-graduate led military coup. Why should the people of Central America continue to suffer and be scapegoated when the root causes of migration are all too often created by damaging U.S. foreign policies?

Peace and struggle,
SOA Watch
Last Updated on Tuesday, 08 July 2014 23:54
 
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