Indigenous Activist Berta Cáceres Assassinated in Honduras
Written by Hendrik Voss
Thursday, 03 March 2016 12:26
Human Rights Organizations Demand an Investigation of the Circumstances Surrounding the Assassination of Berta Cáceres, the General Coordinator of COPINH
At approximately midnight last night, the General Coordinator of COPINH, Berta Caceres was assassinated in her hometown of La Esperanza, Intibuca. At least two individuals broke down the door of the house where Berta was staying for the evening in the Residencial La Líbano, shot and killed her. COPINH is urgently responding to this tragic situation.
Berta Cáceres is one of the leading indigenous activists in Honduras. She spent her life fighting in defense of indigenous rights, particularly to land and natural resources.
Cáceres, a Lenca woman, grew up during the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980s. Her mother, a midwife and social activist, took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, teaching her young children the value of standing up for disenfranchised people.
Cáceres grew up to become a student activist and in 1993, she cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging, fight for their territorial rights and improve their livelihoods.
Berta Cáceres and COPINH have been accompanying various land struggles throughout western Honduras. In the last few weeks, violence and repression towards Berta Cáceres, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated. In Rio Blanco on February 20, 2016, Berta Cáceres, COPINH, and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats and repression as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally-financed Honduran company DESA. As a result of COPINH's work supporting the Rio Blanco struggle, Berta Cáceres had received countless threats against her life and was granted precautionary measures by the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights. On February 25, 2016, another Lenca community supported by COPINH in Guise, Intibuca was violently evicted and destroyed.
Since the 2009 military coup, that was carried out by graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, Honduras has witnessed an explosive growth in environmentally destructive megaprojects that would displace indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country's land was earmarked for mining concessions, creating a demand for cheap energy to power future mining operations. To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects around the country, privatizing rivers, land, and uprooting communities. Repression of social movements and targeted assassinations are rampant. Honduras has the world's highest murder rate. Honduran human rights organizations report there have been over 10,000 human rights violations by state security forces and impunity is the norm - most murders go unpunished. The Associated Press has repeatedly exposed ties between the Honduran police and death squads, while U.S. military training and aid for the Honduran security forces continues.
Last Updated on Thursday, 03 March 2016 12:44
Become a Presente Distributor!
Written by Hendrik Voss
Friday, 26 February 2016 20:25
The Spring 2016 issue of Presente, the SOA Watch Newspaper, is intended to be a tool for activists and organizers around the country, who are using the paper to build a counter narrative to the racist status quo of US violence and militarization. Are you willing to distribute Presente in your community? You can order a box with 75 copies for $20, or a box with 150 copies for $28 (the money covers the cost of printing and shipping in the US).
The bilingual Spring 2016 issue of ¡Presente! provides news and updates from throughout the Americas, and is also going to mobilize for the upcoming Spring Days of Action in Washington, DC, as well as for the October 7-10, 2016 Mobilization to the US/Mexico border. Be part of a national network of activists engaged in exposing and fighting the consequences of oppressive US foreign policy:
Save the Date! SOA Watch's Spring Days of Action April 14 -18, 2016
Written by Arturo J. Viscarra
Friday, 12 February 2016 02:49
Save the Date! SOA Watch's Spring Days of Action April 14 -18, 2016 in DC
The refugee crisis, forced migration, mass incarceration, police brutality and militarization at home & abroad, enforced disappearances - so many of the most pressing issues of our time are fueled by the senseless Drug War, yet we have largely failed to build the coalitions to help bring an end to these devastating policies.
The Central American refugee crisis and the Ayotzinapa disappearances cannot be fully understood, nor addressed without addressing the Drug War.
Join us in Washington D.C. this April 14-18 for concert, advocacy training, lobbying, direct action and more, including the next step in our campaign to pressure Vice President Biden for an Executive Order to close the SOA. Stay tuned for more details.
Over the last 18 months, SOA Watch has increased our agitation against the Drug War through protest, popular education, and lobbying efforts. We will continue doing so at the Spring Days of Action, where we will also discuss the 2016 Border/Root Causes of Migration Vigil in Nogales, AZ, and other ways to plug into the work of SOA Watch and the greater solidarity movement.
Given the stepped up U.S.-led militarization of not only U.S. borders but also of Mesoamerican borders, most notably Plan Frontera Sur in Mexico, and the recent raids on refugee families inside the U.S., it is an important time to collectively and forcefully respond against these injustices. We need your participation to make change happen!
Last Updated on Friday, 19 February 2016 17:29
SOA Grads Arrested, Face Extradition
Written by Hendrik Voss
Sunday, 07 February 2016 19:27
School of the Americas Graduates Responsible For 1989 Jesuit Massacre Face Extradition to Spain, Military Officers Arrested in El Salvador
North Carolina/ El Salvador – The 1989 massacre of 16-year-old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba Ramos, and six Jesuit priests at the University of Central America (UCA) in El Salvador, that galvanized opposition to the U.S. relationship with Central American death squads and that sparked the movement to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas, is making headlines again.
On Friday, February 5, 2016, a U.S. judge in North Carolina cleared the way for SOA graduate and retired Salvadoran Colonel, Inocente Orlando Montano, to be extradited to face charges in Spain. Col. Inocente Orlando Montano was trained by the U.S. military at the School of the Americas in 1970.
On Saturday, February 06, 2016, El Salvador's national police force announced that four ex-soldiers, who were also involved in the massacre, were arrested at the behest of Interpol in an operation that began Friday night.
The four former military officers arrested in El Salvador are Col. Guillermo Alfredo Benavides Moreno, Sargent Tomas Zarpate Castillo, Sargent Antonio Avalos Vargas, and Corporal Angel Perez Vasquez. Avalos Vargas and Perez Vasquez attended the Small Unit Training and Management course at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1988 and 1987 respectively, before allegedly participating in the brutal 1989 massacre. El Salvador's Supreme Court is expected to rule on their extraditions to Spain in the coming days. Twelve other former Salvadoran soldiers with international warrants in connection with the UCA massacre remain at large, and it is unknown whether they are in El Salvador or have fled the country.
A United Nations Truth Commission cited 26 Salvadoran officers for the 1989 "execution-style" massacre. Nineteen of those were trained at the School of the Americas, renamed in 2001 the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). After its role in training human rights abusers came to light, Central Americans frequently dubbed the SOA the "School of Assassins.”
The SOA made headlines again in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this shocking admission, and even in the face of hundreds of documented cases of human rights abuses connecting to soldiers trained at the institution, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place.
Protests calling for the closure of the School of the Americas/WHINSEC have taken place around the November 16 anniversary of the San Salvador massacre since 1990. Last year over 2,000 participated in the annual demonstration at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia to call for the closure of the military training school, which continues to instruct Latin American soldiers, as well as to demand an end to U.S.-led militarization in the Americas that continues to fuel violence and forced migration. SOA Watch maintains that for justice to prevail, the U.S. officials who are responsible for the training of repressive foreign militaries need to be held accountable as well.
Morales, whose party has close ties to the military, faces pressure in the face of the current developments. Morales' right hand man, Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado, who is also the FCN party co-founder, newly elected congressman, and retired colonel, is also facing similar charges, though he was not arrested because of his immunity as a congressman. Guatemala's Attorney General, however, has requested the Supreme Court look at the case to strip him of his immunity. Ovalle Maldonado, who is also an SOA graduate, is linked to massacres and disappearances during the 1980's.
The officers arrested last week are (see below for a list of notorious SOA graduates among those recently arrested):
Ismael Segura Abularach (SOA, 1976)
Pablo Roberto Saucedo Mérida (SOA, 1970)
César Augusto Ruiz Morales (SOA, 1970)
Manuel Antonio Callejas Callejas (SOA, 1962 & 1970)
Colonel Fransisco Luis Gordillo Martínez (SOA, 1961)
Carlos Humberto López Rodríguez (SOA, 1970)
Edilberto Letona Linares (SOA; 1970)
José Antonio Vásquez García (SOA, 1970)
Manuel Benedicto Lucas García (SOA, 1965)
Carlos Augusto Garavito Morán (SOA, 1984)
Luis Alberto Paredes Nájera (SOA, 1960)
César Augusto Cabrera Mejía (SOA, 1967)
Juan Ovalle Salazar
Gustavo Alonzo Rosales García
Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas
Raul Dahesa Oliva
Edgar Rolando Hernández Méndez
The arrests are linked to two cases in particular, both of which have gone before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The first case concerns the operations that occurred at the military base in Cobán. In 2012, exhumations by forensic anthropologists led to the uncovering of at least 550 victims disappeared between 1981 and 1988. The second is for the disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, a 14-year-old boy disappeared by the G-2 military intelligence forces on October 6, 1981.
A pretrial held before a District Court this week in the case of the disappearance of Marco Antonio determined that four of the former military officers accused - three of whom are SOA graduates - will go to trial, facing charges of forced disappearance and crimes against humanity.The retired officers - Fransisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, Edilberto Letona Linares, Hugo Ramiro Zaldaña Rojas, and Manuel Antonio Callejas Callejas - remain in custody pending ongoing investigations by the public prosecutors.
It remains to be seen if newly sworn-in Morales, whose party is backed by the darkest structures of the Guatemalan military, will allow for these cases to run their course. The struggle for justice in Guatemala is still as much a challenge today as it was in the past. Given the recent mass mobilizations that brought down the former President and SOA-graduate Otto Pérez Molina and his Vice-President Roxana Baldetti, Morales faces a citizenry that has lost much of the fear that created a culture of silence. In a recent National Catholic Reporter article, Fr. Roy Bourgeois stated that "there will never be any justice or reconciliation until there is accountability and the perpetrators start going to prison". The people of Guatemala are hungry for justice, and they have memory on their side.
History has shown us that we cannot count on the government to hold itself accountable. We know from experience that the power we need to makes the changes we so desperately need will come from us, the grassroots. Vice-President Biden, who attended President Morales' inauguration, also had a meeting with the northern triangle Presidents yesterday regarding the ill-named Alliance for Prosperity, which supposedly addresses the root causes of migration. This conversation comes at the same time that ICE is carrying out raids and deporting Central American refugees that have fled US-sponsored state violence. Instead of actually addressing the root causes of migration by changing its destructive foreign policy in Central America, the U.S. continues to create the conditions that make people flee their home countries through violence and economic exploitation. This was the case during the dirty wars of the 1980's, and unfortunately it is the case now.
There is no question that there was absolute complicity by the U.S. during the 36-year-long armed conflict that marked Guatemala for generations to come. For Guatemalans, this is a decades-long struggle to break down the wall of impunity and the culture of silence and fear, and the steps being taken by surivors to bring cases forward have been nothing short of brave and courageous. For the U.S., what has unraveled over the past few days serves as a sobering reminder that the U.S. fully backed - covertly, directly and indirectly - the Guatemalan military through training, funding, adivising and equipping. Bill Clinton's "apology" was clearly not enough. As Guatemala continues to seek truth, justice and accountability, shouldn't the U.S. think about doing the same, and holding it's officials accountable?
SOA Watch maintains that in order for there to truly be justice, those responsible in the U.S. for the training and funding one of Latin America's most brutal conflicts must be held to account in any and all courts applicable, whether they be domestic, regional or foreign. The U.S. doesn't have to look to far to see that lessons on justice and accountability can be learned through what is happening throughout Latin America.
General Manuel Antonio Callejas Callejas - 1988 SOA Hall of Fame graduate who attended the Command and General Staff College in 1970. As former head of intelligence, he was responsible for the assassinations that occurred under former dictator General Fernando Romeo Lucas García, also an SOA graduate. He later became Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces under President Vinicio Cerezo. In 2002, the U.S. revoked his visa due to suspected ties to human rights violations, narcotrafficking and organized crime.
Colonel Fransisco Luis Gordillo Martínez - Attended the Command and General Staff College, as well as Infantry and Weapons courses in 1961. Gordillo was part of the violent 1982 coup that brought SOA graduate and former dictator, General José Efraín Ríos Montt to power.
General Manuel Benedicto Lucas García - Head of the military under former dictator and brother, General Fernando Romeo Lucas García, he attended the Command and General Staff College in 1970, as well as the Combat Intelligence course in 1965. According to the Archdiocese truth commission report Guatemala, Nunca Más, he masterminded the creation of the Civil Defense Patrols (PACs).
Ismael Segura Abularach - Attended the Advanced Infantry Officer course in 1976, and was commander of the special forces that forced disappeared Maya guerrilla leader Efrain Bámaca to guide army patrols in their search for guerrilla arms caches.