|Human Rights Activist to Chile for the Third Time|
Nonviolence trainer Judith Kelly will travel in March on her third human rights delegation to Chile.
With a longtime commitment to human rights, Kelly supports the School of the Americas Watch movement, and Witness Against Torture, the campaign to close Guantanamo. Her nonviolent direct actions have often resulted in arrests.
As a former School of the Americas Watch prisoner of conscience, Kelly served three months in federal prison in 2003 for trespassing onto the US military base that hosts the US Army School of the Americas (now called WHINSEC) at Ft. Benning, Georgia. Every year activists "cross the line" onto the base during the November vigil to denounce the US training of Latin American military officers who have committed human rights abuses and heinous crimes back in their own countries.
I feel this is an irresistible moment to experience Chile again, with the student-led, massive demonstrations calling for reforms in the privatized educational system. From my two prior delegation experiences, I have met many dedicated Chilean activists who want deep, structural and constitutional changes to break from the repressive Pinochet era. In the last year, very courageous young students have come forward because their future depends on bringing about these needed changes. The Chilean student movement is leading the way throughout the region, and I want to stand with their call for real change.
- What key memories do you have from your other visits to Chile?
- In 2008 I listened to Carolina Gonzalez Toro tell how her father was arrested and killed in 1973 when she was just ten years old. We were the first international delegation she had spoken with, and I really resonated with the pain she experienced, and her courage to speak and seek the truth. I have tremendous admiration for the Chilean activists I have met -they are very well organized and persistent in their demands for the truth about what happened to their lost loved ones. Many people in Chile do not want to remember the crimes of the Pinochet era. In the US, most people do not want to know the dark side of what our government has done in Chile and throughout the world. I want to stand in solidarity with others on this shared journey of truth-seeking.
- Do you think these visits help in the struggle for peace and justice?
- Chilean activists truly educate and inspire me, and I hope as we walk together, we can build trust in how best to move forward together. The work of building strong partnerships for positive change is crucially important for a peaceful world. Citizen diplomacy and committed human rights advocacy does make a difference and can bring about a culture of peace. We can all learn from each other and be inspired by each other to keep going, even when the work is hard, slow and seemingly endless. This work for nonviolent social change is my calling, as a Christian activist. And I feel very fortunate to be able to deepen my commitment to my friends in Chile.
- What do you want to see on this next visit?
- Chile has so much to offer that our agenda is already packed with wonderful meetings and events, but I hope I can reconnect with a Mapuche family I met near Temuco in 2009. I did see the sublime film, "Nostalgia For the Light," by the noted Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman, and I hope I can study the night sky at least once. From living in Paraguay, I remember my favorite Southern Hemisphere constellation, "Columba, the Dove." If I am lucky enough to spot it, I will take it as a sign of hope!
A delegation of activists from the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), in the United States, has been in Chile from March 16th to March 23rd with the intention of understanding the reality of the country and at the same time demand its government put an end to sending Chilean soldiers to the School of the Americas.
In this vein, the SOAW delegation has held a meeting with the Minister of Defense, Andrés Allamand, together with the School of the Americas Watch in Chile, and we have had the opportunity to propose our reasons for asking that the sending of Chilean soldiers to the military academy in question does not continue.
Chile has sent more than 3800 soldiers to the School of the Americas and in the last decade, an average of 190 soldiers each year, mostly cadets in the Military School. We should remember that Manuel Contreras, Álvaro Corbalán, Miguel Krassnoff, just to name a few of the most prominent Chilean assassins and torturers, have passed through this place.
Currently, Colombia is the main country sending soldiers to the School of the Americas, and it is in this country that where there are compromised State agents, grave human rights violations are registered, as diverse United Nations reports point out.
On the other hand, the SOA delegation has met with human rights groups, memory sites, Human Rights Observers, workers, lawyers, students and Mapuche, in Santiago as well as Valparaíso, and they have concluded that unfortunately in Chile, the legitimate right to social protest is being repressed.
We have received the testimonies of the Mapuche Lonko, Juan Carlos Curnao, whose legs still carry pellets shot by the police, and of the student Sofía Antilef who was beaten by police in a student mobilization. These testimonies represent many others allowing us to ask that measures are taken to stop police violence.
In the same way, at the request of Chilean organizations, the U.S. lawyer Kent Spriggs traveled to Aysen this last Thursday as an Observer, to catch up to speed on the situation being lived by people in this region.
This March 24th we remember, in El Salvador, Mr. President, the assassination of Monseñor Oscar Romero, assassinated by graduates of the School of the Americas, we ask in his words, and with respect, "in the name of God: End the repression."
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