This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Central American University (UCA) massacre. On the morning of November 16, 1989 the Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran Army, led by 19 School of the Americas (SOA) graduates, entered university grounds and brutally assassinated Elba Ramos, her 16-year old daughter, Celina Ramos, and six Jesuit priests–amongst them, Father Ignacio Ellacuría, an outspoken critic of El Salvador’s military dictatorship. The SOA Watch movement initially formed to denounce this massacre — one of the many atrocities that occurred in Central America as the United States funded civil wars and trained military at the SOA/WHINSEC.
We estimate that more than 83,000 Latin American state forces have been trained at the SOA/WHINSEC in counterinsurgency techniques (i.e. civilian-targeted warfare), sniper tactics, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence, interrogation tactics, and torture. Graduates of the SOA have consistently used these tactics to wage war against their own people — resulting in massacres, assassinations, torture, forced disappearances, the destabilizing of economies, land grabs by corporations that pillage the earth and value profit over people, and forced migration of millions throughout the hemisphere. Additionally, in September 2019, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shared that Fort Benning, GA, home of SOA/WHINSEC will be the new location of an “urban warfare” training facility that is expected to include “hyper-realistic” simulations of homes, hotels, and commercial buildings in Chicago and Arizona. This means that ICE, in addition to US Border Patrol agents already being trained at the SOA/WHINSEC, will have access to similar training to use on communities within the United States. Border Patrol, which operates with impunity, is accused of serious human rights violations, including murder, rape, and destroying critical humanitarian aid.
Seeking to bridge the intersections of the past with the present in memory and resistance, we invite you to join us this November 15-17th for a Commemorative Gathering at the gates of Ft. Benning. While this Commemorative Gathering will have a scaled-back program compared to previous Encuentros and Vigils, it will undoubtedly be a powerful and intentional space for community organizers, students, workers, and members of the SOA Watch family – old and new – to come together in community and resistance. Together, we recommit ourselves to never forgetting as we continue to resist the violence that our communities have been subjected to, not only in word, but in action.
If you are joining us at next month’s Commemorative Gathering, please register here – registering will help us coordinate logistics; however, it is NOT a requirement to attend the Commemorative Gathering. Participating in the Commemorative Gathering is free! We also invite you to make a symbolic tax-deductible donation to support the logistics and facilitation of the Commemorative Gathering whether or not you are able to attend!
Where to Find Commemorative Gathering Updates on the SOA Watch Website
Over the next few days, we will be posting more information regarding logistics, panelist profiles, and the latest updates on the 2019 Commemorative Gathering section of the SOA Watch website.
Where to Stay
You can find information on where to stay in Columbus, GA and the locations of the Commemorative Gathering activities by clicking this link.
Please note that on Saturday, November 16th we will gather at the Bibb Mill Event Center (3715 1st Ave. – Columbus, GA 31904) – this is a new location from previous years. Distance between the Bibb Mill Event Center and the Gates at Fort Benning is about 10 miles. We will NOT be at the Convention Center as we have in previous years.
Activities on Friday evening and on Sunday will be at the gates of Ft. Benning (2420 Fort. Benning Rd. – Columbus, GA 31903).
We will have social gatherings at Vallarta Mexican Restaurant (2151 Fort Benning Rd, Columbus, GA 31903)
Tables at the Commemorative Gathering will be limited. If you are interested in having a table, please email Mark to coordinate.
Finally, a tentative outline of this November’s Commemorative Gathering agenda is as follows:
Friday, November 15th (2420 Fort. Benning Rd. – Columbus, GA 31903)
5:30pm: Sunset/Candlelight Vigil at the gates of Fort Benning and Welcome from Roy Bourgeois, SOA Watch Staff, and the Commemorative Gathering Working Group. We will begin promptly at 5:30, we recommend arriving early
7:00pm: People are invited to meet for a community gathering at the Vallarta restaurant one mile from the gate of Ft. Benning (2151 Fort Benning Rd.)
Saturday, November 16th (Bibb Event Center 3715 1st Ave. – Columbus GA 31904)
9:00am: Opening at the Bibb Mill Event Center
10:00am: Tribute to the Prisoners of Conscience and those who have “crossed the line” at Fort Benning
10:15am: Panel I – SOA Watch: Bridging the Past and the Present of the Organization, the Movement, and Lessons Learned over the last 30 years of Resistance
1:30pm: Panel II – The Frontlines of Resistance: Effective Organizing Strategies in the Face of US-led and Supported Violence
7:00pm: Pax Christi Program
Sunday November 17th (South Entrance Gate, 2420 Fort. Benning Rd. – Columbus, GA 31903)
9:15am: Walk of Peace Pagods Buddhists and Veterans for Peace (leaving Candlewood Suites, 3389 Victory Drive, 1.6 miles, about 30 minutes)
9:30am: Program will be at the Gates of Ft. Benning: Litany, Presentes, procession of the fallen, music and the Puppetistas.
2:30pm: SOA Watch community and friends will be gathering at the Vallarta restaurant (2151 Fort Benning Rd.) – all are welcome to join us!
We hope to see you at the gates of Ft. Benning next month! Simultaneous events are being planned and encouraged in various cities throughout the Americas! If you are not able to join us, but interested in organizing or attending an event in our city, please email us!
In memory and resistance,
Brigitte, Candice, Dévora, Pablo, Roy and the 2019 Commemorative Gathering Working Group
PS If you’re joining us at the 2019 Commemorative Gathering or want to make a symbolic tax-deductible donation to support the Commemorative Gathering, please fill out the registration page!