Monday, December 25, 2006

Fort Benning Vigil 2006: Part Three
Sunday, November 19

I arrived at the vigil site somewhere around eight o'clock in the morning. Ed and Ann and a few other Syracuse folks went to set up their table with the things from the Syracuse Cultural Workers that they planned to sell... t-shirts, bandanas, calendars were among the bigger sellers. I went close to the stage to listen to and watch the pre-vigil speakers and singers. We had Buddhists drumming and chanting, a Mayan blessing, and musicians sharing songs. We saw the Veterans for Peace march as a group, singing/reciting a cadence to close WHINSEC/SOA. We heard President Charles Steele, Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who gave a stirring speech about civil rights back in the days when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was giving stirring speeches, and now... in Latin America and here. He was joined by the Living the Dream marchers, who walked from Selma, Alabama, to Fort Benning. We heard from Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, co-founder of the Muslim-Jewish Peace Walk, and from Frankie Flores, who spoke on behalf of the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition International (TASSC International). We heard welcomes and words of hope from our three representatives who traveled to Latin America to speak with their governments about not sending any more troops to WHINSEC: SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois, Lisa Sullivan Rodriguez (head of SOA Watch's Latin America office), and Carolos Mauricio, a Salvadoran torture survivor who founded the Stop Impunity Project.
During this time, a huge banner was brought near the stage. On it were a multitude of pictures and a message of hope that this "school" would soon be closed. For a short time, I held this banner so that the thousands of people, who were just arriving, could see the message. Other people were going to carry the banner in the procession so I relinquished my little piece of it.
At approximately ten o'clock, we started singing the no mas, no more litany that we sing every year in memory of those in Latin America who had been killed or disappeared or tortured by military personnel who had been trained at WHINSEC/SOA. We called out for the truth from a government that offers denials and public relations coverups, instead of the facts.
This year, our message was of hope that the next Congress will pass a bill that will call for operations of the school to be suspended and for a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the instruction offered at that school. It would be a step forward and would offer survivors and families of those who are gone a chance to heal. It would be part of a process that I have just recently learned about, called "restorative justice." For more information about restorative justice, take a look at and for information about Latin America and restorative justice, just click on the map of Latin America on the right side of the page.
Restorative justice is positive because it emphasizes "repairing the harm that is done by criminal behaviour." It can be used on a local level or on an international level.
But... we don't yet have that Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Amnesty International recommended in its 2002 report, "Unmet Principles, Unmatched Power." What we have instead is pain and heartache because people whom we care about have been victims of torture or have been killed or have been disappeared... and so many of us in the United States have friends or relatives who have been victims of these crimes... which leaves us feeling that our government has betrayed our trust and has broken our hearts...
In our vigil procession, we called for a redress of our grievances... we remembered the babies, children, women, men, and elderly, who had been killed throughout Latin America... in El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, and elsewhere. Their names and ages were chanted, one at a time, and we remembered them. We remembered them in other ways at the vigil, too... The 900 El Mozote, El Salvador, massacre victims had a special memorial, with clothing on hangers representing people at different ages...
We had other visual reminders... people dressed in shrouds, their faces painted white to look like death, carry coffins and lie down to simulate the results of a massacre. They were covered in fake blood to look like death...
And we had puppets... a colorful mourning woman and a statue of liberty, among others. The big puppetista pageant came early in the afternoon but I can't report on that because I didn't see it.
Every year, some of the people who come to the vigil attempt to bring their message onto the grounds of Fort Benning. Every year, that becomes more difficult as the military tries to hide from the truth by building more and more fences. The military claims that it must be "apolitical" and it must be completely separate from the civil government. Hence, it says that political protests are not permitted on the grounds of a military base. If this were so, why does WHINSEC have a public relations budget that includes line items for influencing the media and Congress? Is this "apolitical"?
But the military uses this claim of being "apolitical" as an excuse for building fences and for creating a "free speech zone." For a really well written article criticizing "free speech zones," take a look at James Bovard's article titled "'Free Speech Zone' The administration quarantines dissent," published in the December 15, 2003, issue of The American Conservative (
So we challenge these fences. We are seeking redress of grievances from our government. This is a right that is guaranteed by the first amendment of the U.S. consitution.
So I chose to challenge the fence, to take a cross with the name of an elderly Salvadoran man onto the grounds of Fort Benning, which is quite possibly the place where his killer had been trained. I planted the cross with the name of that 105-year-old man in the red clay earth. Silently, I asked for his forgiveness... for me and for my nation.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fort Benning 2006: Part Two
Colombia's Struggles

Colombia received $590.9 million in military and police aid this year. The administration has requested that Colombia be given $623.6 million in military and police aid in fiscal year 2007. Much of this aid is directed at stopping the flow of drugs from Colombia to the United States. One of the ways in which this is accomplished is with a fumigation program that is designed to kill the coca plants before they can be harvested and refined into the cocaine that is shipped to the United States by smugglers. The United States also provides training to Colombian troops, in Colombia and in the United States. SOA/WHINSEC, the Interamerican Air Forces Training Academy at Lackland Air Force Base, and the Spanish Helicopter Battalion school at Fort Rucker, Alabama, are among the facilities that offer military training to Colombian troops. The Washington Office on Latin America has estimated, based on U.S. government data, that, in 2006, Colombians make up 42 percent of all students at WHINSEC.

People in Colombia tell a story that is different from the above "official story."
Here are stories, as told by Renato Areiza, coordinator of the Council of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, Colombia, and Debora-Barros-Fince, survivor of the Wayuu massacre in the Bahia region of Colombia and founder of Wayuu Munsurat. They spoke at two different workshops that I attended on Friday, November 17: the Colombia Teach-In, sponsored by Witness for Peace, and Human Rights Accompaniment in Colombia, sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Renato Areiza talked about the three million people who have been internally displaced in Colombia because of the violence. He identified the armed actors there as being the Army, the guerrillas (both the PLN and the more powerful FARC), the paramilitries, and the United States. He said that the peace community was founded in March 27, 1997, and that it is dedicated to staying neutral in the conflict in the region and to saying no to all armed actors, including the military. One thousand five hundred people live in this community.
People in the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado are afraid of being assassinated or dominated by the participants in the armed struggle.
But it is hard for the people in this community to avoid the violence that seems to be a daily part of Colombia life. In 2005, military and paramilitary personnel massacred eight campesinos. They included three children, a leader of the community, and Renato Areiza's sister, Deyanira. The group responsible for the massacre was led by a School of the Americas graduate.
People in this community looked to the outside for help, but found none.
"We turned to all parts of the Colombian state. We believed that the state would protect us. We looked for justice. We lobbied and met with vice presidents. The Colombian government denied all of our requests. They didn't do justice for us. We were given no protection."
Renato Areiza said about the political situation: "President Uribe talks only of drug trafficking and terrorism... if Pablo Escobar were the only problem, it would be easy... people are displaced... they are dying of hunger... human rights are violated... all of Colombia is being fumigated with a strong herbicide (including areas where there are no coca plants)... bullets are being shot from airplanes... it's not just guerrillas and drug trafficking... we want social investment, not military aid..."
All armed actors consider the people of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado to be enemies.
"We're not with any of them. We look to the international community for support... we don't want to leave our land... we don't want to pick up a weapon... we need internationals as shields and as protection."

Debora Barros-Fince said, "I am a common citizen, an indigenous person who has lived war." She spoke passionately about what the war has done to Wayuu land at the Colombia-Venezuela border. She described horrific things that had happened in her community... members of the paramilitary "cutting people to bits to sow terror."
She talked about mining and how it hurts indigenous communities. She said that her community has been offered money to leave their homeland, but that the community would never accept the money. She talked about multinational corporations looking to take advantage of the natural resources beneath the ground. "We don't care about the money. We are a community... we want dignity... we want the paramilitaries off of our land... we want the multinational corporations to go back to their own countries..."
More than 300 members of the Wayuu community have fled to Venezuela, where they are hungry and are longing to "be at home in their own community."
She, too, asked for help from the international community... "Stop the flow of money to Columbia... money that is used to buy arms to kill Afro-Colombians, indigenous people, and others... come to our community and accompany us... this works... it helps to deter attacks by any armed actor."
For more information on accompaniment, check the Fellowship of Reconciliation website at
Fort Benning 2006

Part one: The trip to Georgia and an evening in Alabama
My trip to Columbus, Georgia, for the SOA Watch protest at the gates of Fort Benning was a great adventure this year.
I traveled down to Georgia with a group from Syracuse, New York. We started on November 15 and arrived in Georgia on November 16. On our way down, we experienced a large traffic tie-up in Pennsylvania and an even larger traffic tie-up in Virginia. The Virginia traffic jam was accompanied by sheets of rain and the overwhelming darkness of a stormy night. As the five of us sat in our unmoving car, we played a geography game and sang and recited nursery rhymes. It felt almost surreal or, as Rae pointed out, it was much like being stuck in the Twilight Zone.
After about two and a half hours, we emerged from the traffic jam. We were then able to see the cause of the traffic jam: an accident that resulted in a crushed tractor trailer. Many police cars, fire trucks, and an ambulance or two were parked at the scene of the disaster. I sincerely hoped that no one was injured too severely.
We spent the night at a church in a church in Statesville, North Carolina.
Rae and Ann reported to us the next day that they had awakened during the night to hear a huge storm. They said that it sounded like a hurricane.
We found out later that tornadoes had hit various parts of the southeast that night, including Fort Benning.
We arrived in Columbus, Georgia, early on Thursday afternoon and settled in our hotel rooms.
Before long, however, we were back in the car, on our way to Opelika, Alabama, to meet up with the "Living the Dream" marchers. They had spent the week walking from Selma, on their way to Columbus. I had considered joining them but never followed through. This didn't seem like the right time for me to do that, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps, if they do it again, I will take the whole walk with them.
We were looking forward to hearing Kathy Kelly speak at St. James Baptist Church in Opelika. The talk was scheduled for seven o'clock in the evening. We were very concerned about getting to the church on time. We ate a dinner at a pizza parlor in Opelika, surrounded by a youthful soccer team that seemed to be enjoying an awards dinner. There were loads of kids and even more trophies.
The pizza parlor was quite a place. It was filled with all sorts of memorabilia of Auburn University and its famous football team, as well as loads of other stuff, all for sale. Near the ceiling, a little train chugged around a track. It was quite a delightful restaurant, and the prices were very low. The people who worked there were quite pleasant, and we were made to feel right at home.
After dinner, we went straight to St. James Baptist Church and saw that... no one was there! We were confused. It was exactly seven o'clock in the evening. That's when we realized that seven o'clock in Georgia was only six o'clock in Alabama. As soon as we crossed the bridge over the Chattahoochee River into Alabama, we had changed time zones, from eastern to central. We got to relax for an hour before the talk. Also we were welcomed by the pastor of the church, the Rev. George Bandy, who made us feel very welcome.
We heard from a variety of people, including the Rev. George Bandy, who talked about the civil rights movement here in this country and the School of the Americas. We were introduced to Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson, who has been a civil rights activist since the 1930s and is still going strong at 95. We also were entertained by the Living the Dream choir, who led us in rousing sing-alongs. They even invited members of the audience to join them in front. Kathy Kelly gave an energetic and heartfelt talk about human rights... including civil rights in the United States, her experiences in Iraq, and issues involving the SOA/WHINSEC.
It was a good evening. Ed, Rae, Nancy, Ann, and I agreed that, when we left, we felt energized by the experience. We took Kathy back to the hotel to spend the night with us. She left early the next morning.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Alice's Continuing Adventures

During the hottest part of July, I went to the Washington, D.C., area to attend to some legal matters. I had been arrested near the Pentagon in March, along with approximately fifty other individuals. We were attempting to deliver a coffin to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld when we encountered a hastily built fence and hordes of police. The fence was placed near a parking lot, out of sight of the Pentagon. It became obvious to me that, if we were to stay in this fenced in area, we would be protesting for our benefit only. Although I had not intended to risk arrest that day, I was so shocked by this blatant violation of my first amendment right to seek redress of grievances of governmental officials that I impulsively made the decision to cross that fence.

The charge against me was “violation of a lawful order.” It is a class B misdemeanor. The court in which the case was to be heard was the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia.

I arrived in Washington, D.C., on July 18. I was greeted by a wall of heat and by the sight of lollipops melting on the pavement. Almost before I knew it, I was near the White House, protesting the Israel-Hezbollah war. It was the hottest, sweatiest protest that I had ever experienced! I saw the Code Pink group, which was fasting and vigiling at Lafayette Park. I met several people from the Middle East, who just wanted to see the violence stop. One was Mohammed, who is from Morocco, where, he told me, people of all faiths live together in peace. Another was an artist, Mona. Originally from Egypt, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area. Her paintings, which can be found at, reflect her North African roots.

During the few days that I was in Washington, D.C., I spent much time in the Palestine Center., 2425 Virginia Ave., NW. The first time, I saw a documentary film titled Improvisation, directed by Raed Andoni, about a musical family, the Joubran brothers. These brothers play traditional Arab music. The movie depicted their relationships with one another and the rest of their family, their practices, the playing and construction of the ‘oud (a traditional Arab instrument), and their performances. It also gave viewers an impression of life in Ramallah, under the Israeli occupation. It was a beautiful movie about music, life, love, and perseverance in spite of man-made obstacles.

Also, at the Palestine Center, I heard an informative talk about Hamas and how it came to win the election in the Palestinian territories. The speaker, Nadia Hijab, offered an historical perspective of the region, the series of negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and the Palestinian resistance movements. It was an interesting, yet disturbing talk. She asked, “Where do we go from here? The region is doomed without a comprehensive solution. How many people will die before this reality is recognized?”

On Friday, July 21, I was in court. I found out that the judge assigned to the case was Theresa Buchanan, who was well-known for sending protesters to jail. I was horrified. I had not anticipated the possibility of being sent to jail, even though I was aware that the maximum sentence for this charge was six months in prison plus a big fine. I had intended to plead “no contest” and to ask the judge to sentence me to “community service” and “probation” (the prosecutor said that “probation” had to go along with “community service” so that there would be someone to “supervise” me).

As it turned out, Judge Buchanan would not accept a no-contest plea. So I chose, along with 13 co-defendants who were in court that day, to plead not guilty. We were proceeding “pro se” (defending ourselves). Some of my co-defendants did a fine job in giving an opening speech and in cross-examining the chief prosecution witness, Major William Stout of the Pentagon Police. He insisted that he had designed a “free speech zone” for us so that we could enjoy our protest in a nice, secluded spot. Under cross-examination, he acknowledged that the spot was so secluded that no one in the Pentagon could either see us or hear us. After the prosecution rested, the judge shocked everyone in the courtroom by abruptly dismissing the charges.

That abrupt dismissal ended the trial of the century, which most certainly did not live up to that title.


That is the new title of the Erie County Fair. I entered two pastel paintings, two crocheted doilies, and one small crocheted blanket into the contests at the Creative Arts Building. One of the paintings was a still life of (what else?) food… a loaf of bread, a jar of pickled vegetables, and a hunk of cheese on a plate. The other painting was a portrait of a girl dressed in an eighteenth century costume singing as she sat on the ground in front of a harp. When I went to the fair with my family, I was thrilled to find out that I had won two ribbons for my efforts. That was sort of like the frosting on the cake. Just having the stuff on exhibit is a big treat for me. But it’s always fun to win.


In September, I spent ten days in the Midwest. I was in Chicago, Illinois; LaCrosse, Wisconsin; and Decorah, Iowa. I went to visit people, to experience life in the Midwest, and to speak to groups about the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

In Chicago, I stayed with Voices for Creative Nonviolence, an organization founded by Kathy Kelly and Simon Harak, and dedicated to providing humanitarian aid and witness to war in Iraq. It is always good to see the Voices for Creative Nonviolence folks. They had been in Washington, D.C., from February to March to fast and to protest the war in the “Winter of Our Discontent.” A few of them had crossed the fence with me at the Pentagon on March 20.

One of the unexpected highlights of my Midwestern trip was a train ride between Chicago and LaCrosse. I was treated to a guided tour by two narrators, who were volunteers with the Trails and Rails program, sponsored by Amtrak and the National Park Service. The narrators told stories and shared facts and historical data about the areas, as we were passing them.

After getting off the train in LaCrosse, I was greeted by my friend Mary Cary, whom I hadn’t seen in more than twenty years. The two of us had been students in the University of Missouri-Columbia, when we last saw one another. We were so happy to see one another! Mary introduced me to her friend, Perry-O Sliwa. The two of them had arranged for me to spend the next several days at Perry-O and David Sliwa’s farm outside of Decorah, Iowa.

My time at the organic farm was delightful. I spoke about WHINSEC at Luther College and at the Friends meeting house in Decorah, as well as at a Friends’ meeting in Gays Mills, Wisconsin. I went to a workshop on how to build solar food dehydrators. I spent time outdoors, picking berries and walking. I experienced the beauty of the Iowa countryside, with its valleys and ridges and rivers.

After spending several days in Iowa, I returned to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where I stayed with the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. I gave a talk about WHINSEC at the Franciscan Spirituality Center. Mary gave me a tour of downtown LaCrosse. I stood with the Women in Black at their weekly vigil. I enjoyed a walk alongside the Mississippi River. I even got to see a ballet called “Dracula,” presented by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet at Viterbo College. It was dark, dramatic, foreboding, and highly entertaining.

The Sliwas, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, and Voices for Creative Nonviolence were kind and gracious hosts. It was a fantastic opportunity for me.

I enjoyed my time in Iowa and Wisconsin so much that I would consider going out there for a longer period of time, if I could find the right community.


The time is rapidly approaching. I’m going back to Fort Benning next month. I was hoping that it would be to celebrate the passage of HR 1217, but, unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Maybe we’ll have better luck with legislation with a different Congress.

I am hoping that many people decide to cross that fence this year. It is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the School of the Americas, which has had a variety of names but has always been the same school. The issue has always been accountability. If the government really believed that no harm had been done by training offered at that school, wouldn’t it welcome an investigation?

I am asking you to consider crossing the fence this year. Having 20,000 people walk onto the grounds of Fort Benning, by a variety of entrances, would make an impression on people at the school and people in Washington, D.C. Please think about it.

I’ll see you there!

(For more detail about my adventures, take a look at my blog at

Congress Has Its Say on WHINSEC

(June 2006 newsletter)

On June 9, I watched the debate in the House of Representatives on the future of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as the School of the Americas), televised on C-SPAN.

Representative James McGovern’s bill, the Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2005 (HR 1217), was offered to the House as an amendment to the Foreign Operations appropriations bill. The amendment was named for two sponsors, James McGovern (D-Massachusetts) and John Lewis (D-Georgia) and was titled the McGovern-Lewis amendment.

As the individual who introduced the amendment, McGovern was the first to speak about why it needed to be approved. He talked about the “notorious legacy” of the SOA. WHINSEC, he said, is no improvement over the old school. It has welcomed several well-known human rights violators as students. Keeping the school open is “sending the wrong signal to Latin America.” Furthermore, WHINSEC and the SOA are on the same base and they offer the same curriculum. “Excuse me if I don’t get the difference,” McGovern commented.

The opposition to HR 1217 was led by Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Arizona), chairman of the Foreign Operations Committee. “WHINSEC is a Department of Defense facility, which replaces the SOA. It trains civilians, military, and law enforcement officers to support our democratic principles.” While he acknowledged that some SOA graduates were “bad,” he claimed that more of them “uphold human rights.”

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York) had questions about Rep. Kolbe’s assertions that the majority of SOA graduates support human rights. “The Department of Defense refuses to monitor the careers of graduates,” she said. “The vetting process is broken. WHINSEC is just another name for SOA.”

Representative Barbara Lee (D-California) pointed out that “people in Latin America are not fooled by a name change.” Representatives debating in favor of HR 1217 talked about an incident that occurred in Colombia on May 19. Members of the Farallones High Mountain Battalion of the army’s Third Brigade killed ten members of an elite judicial police anti-drug squad during a thirty-minute firefight took place near the town of Jamudi, south of Cali (source: the Center for International Policy). CIP raised questions as to whether the killing of the police, which involved unprovoked shooting and the detonation of hand grenades, was “friendly fire” or something more sinister. General Mario Montoya, commander of the national army, said, “We are not going to wait for a group to arrive before opening fire. The men were simply deployed in response to a suspicious situation that presented itself in the zone.”

Hmmm, the old “shoot first, ask questions later” tactic. As I mentioned in my last newsletter, Montoya is well-known for his scorched-earth policy and for his connections with paramilitary units. He is not well known for upholding human rights. Did he learn his techniques at the SOA? It appears that he paid attention in class and applied his newfound knowledge well.

Members of Congress who argued against the amendment said that the institution is noted for its human rights training. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Georgia) identified himself as a member of WHINSEC’s Board of Visitors. He said, “All students and instructors receive comprehensive human rights training” and that graduates are “not brutal and murderous thugs. The vast majority make positive contributions and serve with honor and distinction.”

Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Massachusetts) completely disagreed. WHINSEC, he argued, is the “breeding ground for unsavory thugs” who “repress, abuse, and kill their victims.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) commented that WHINSEC/SOA is notorious for “graduating human rights violators” and that people targeted by these graduates include educators, student leaders, and union leaders.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) talked about the February 21-22, 2005, massacre at San Jose de Apartado, Colombia. Shortly after eight persons, including three children, were killed in this peace community, the 17th Brigade, directed by SOA graduate Brigadier General Hector Jaime Rincon, was seen there. Rincon had graduated from the SOA’s “small unit tactical operations” course. “This is not an isolated matter. It is a shameful policy,” Schakowsky said.

Rep. John Mica (R-Florida) started by referring to opponents of SOA/WHINSEC as the “caffe latte crowd,” an odd comment, considering that Colombia is well-known for its coffee. Returning to the topic at hand, he expounded upon the virtues of WHINSEC and declared that it trains officers who share our values and that the program should be expanded, not cut. He didn’t mention problems concerning our own government and military with massacres, extraordinary rendition (deporting someone to a country that practices torture), Guatanamo, secret prisons, etc. Are these the values that the SOA students share with us?

Meehan addressed those issues directly. “The U.S. administration has done little to hide contempt for human rights,” he stated. “Cutting funding is a small step in the right direction.”

The new WHINSEC graduates are becoming fewer in number, however, as demand for the program falls. So far, Bolivia, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Argentina have announced that that they are no longer sending students to the school, and the list could soon get longer. Enrollment has declined by 40 percent. Most of the students now come from five Andean nations, and U.S. students are filling empty seats. As enrollment declines, the budget for the school does not.

None of the opponents to HR 1217, from the cantankerous Mica to the genteel Gingrey, were able to explain why funding for WHINSEC has remained the same while the number of students has declined. They also were unable to explain the lack of accountability and the fact that no independent investigation of this school and its graduates has been performed. School supporters simply repeat public relations offerings from WHINSEC. They also do not mention Amnesty International’s November 2002 report, “Unmatched Power, Unmet Principle.”

After the allotted thirty minutes, the debate was over, and a roll call vote was held on the McGovern-Lewis amendment. It was defeated by the vote of 188 to 218.

Our work continues.

Alice E. Gerard

Alice Goes to Washington: SOA Watch Lobby Days!

(May 2006 Newsletter)

1. Plan Colombia: On Sunday, April 23, I attended a workshop organized by SOA Watch at American University on Plan Colombia.

The panelists included Erik Giblin, a program officer for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, and Berenice Celeyta Alayon, one of four Colombian recipients of the 1998 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. The panelists said that Colombia’s history is “very complex” and includes a strange set of alliances between “Mafia-type powers,” local dictators, guerrillas, drug lords, paramilitaries, corporations, and the military.

Various elements regularly target human rights activists and labor leaders for assassination. In 2005, sixty trade unionists were killed, and not a single killer was brought to justice. One of the most notorious of the plots, Operation Dragon, involved threats against Celeyta Alayon and others. After several people received a tip that they would be killed during the week of August 23, 2004, they contacted the Colombian attorney general, and a raid was conducted in the cities of Cali and Medellin. Materials found were evidence of the surveillance of 170 persons, with contact information, a power point presentation, a detailed map of the SINTRAEMACALI labor union, and the notebooks of Lt. Colonel Julian Villate Leal of Colombia’s Third Brigade. It was learned that information had been leaked from Colombia’s secret police (called DAS) to the would-be assassins. In addition, the lieutenant colonel, now retired, has been well educated. He studied military tactics in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas; the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California; and the School of the Americas, where he also served as an instructor. He was also the dean of Colombia’s Escuela Superior de Guerra (National War College) from 2002 to 2004. Despite all of the evidence, no criminal charges have been filed against any of the participants in the conspiracy known as Operation Dragon.

Why is the United States offering Colombia such massive quantities of military aid? The State Department regularly certifies Colombia as having an adequate human rights record to receive military aid while, at the same time, detailing in its annual country report numerous human rights violations that should be sufficient to deny Colombia military aid. Is drug eradication the real goal of Plan Colombia, which was designed by SOA student General Mario Montoya? Alleged to have been a former leader of right-wing paramilitaries, Montoya commanded the 24th brigade in Putumayo and the 21st counter-narcotics battalion. The 24th brigade has been barred from receiving U.S. aid because of evidence of its cooperation with right-wing paramilitaries at La Hormiga. Montoya is known for his scorched-earth campaigns in Putumayo. Despite these charges, this SOA graduate has been permitted to design a big piece of U.S. military policy in Latin America. Why is that?

Could it be that Colombia is, as the panelists said, “extremely rich with resources,” with untapped gold and with potentially more oil than Venezuela? Not all are eager for the oil to be drilled. The U’Wa Indians, for example, say, “Oil is the blood of the mother earth. If mother earth has not given her permission to open her up, how can we allow this?”

2. Father Roy Bourgeois’ report: In March, Lisa Sullivan, Carlos Mauricio, and Father Roy went to South America as “citizen diplomats” to ask governmental leaders to stop sending troops to WHINSEC. Father Roy said that it was a “special joy” to go back to Bolivia, where, in the 1970s, he had been a missionary priest. He said that he had both “good memories” and “memories of fear.”

“It is incredible,” Father Roy said, “Fear is in the past…. Evo Morales is the first indigenous president after 500+ years.”

The “citizen diplomats” spoke to Evo Morales early one morning. Then, they moved on to Uruguay and Argentina and spoke to the defense ministers of those countries. Both defense ministers said, “You don’t have to tell us of this school. We know about it. No more of our troops will attend.” The defense minister of Argentina is the widow of a man who was “disappeared,” along with thousands of others, during the “dirty wars” of the 1970s and 1980s. Uruguay’s minister of defense is a lawyer who defended political prisoners when that country was a dictatorship.

Even when WHINSEC is closed, there will still be more work to accomplish. “There can be no healing until the wrongdoing is acknowledged,” said Father Roy. “People in Latin America want the truth.”

The “citizen diplomats” intend to visit governmental leaders in Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Paraguay this summer to ask them to stop sending troops to WHINSEC.

3. HR 1217: On April 24, Juliana Illari, Shirley Way, and I visited the offices of Representatives Louise Slaughter (D-NY-28) and Brian Higgins (D-NY-27) and Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer to ask them to support this legislation. We now have 130 cosponsors to Rep. Jim McGovern’s bill, and we’re looking for a Senate sponsor. WHINSEC/SOA has been operating for sixty years. Enough is enough! Let’s get this school closed this year!!!!

4. Poking the Beehive: Father Roy said our actions in Fort Benning, his work in Latin America, and our work in Washington, D.C., “poke the beehive” of the government and military. Let’s continue poking the beehive at home by continuing contacts with Congress, and by holding call-in days, writing letters to the editor and op-ed pieces, and by speaking about that school to groups. Donations to defray the cost of this work can be sent to SOA Watch, P.O. Box 4566, Washington, D.C. 20017. We’re having success, and it’s time to follow that up with more success!

Alice E. Gerard, Grand Island, NY