Tuesday, November 28, 2006

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

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