Reflections on a Visit to the School of the Americas (SOA)

Posted on December 3, 2008. Filed under: Me and only ME ranting, Politics, Spiritual Musings | Tags: , , |

Ever since I first learned about it in 2004, I have been in heavy favor of shutting down the SOA.  This is news to noone.  But I’ve never been able to get down there with any groups for a peaceful protest and Q & A with the proponents of the SOA.  While the SOA may be indirectly involved in the massacaring of innocents I still believe that any involvement by the “school” is too much when it comes to the deaths of thousands of civilians.  If you are not familiar with the SOA, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), I urge you to check it out.  Like any questionable government entity it tries to pass itself off as something that is needed for national security.  While I am not a conspiracy theorist and I don’t believe the Trilateral Commission will dominate the world, I do believe that the evidence of those who have “graduated” from the SOA speaks for itself.

Some of the esteemed graduates of the SOA include:

Manuel Noriega, leader of Panama and drug trafficker;                                                                                

Col. Franck Romain, On Sept. 11, 1988, armed men broke into the St. Jean Bosco church while Fr. Jean Bertrand Aristide was saying mass and killed 12 parishioners and wounded at least 77. They doused the church in gasoline and set it on fire. Witnesses identified at least two of the gang members as deputies of Col. Romain, who was then Mayor of Port-au- Prince. Col. Romain later publicly justified the massacre as legitimate.                                                                                                                                                   

Maj. Alejandro de Jesús Alvarez Henao, Principal member of “Muerte a Secuestradores” (MAS), a paramilitary death squad responsible for numerous assassinations and disappearances.                          

Sgt. Antonio Ramiro Avalos Vargas Non-commissioned officer in charge of the small unit that massacred 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter.                                                 

Maj. Armando Azmitia Melara, in 1983 commanded the Atlacatl battalion in the massacre of 117 people; in 1984 he commanded the Atlacatl battalion in the massacre of 68 people, most of whom were under age 14.                                                                                                                                                          

General José Valdivia Duenas, On May 14, 1988, army soldiers under Valdivia Duenas’ command killed (with gunshot, bayonets, and farming tools) between 28 and 31 male residents of the hamlet Cayara. Returning four days later, the soldiers arrested many villagers, dozens of whom disappeared (only 3 bodies were recovered). Duenas was subsequently promoted.

This is just a partial list (literally just scratching the surface, for a more complete and extensive list of graduates and the crimes they’ve comitted, here is a link to the source of the information above) of the graduates of the SOA who have commited atrocities and are involved in illegal activities.  As a Christian, I knew that I could not let this go by the wayside.  It is not one of those things that you can turn a blind eye to or think to yourself, “Well, it’s not effecting me or my life, so I’m not going to worry about it.”  While my current station in life prevents me from taking a more active role in seeing the SOA shut down, I will try to do what I can, in whatever small way that I can.  This is one of those ways, informing people.

Below is a reflection on the protest by one of the peaceful participants, Lani Osa.  With her permission I am putting this up because it resonated in my soul.  I hope that her experience may effect you too, to stand for something good, the closing of the SOA.

Reflections on the School of Assasins

by Lani Osa
Today at 5:46pm

Georgia. Distinguished as one of the most musical of states. A place, like many, where the most I could say of it is: I’ve passed through there, years ago, in a car. I was tired and I don’t remember much.
But last week I went to Georgia and back, and now forever more it will be a house filled with happenings, sights, fire songfull nights.

First of all there was driving. 24 hours of it, a straight shot due south. It was dull and it was fun, if not quite “Fear and Loathing.” Tunes, friends, anti-boredom agents. Our enthusiasm and snacks. The mythology of the road trip, our part in the fumes which will someday render the polar bear a fantasy beast.
Wake me when we have somemore lemonheads.

We arrived at the campground a jumble of twisted muscles and bloodshot eyes. We pitched tents and slept the best we could. The winter nights of Georgia are frozen too. Who knew?

Saturday we infiltrate the depths of Fort Benning. When i say infiltrated, I mean of course, piled into a busfull of protesters hailing from across the country to get the inside view of the virtues of the School of the Americas. A tour, given annually when the angry(ish) mob flocks to the chainlink shores of a fence which keeps in and closes out a military education which has bred two generations of massacres and the worldly incarnation of callous economic policy. The hired assassins of North American imperialism.

We sit in front of a military/civilian panel which lectures us on the necessity of the proud institution. The floor is opened and questions are fired. The darkest deeds of the school are bandied about by the folk who see straight through the party line. The panel is affronted by our audacity. The line is towed. Frustrating as any presidential press conference where every true question is thrown to the wayside. “Answer the question you wish was asked, never the one that was.” What is a State but a coherent fiction perpetuated by its actors at the expense of the slow waltz of wisdom, unashamed to turn failures and shame to lessons of change.

Afterwards we drive on to the “God Bless Ford Benning” rally, the traditional righteous counter demo to our assemblage of ‘tear it down!’ lefties. The streets are filled with soldiers in new-fangled camo, so unlike the well-loved rags of ye olde military campaigns. My brother worked in a factory in Ashland where he sewed camelpacks in the self-same material.

The rally. It’s a family affair, there are popcorn machines and candy stands. Girls wrestling for the camo-ed men, pawning backrubs and kisses. For the kiddies, real live tanks they get to crawl into. Rows of automatic weapons backed by proud soldiers frothing at the mouth with ravings over their gats’ technical innovations to spellbound crowds. A kitschy hippie impulse seizes me. I pluck a roadside flower and stuff the stalk into the barrel of a semiautomatic rifle. The soldier watching over the toy is not impressed. I smile the sweetest smile i can muster and traipse away.

Sunday 20,000 people convene for the demonstration. A protest zone is quarantined off. A stage sits in the center. Puppets, drums and masks vitalize the space. Most people have come with one white cross, large enough to write the name and age of a massacre victim. We all stand facing the sage. An old Catholic Padre, massacre survivor, whispers to us a prayer. A prayer evoking the spirit of the East, her gifts are beginnings. The South, the gift of healing and growth. We turn to the West, who gives the wisdom of inward-looking. Then back to the North, from whence stems guidance and rest.

The circle is turned, the liturgy commences.

On stage, the name of a victim is chanted in minor keys whose passage through the self is marked by tremulous waves. Their age, their village, or else a simple “unidentified child, woman, or man.” A booming deep ceremonial drum is beat once. One beat per life. The vibration echoes through every body in the crowd. 20,000 people raise their cross, or if they have none, their hand, their fist. As one we chant “presente.” They are present. They are here with us.

This chant, the drum beat, crosses raised, “presente.” For how many names do we repeat the ceremony? Although we chant and march in slow funeral procession for two hours or more, we pay homage to only a fraction of the human lives we lump into the category of victim.

Death. If our protest accomplishes nothing else, it forms in me a newborn understanding of a human life. How many times do we hear of a murder, a natural disaster, famines, war crimes, collateral damage? I can only hang my head with the most abstracted sadness. It is difficult to feel real empathy for faraway turmoil. Perhaps this is a defense mechanism, lest our soul be so inundated with tragedy that we cease to function in our own day to day affairs. Perhaps too this is why it is so easy to struggle for exotic causes. It is nothing personal. We neither loose nor gain nor risk any measure of our own existence.

But for me this ceremony was a shaman looking into my eyes every one of those dead. A real live person, each of them, no longer victims or tallies. It was a seeing of the fullness of each of those lives, a flare, then the fire snuffed, trampled, drowned. At one point, a chorus is repeated time and again until grief makes me forget where or who I am. “Unidentified child. Village in Columbia.” 30 times or more this was spoken. What happened in that village! How could the lucidity of these children be canceled out in the instant of a few staccato beats? Just because the massacre is the latest entry in an interminable accounting, it’s as if it has happened for the very first time in history. For those on the other end, this has never happened before. Cultural memory means nothing in the face of shot down child.

We walk in a circle. We trace out the medicine wheel. The wheel which forms a cycle, the nature way of death, life, birth, be it futile or sublime. How to integrate such rupture, these jagged edges and gaping holes? At some point each of us finds ourselves before the Fence. It is in interruption, like all of these lives. I cannot speak for the thoughts described in the hearts and minds of the 19,999 others who found themselves before the fence, now a barrier of crazed angles, morphed into a wall of tilted crosses as each is balanced precariously, another emblem into the links. Patches of light filter through, and the military warning signs guarding the inviolateness of the other side.

I seek a resting place for Luis A. Morales Viego of Cuba, who lived beneath the skies and took air into his lungs for 15 years. I wonder what filled his life in the weeks before his death. Did compadres die by his side? Were his days and nights made of dreams for his life to come or was he a precocious cynic? Had he seen more beauty or more terror in his days? Was he in love? Did he like to dance, did he play music?

This boy was nobody to me until I clutched his memorial, raising it high “like an antennae to heaven.” I joined him to his brothers and sisters in death. It means nothing for him and everything to me. He is present no longer, despite the liturgy.

We are not fighting for ghosts. A cross cannot resurrect life once lost. The consequence of failing in our struggle is not an abstraction, even if we cannot appreciate the enormity of it. Yet every action of real resistance is an affirmation of the pulses yet pushing blood through the body, of lungs filled up and emptied out. These people were killed by people like them, but the system breeding these deaths is one we all participate in, through action or apathy. In the time I take to write this, there have been new killings. A moment of protest is a luxury when there is no time to loose.

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