Report and Photos From 2007 SOA Vigil

CRLN organized more than 70 members and friends to participate in the eighteenth Vigil to Close the School of the Americas (SOA). The SOA, located on the U.S. Army's Fort Benning facility, has trained thousands of Latin American military officers, many of whom return to their home countries to intimidate, torture, and murder their own citizens.  SOA has been linked to the most serious human rights violations in the hemisphere.  

On Sunday morning, November 18th, CRLN members joined thousands of others in gathering along Victory Drive to the gates of Fort Benning where Gennaro Jacinto Calel from the International Mayan League offered a Mayan Blessing.  Sister Mary Waskowiak, President of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, and Rabbi Michael Lerner addressed the crowd. 

 

Before the funeral procession commemorating the martyrs in Latin America, Adriana Portillo Bartow gave a tribute to Rufina Amaya, who died of a heart illness earlier this year.  Rufina was the sole survivor of the 1981 massacre of over 900 men, women and children in El Mozote, El Salvador. In 1999, Rufina traveled from El Salvador to the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, where 19 of the 26 people later found responsible for the massacre were trained at the School of the Americas.

 

During the funeral procession, which lasted three hours, thousands of mourners presented crosses with the name of a murdered or disappeared person on it, and placed them on the chain link fence blocking the entrance to Fort Benning.  During the three hour procession, the names of the dead were chanted, one-by-one. 

 

This year, the Columbus, Georgia, police enforced a strict limit on the size of the memorial crosses.  Crosses wider than 12 inches were confiscated and broken.  The rationale was that the crosses could be used as weapons, and the police did not seem to appreciate the powerful symbolism of confiscating crosses.  The crosses were weapons, but not weapons used to strike others.  Rather, the crosses were weapons of conscience, to indict the School of the Americas for its role in the murder and disappearance of thousands in Latin America. 

 

Earlier in the morning, eleven vigil participants, including Chicago Theological Seminary student Le Ann Clausen and CRLN member Diane Lopez Hughes, entered Fort Benning to carry the protest to the site of the SOA/WHINSEC. Diane has written a reflection on your action, which you can read by clicking here.

 

 

Le Ann and Diane, with the others, were arrested and charged in federal court with trespass - punishable by up to six months in prison. Over two hundred people have served federal prison time for civil disobedience at prior protests - dozens of others arrested have served years of supervised federal probation.  Those arrested are receiving legal assistance from a team of lawyers, including CRLN members Ed Osowski and Frank Schneider.    

 

The movement to close the school started in 1990 when about twenty people held the first protest outside Ft. Benning. SOA Watch is a key partner with CRLN and leads the effort the close the SOA.  To learn more about SOA Watch, go to http://www.soaw.org/

 

Further information can be found in an excellent article by Patrick Mulvaney in The Nation at www.thenation.com/doc/20071112/mulvaney

 

Following the vigil, some CRLN members gathered on Sunday evening to share their reflections on the vigil.  The group included refugees who had fled violence and death threats in Central and South America.  The conversation went on until after 11 pm and offered many an important opportunity to share their feelings after a deeply emotional day. 

 

Many CRLN members arrived in Georgia on Friday before the Sunday vigil, and took part in workshops, heard from speakers on a variety of topics, and enjoyed concerts. 

 

One highlight of the programming was the speech by Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts on Saturday afternoon. Representative McGovern, who earlier this year introduced an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that would have cut funding for the SOA/WHINSEC, confirmed his commitment to continue working until the SOA is closed. 203 members of Congress voted in favor of the McGovern/Lewis amendment which lost by a margin of only six votes.

 

On the Tuesday prior to the vigil, CRLN members gathered at First United Church of Oak Park.  Over pizza and soda, members prepared the crosses which they would bring to the vigil and went through an orientation to the vigil.  The evening ended with some exercises designed to provoke questions and thoughts about the nature of nonviolence action. 

 

To receive CRLN Action Alerts regarding legislation and other initiatives to close the SOA, or if you would like to participate in next year's vigil, please contact Danielle Wegman at dwegman@crln.org