Litany from the 2018 SOA Watch Border Encuentro

Photo by Steve Pavey/Hope in Focus

Photo by Steve Pavey/Hope in Focus

This litany was shared this morning at the 2018 SOA Watch Border Encuentro in Nogales, Arizona. Each section was written by a person directly impacted by what they were reading and also read as a prayer in the same way. There were many tears and much wailing this morning.

Read this as a reminder to resist:

We can name only some victims of SOA violence, US intervention and militarization of the borders, as well as victims of the war on migrants and refugees, and victims of the war on communities in resistance inside the US; but they call to memory the countless others who have been murdered, tortured, or disappeared. May our witness honor them all.

Martin Luther King Jr. named the giant triplets of the Empire’s domination machine - racism, capitalism and militarism – and this machine represents a continuation of the “trail of tears” that still ravages the Indigenous peoples across this continent. We recognize that geopolitical borders are the direct result of the legacy of settler colonialism, racism, slavery, genocide, misogyny and patriarchy. We uplift the ongoing struggle of our Indigenous sisters and brothers who first lived on this land.

We the Tohono O’odham (Desert People), Akimel O’odham, (River People), Hia Ched O’odham (Sand People), and O’ob O’odham, (Mountain People) of the Sonoran Desert and Western Sierra Madre were first invaded by Spanish Colonizers in 1531, but we are still here.

Our very existence as O’odham in the Sonoran Desert is now opposed by the ongoing Settler Colonist policies of the United States and Mexican Governments, which disregard all O’odham peoples, our autonomy, and our traditional government in Mexico. Since time immemorial generations of O’odham have been caretakers of this desert, and those governments threaten us as they sanction and enable occupation of our lands by the cross-border activities of the Border Patrol, US military, National Guard, the Criminal Drug Cartel, and mining.

They deploy their military technology to further colonize our desert, extract water and other natural resources, and trample our relatives - the animals and plants that live here - and the very earth itself, which is one of our medicines. Like Palestinians from Palestine, we Tohono O’odham can never be removed from our Himdag, and our homeland can never be removed from us.

Both US and Israeli military technology companies like Boeing and Elbit Systems support such paramilitary forces who smuggle drugs and humans and carry out violent deaths at the hands of the US Border Patrol, including Benet Patricio, the hit and run against Paulo Remes, and the deportation of Joaquín Esteban and Ernesto Esteban from the Tohono O’odham reservation. Our government increasingly considers their profits more important than the deaths of peoples who live or arrive here fleeing violence and corruption that threatens their lives in their own homelands. We respect all peoples, their homelands, and necessary journeys.

Throughout the Americas, indigenous peoples are resisting the plundering of the land, the poisoning of the water, and the destruction of Mother Earth by mining and other extractive industries and struggling to uplift another way of existence. Communities continue to face oppression through the systematic destruction of vital plants and animals that lead to profound health and environmental impacts to the borderlands’ ecosystems. The military, private security forces, police, and paramilitaries on both sides of the border attack, threaten, arrest, and murder them to try to rob them of their resilience and condemn resistance. Judicial systems all too often protect those responsible for repression, enabling impunity and protecting corporate interests. Yet the spirit of Berta Cáceres, Russell Means, John Trudell, Dennis Banks and so many others lives on in the resistance that grows every day, challenging capitalism and refusing to be broken down, rising up to defend communities, rivers, forests, and life itself.

History has shown us that no border can stop humans or other living things from surviving. Flora and fauna in the borderlands have been threatened by the construction of human borders, that take the form of walls and radioactive towers. Photographs show deer, javelina, bobcats - even snakes and roadrunners, blocked by the wall. Studies tell us that butterflies, puma, coati, bighorn sheep, and many more are prevented from migrating, finding mates, water, or food, by expensive, ugly infrastructures built on pristine desert lands. It's time to take down walls and towers, and demilitarize the borderlands. We must examine the various ways in which border ecosystems face extreme pollution and neglect.

Starting in 1994, the US government adopted extreme immigration enforcement strategies including the policy of Prevention Through Deterrence with the intended goal of increasing the risks associated with crossing the desert. The traditional crossing areas for migrants and refugees for over a hundred years have been cut off, and they have been pushed into dangerous terrain along the US Border with Mexico. The unprecedented expenditure provided for military-type buildups, walls, sensors, and drones, has created a zone where people die or disappear. Since 2000, 3,322 human remains have been recovered, and the continued use of these practices ensures that death and disappearances still occur. The death count does not reflect the scale of the humanitarian crisis here. Death counts do not include those whose remains are never found. People do not merely go missing while crossing the border; they are disappeared by the State.

Since 2005, the federal government has utilized an expedited prosecution program, Operation Streamline, to prosecute, convict, and incarcerate migrants for the felony crime of illegal reentry. Daily, up to 70 men and women arrested along the border are brought before a federal judge en masse on charges of illegal entry, a misdemeanor, or illegal re-entry, a felony. Migrants remain shackled throughout the proceedings. The result remains the same: little or no due process, criminal record, and sentences up to six months in prisons and jails before being detained and deported by ICE. Most migrants are never given the chance to explain why they made the treacherous journey, or the fact that they fear return to their country of origin. Under Operation Streamline, Customs and Border Protection has moved to prosecute as felons many Central Americans who are in fact seeking asylum – this violates US obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.

We demand justice for the more than 100 people who have been killed by the US Border Patrol. Since 2010, there has been a 100 percent impunity rate for Border Patrol agents. We remember and honor those victims today, in Arizona and Sonora: Darío Miranda Valenzuela, Bennett Patricio, Ramsés Barrón Torres, José Antonio Elena Rodríguez, Carlos Lamadrid, José Arambula, and others. On the California/Mexico border we remember Anastasio Hernández Rojas, Valeria Tachiquín Alvarado, Francisco Manuel Ceseña, José Gutiérrez Guzmán, and others. On the Texas/Mexico border we remember Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca, Guillermo Arévalo Pedroza, Juan Pablo Pérez Santillán, and others. We demand all victims and victims' families be granted the justice that has been denied them.

On this very street, sixteen-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez was murdered by Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz on October 10, 2012. Sixteen shots fired in thirty-four seconds from the US side of this militarized border wall into Nogales, Sonora. Right now, there is an ongoing retrial of Border Patrol Agent Swartz who faces charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. The Elena Rodríguez family is courageously unmasking the culture of impunity of the Border Patrol. The struggle of José Antonio’s family to keep his memory alive and seek justice mirrors the struggle of so many families, and has sparked a solidarity movement that will not stop until there is justice for Jose Antonio’s family and all victims of Border Patrol violence.

As part of the growing national security apparatus, the US government continues to conduct widespread surveillance and monitoring programs, targeting undocumented communities, refugees, communities of color and social movements with infiltration and destabilization campaigns. From Oakland to New York, Baltimore to Washington DC, and other cities, the police and FBI monitor Movement for Black Lives organizers and conduct systematic surveillance of Muslim communities. Private companies like Palentir make millions selling surveillance software to the government to carry out racist and Islamophobic deportation campaigns and "extreme vetting" programs. Social leaders continue to fight the surveillance behind this system of repression and expose the corrupt government actors orchestrating the new COINTELPRO programs.

As the Trump administration continues to fan the flames of Islamophobia, Muslims in the United States have increasingly become the scapegoats of national security policies and hate crimes. And as the War on Terror continues resting on the deep criminalization of Muslims, this community has been torn apart domestically and abroad whether through discriminatory immigration ban, surveillance, detention, torture, and even murder. The War on Terror is about entrenching a discriminatory system of justice for Muslims, where justice is denied and communities are silenced and dehumanized. We must continue to call for justice for Muslims without compromise and dismantle the systems of oppression, because our humanity cannot and will not be negotiated.

Similarly, the US-funded Drug War programs support the surveillance and targeting of people seeking refuge, journalists, human rights defenders and social leaders in Mexico. US and Israeli companies provide surveillance technology to the Mexican government and profit from political repression inflicted against those who expose the corrupt narco-state and the US connection to the political murder, disappearances, and the dismantling of social movements. The US provides the infrastructure and political cover for the demonization, incarceration, denial of asylum, and physical attacks on migrants. Journalists, activists and communities are standing up against the corrupt state, collectively and spontaneously providing aid to migrants fleeing violence, and exposing those who hide behind the system of violence.

In Mexico, the Merida Initiative has guaranteed the expansion of US military and police training, weapons, and operations south of its political border and has perpetuated violence and state-sponsored terror in Mexico. The official numbers say that more than 220,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the War on Drugs in 2006 and more than 30,000 have been disappeared.

The Southern Border Plan and “Operation Faithful Patriot” have consolidated Mexico as an extension of United States’ attempts to control Mesoamerica - where thousands of migrants and refugees have been disappeared and at least 35 journalists have been murdered since 2006; where 106 human rights activists have been assassinated since 2012; where more than 23,800 women have been victims of feminicide in the last 10 years; where 6 people from the LGBTQ community are murdered each month; where the 43 students of Ayotzinapa are still disappeared; where impunity has become the freedom of expression of murderers.

For the 72 migrants from San Fernando and the 49 from Cadereyta, for the 43 students from Ayotzinapa, for Goyo, Ruben Espinosa, Nadia Vera, Miroslava Breach, Javier Valdez, Mario Leonel Gómez Sánchez and all journalists; for the women and our LGBTQ family in Mexico; for the thousands of victims and their families we say: it was the State!

In 2014, Vice President Joe Biden announced that the Alliance for Prosperity would “stem the dangerous surge in migration” from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras by following the “successful” model of Plan Colombia. The precursors to the Alliance for Prosperity — CARSI, Plan Colombia and Plan Merida— produced enormous violence and displacement. Now, the Alliance for Prosperity, launched from the headquarters of the neoliberal global financial institutions, the Inter American Development Bank, to purportedly solve the mass displacements from the region, will be ineffective in the face of increasingly militarized borders, mass migration, privatization, and human rights violations that continue unabated. The real result of this will be to increase the record profits of the defense sector.

In Honduras, 9 years after the SOA graduate-led, US-backed military coup, the violence and militarization against human rights workers , indigenous and campesino communities, environmentalists, lawyers, journalists, LGBTQ community members, student activists, and social movement leaders continues. When community members organized and protested the fraudulent November 2017 election of Juan Orlando Hernández, the government responded with an extremely violent government campaign and a declared state of emergency. Many hundreds were injured, and more than 30 people killed by police, military and US trained security forces, who used scare tactics, guns, US manufactured tear gas, and other forms of violence to criminalize, attack, and murder those who continue to speak out against repression. With more than 1,300 people arrested, many face ongoing legal battles, and 15 remain incarcerated as political prisoners. The United States and Canada continue financing and supporting the repressive regime to protect the interest of multinational mining and manufacturing firms.

Berta Cáceres, indigenous Lenca and social movement leader, was murdered in her home on March 2, 2016. Since then, her life, memory and struggle have sparked an international movement to bring to justice those responsible for her murder. Most recently, in a complete violation of the victims’ rights, a Honduran court removed the lawyers representing Berta Cáceres’ family and the only eyewitness to Berta's assassination, Gustavo Castro, from the legal case against the first 8 people accused of her murder, including two who were US-trained at Ft. Benning. This is the latest blow in a series of systematic actions that maintain impunity for the criminal structure that assassinated Berta, and that for years has attacked COPINH, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations in Honduras. The US bears responsibility for propping up the Honduran government and financing its justice system that has repeatedly violated due process and the right to truth and justice of the victims.

The unprecedented exodus of more than 7,000 refugees, including more than 2,500 children, is a reflection of a history of migration of hundreds of thousands of persons from Central America to the US border. The Refugee Caravan we see today is the direct result of US and Canadian interventionist policies in Central America. The post-2009 Honduran coup regime has perpetuated a system rooted in corruption, violence and impunity. Meanwhile the US has responded to the Refugee Exodus with an increase in the militarization of its southern border and fear-mongering of border communities and asylum seekers. Today we respond with a call for solidarity from all the corners of the world and reject the criminalization, persecution, detention, deportation and family separation that threaten all people who flee US-imposed violence for survival. We demand an end to US military and security aid to Honduras!

In Guatemala, historical memory is indispensable in the fight to tell our story, to recover the memory of our disappeared, and to refuse to be a militarized people. The discovery of archives, mass graves, and recent trials in the courts have paved a path towards justice. This year, SOA graduates Benedicto Lucas García, Francisco Gordillo Martínez, Hugo Zaldaña Rojas and Manuel Callejas y Callejas were all put on trial and convicted for the disappearance of 14-year-old Antonio Molina Theissen and the rape of his sister, Emma. Today, the communities that survived the US-backed scorched earth campaigns and genocide under the dictatorship of SOA graduate General Efraín Rios Montt are the new political prisoners, criminalized for defending their lands from the imposition of megaprojects and the extractive industry.

The struggle for justice in El Salvador has provided the inspiration for SOA Watch's origins and commitment to close the School of the Americas. Archbishop Romero, now a saint to the world, was murdered by SOA graduates on March 24, 1980. Archbishop Romero was a vocal opponent of US-backed war in El Salvador. Shortly after his assassination, SOA-trained Salvadoran soldiers raped and murdered four US churchwomen. The following year, they massacred over 900 Salvadoran men, women, and children in the village of El Mozote. On November 16, 1989, SOA graduates killed Celina Ramos, her mother Elba, and six Jesuit priests at the University of Central America. They are among the 70,000 civilians murdered during US-backed war in El Salvador between 1980 and 1992. Shut down the School of the Americas! Justice for the families of victims of SOA graduates!

In Cuba, the United States imposed an economic, commercial and financial embargo against the island in 1960 which prohibits any type of trade, and which remains in place up to now, despite petitions filed in the UN year after year to end the embargo, supported by a very large number of countries. Despite the existence, as well, of the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), which has graduated hundreds of students who receive scholarships from 22 Latin American countries, the Caribbean, the U.S., Africa, Asia and Oceania, who would not be able to afford studies in the US, the embargo prevents the sale of medicines or medical appliances for the proper exercise of medicine. Furthermore, the Guantanamo Naval Base maintained by the US keeps a jail where torture and murder of prisoners has been practiced, prisoners who have few rights, including those who have been kept imprisoned despite never having hard charges filed against them. End the murderous economic embargo against the Island of Cuba! Close down the prison in Guantanamo!

In Colombia, the hopes for peace have been fading with every breach of national and international verification mechanisms to the Peace Accords. The right to land has been denied to ex-combatants and communities; the right to political participation of communities in the most conflict-laden areas of the country has been denied; fumigation with glyphosate has been reintroduced at the request of the US government, guaranteeing injury to human life, to agriculture and to all natural life; the The Integral System of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Non-Repetition that had already been agreed between the parties has been reformed, guaranteeing impunity to perpetrators. Since the signing of the Peace Accords, 416 social justice leaders and human rights defenders have been killed. In our memory are José Cortés, Mario Jacanamijoy, Myriam Hernández, Oscar Pai, Luz Montaño, Liliana Cataño, and those other 410 leaders who were assassinated and whose faces, names and commitment we dare not forget. We ask for their courage, their spirit courage and their bravery to continue to fight for their dreams.

As the right wing in Chile continues with its policy of denial and the theory of the two demons, justifying the unjustifiable, this year thousands marched in September once again, 45 years after the CIA backed coup. Relatives of the detained and disappeared and the families of those who were politically executed, and torture survivors were present to raise in their hands the photos of their dead and disappeared to show that Historical Memory is not only the past but the present in the current struggles. As the people of Chile continue to recover places that were, during the dictatorship, centers of torture and extermination, we continue to speak against the training at the School of the Americas and against US military bases in Latin America, and keep in our collective memory the thousands of victims of the National Security Doctrine promoted by the SOA.

In Brazil, a far right demagogue — who targets Afro-Brazilians, indigenous peoples, LGBTQ leaders and land rights activists with hateful rhetoric — is on the verge of taking power. Jair Bolsonaro — elected president following a campaign based on hate, fear and disinformation — praises Brazil's former military dictatorship and openly regrets that it didn't kill thousands more activists. He promises to militarize the entire country, much in the way that Rio de Janeiro was militarized earlier this year, leading to a spike in extrajudicial killings of Black Brazilian youth. He promises to purge the country of left wing activists, by either jailing them, executing them or forcing them into exile. He vows to remove long-established restrictions to logging, mining and Agro-business in the Amazon, trampling indigenous rights and paving the way for unprecedented environmental devastation. But grassroots groups are determined to resist fascism and a corporate free-for-all in Brazil. Inspired by the heroic leadership of Black LGBTQ human rights advocate Marielle Franco, assassinated by a paramilitary group in March of this year, the people of Brazil are taking to the streets and denouncing militarization, state violence and social injustice. In support of the struggle of our Brazilian sisters and brothers, we say ya basta!

African migrants and refugees also face racist, xenophobic, lethal policies from European countries. Between 2015 and 2017, 15,000 migrants have died, and only one in eight arrive to European coasts alive. In this year alone over 2,000 Africans have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea, making it the most dangerous migration route in the world, and transforming the sea into a cemetary. Urgent actions are needed to stop this atrocity. As migrants continue to flee their home countries, they are met with xenophobic laws that violate human rights. Humanitarian protections must address the ongoing legacy of European colonization, including the destruction of African economies, as a root cause of migration.

The current US administration’s policies of detaining migrant families and children, and the militarization of this border are rooted in US white supremacist history. As a manifestation of white supremacy, settler colonialism has created borders to divide and destroy indigenous communities, and control migration to maintain political and economic domination. We must defy and resist these divisions and create cross-border solidarity in order to dismantle white supremacy. This moment calls for a rejuvenated internationalist anti-racist anti-war movement — one that is truly in solidarity with people’s struggles for freedom, justice, and dignity. We are here to fight. We are here to create. Power to the people!

Steve Pavey