This past weekend was spent at the SOAW Border Encuentro in Tucson, AZ and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. The U.S. Army School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is located at Fort Benning, Georgia. As stated on Wikipedia “The School of the Americas was founded in 1946 and from 1961 was assigned the specific goal of teaching “anti-communist counterinsurgency training,” a role which it would fulfill for the rest of the Cold War. In this period, it educated several Latin American dictators, generations of their military and, during the 1980s, included the uses of torture in its curriculum.In 2000/2001, the institute was renamed to WHINSEC.:233 ”
“During the Cold War Colombia supplied the largest number of students from any client country.:17 As the Cold War drew to a close around 1990, United States foreign policy shifted focus from “anti-communism” to the War on Drugs, with narcoguerillas replacing “communists”.:10
“School of the Americas Watch is an advocacy organization founded by former Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois and a small group of supporters in 1990 to protest the training of mainly Latin American military officers, by the United States Department of Defense, at the School of the Americas (SOA). Most notably, SOA Watch conducts a vigil each November at the site of the academy, located on the grounds of Fort Benning, a U.S. Army military base near Columbus, Georgia, in protest over human rights abuses committed by some graduates of the academy or under their leadership, including murders, rapes and torture and contraventions of the Geneva Conventions.”
Since 2016 School of the Americas Watch moved their vigil from Fort Benning, GA to the border wall in Nogales to protest the militarization of the border. As taken from the SOAW website “…SOA Watch is a nonviolent grassroots movement working to close the SOA / WHINSEC and similar centers that train state actors such as military, law enforcement and border patrol. We strive to expose, denounce, and end US militarization, oppressive US policies and other forms of state violence in the Americas. We act in solidarity with organizations and movements working for justice and peace throughout the Americas.”
Proceedings began in Tucson with a block printing workshop by fellow Justseeds member Thea Gahr.
My collaborators in creating the image used for the backdrop, Raechel Running and Thea Gahr. (The above 3 photos are by Saiyare Refaei.)
That evening there was a vigil at Eloy Detention Center outside Tucson. Opened in 1994 Eloy Detention Center is a private prison contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement where immigrants from surrounding cities are detained sometimes for years. The center houses both men and women. An investigation by The Arizona Republic in 2016 found the center to have the highest number of deaths in the U.S. There have been 15 deaths since 2003 including 5 suicides. One of the more moving aspects of the vigil was seeing silhouettes of detainees in windows who communicated with demonstrators by turning lights on + off in their cells and by banging on windows. We learned that the price the detainees pay for this communication is a restriction of their privileges such as visitations with family and legal representation.
The time in Nogales included workshops, speeches, music and art. One of the more moving moments included the arrival and participation of a group of activists from Oaxaca who traveled 3 days to participate. Their journey included stopping along the way to meet with and lend solidarity to other immigration grass roots groups.
(The 2 photos above are by Saiyare Refaei.)
Screen printed posters were made at the event and were given away for free. We also printed on t shirts and other pieces of clothing provided by participants.
Thea getting assistance from across the border.
Sweet sage smudge blessing through the border wall with crosses along the bottom of the wall bearing the names of migrants who died over the past year while crossing the Sonoran Desert or in detention.
Crosses with a name of the deceased are raised as people say “presente!” upon hearing the names of those who have perished trying to cross the Sonoran Desert in pursuit of their dreams. An image of hope saying “tear down the walls; build up the people” is in the background.
- An end to US economic, military and political intervention in Latin America
- Demilitarization and divestment of the borders
- An end to the racist systems of oppression that criminalize and kill migrants, refugees and communities of color
- Respect, dignity, justice and the right to self-determination of communities
- An end to Plan Mérida and the Alliance for Prosperity
End of the encuentro but the struggle continues…