Nancy Gwin Says, “Close the SOA”

Nancy spoke at SPC’s January program on “Nonviolent Direct Action: What We Really Learned from MLK.” The photos on the wall are mug shots of Freedom Riders, part of ArtRage’s Breach of Peace exhibit; Nancy is holding a postcard about the SOA. Photo: Rami Maalouf

Local activist Nancy Gwin is serving six months in federal prison for her nonviolent actions to close the SOA/WHINSEC. The School of the Americas is a US Army training school for Latin American soldiers; many graduates have been responsible for atrocities in their home countries. Excerpts of her January 25, 2010 trial statement are provided here.

Your Honor, I’ve brought a woven fabric, a tapestry from Guatemala, with me today to remind those in the courtroom of the beauty of the people of Latin America, of their gifts. And, this weaving is also a reminder of what violence does to beauty.

My name is Nancy Gwin. I was born in Nebraska, growing up in a small town there. My home is now Syracuse, New York. I wish to speak to you of my journey to the prayer vigil to close the SOA/WHINSEC on Sunday, November 22, 2009.

I am a war orphan – my father, Boyd Gwin is MIA in North Korea, an Air Force/National Air Guard Pilot whose plane was shot down in January, 1953. I am a peace activist in my father’s honor. As a young woman I committed to do what I could in my lifetime to make real the strong statement, “No more war orphans, no more widows or Gold Star mothers.”

Many veterans are working to close the SOA/WHINSEC. I like to think I stand with them and understand the indignity of knowing such a training school exists within the United States Armed Forces.

I have been to El Mozote in El Salvador, walked on the grounds where people were massacred and visited the small museum there. Graduates of the SOA, Salvadoran armed forces trained by US military, killed at least 1000 civilians at El Mozote. It is estimated that 130 were children under the age of twelve. I have a granddaughter who will turn twelve this week.

Your Honor, I am a person of faith, a church woman. My faith tradition is the United Church of Christ, although I have great respect for other religious traditions. I have journeyed to other countries in Latin America to interface with the people, to witness the impact of the economic and foreign policies of the United States first hand.

theThe United Church of Christ has adopted a Resolution “Calling for the Close of the US Army School of the Americas.”  I quote: “Whereas it has been established that people of faith, working in solidarity with people of Central America, have been murdered by soldiers trained at the SOA, namely those responsible for the assassinations of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the four North American church women, the six Jesuit priests, their Housekeeper and her daughter, all in El Salvador; . . .

“Be it further resolved that the Twenty-first General Synod endorses continued efforts by the SOA Watch in Ft. Benning, Georgia, Washington, DC and local Central American solidarity organizations across the country, to push for closing the School of the Americas; . . .”

I visited Acteal, Mexico where forty-five Catholic indigenous people, including fifteen children, gathered at a prayer meeting were massacred on December 27, 1997. They were members of the pacifist group, “Las Abejas.” Mexican graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC have played an active role in the civilian-targeted warfare in their country.

Your Honor, I treasure the ideal of a truly democratic process where a person may decide to run for elected office and cast an unfettered vote for the candidate of his or her choice. I have served as an International Election Observer, trained and certified, in elections in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Haiti, and witnessed people there working hard to assure fair and free elections; to revitalize democracy.

I was not surprised to learn that the general, Gen. Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, who led the coup in Honduras on June 28, 2009 which overthrew democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, is a two-time graduate of the SOA. This institution, funded by our tax dollars, has trained thousands of coup leaders and human rights abusers. This coup happened only seven short months ago. Thousands of people in Honduras have been resisting while the SOA/WHINSEC continues to train Honduran officers.

The SOA/WHINSEC has in the past and continues to train in low-intensity conflict; in counter-insurgency warfare against the poor, the laborers, the teachers, and union-organizers. The SOA/WHINSEC continues to send military officers from Latin America back to their homelands to use tactics and policies which result in war orphans, widows and Gold Star mothers.

I have always loved, been intrigued by the Spanish verb “esperar.” It translates both “to hope” and “to wait.”

Your Honor, I have worked hard to educate my elected officials on the urgency of closing the SOA/WHINSEC, investigating its operations, and changing the foreign policies which underpin it. It is past time to send a message to our brothers and sisters in Latin America that we are ready for change, for right relations, for new beginnings. Sometimes waiting and hoping are not enough.