Report Back on the SOA Encuentro
Colleen Kattau

No military bases in Colombia was a major theme at the event. Joe Hiller, an SOAW intern, is in the foreground. Photo: Colleen Kattau

From June 21-26, 2010, fifty people of all ages including educators, lawyers, priests, nuns, and human rights leaders representing nineteen countries throughout the Americas gathered at the home of organizer and SOAW (School of the Americas Watch) liaison, Lisa Sullivan Rodriguez, to exchange ideas and strategies for addressing militarism in our hemisphere. The Encuentro site was in the high elevation of Sanare, six hours south of Caracas. The wind blew softly and at times insistently as activists from Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela shared hopes, tears and visions for a peaceful hemisphere.

The Encuentro, purposefully planned to coincide with the US Social Forum in Detroit, was five years in the making. It was built upon the visits of SOA Watch’s Partnership America Latina to sixteen Latin American countries, which led to announcements by Uruguay, Venezuela, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Argentina of their withdrawal from the SOA/ WHINSEC. Among those present were Pablo Ruiz, jailed by the Pinochet dictatorship in 1986; Mara and Enzo Bard, exiled from Argentina during the Dirty War; Wendy Mendez, who when only nine years old witnessed the torture and disappearance of her mother by the Guatemalan military; and Jimena Paz whose friend and LGTBQ activist Walter Trocher was recently tortured and murdered by the post-coup Honduran police. Yet, as Wendy so eloquently declared, they are not victims but rather survivors forging a new path of peace, memory and justice.

Encuentro representatives detailed specifics of increased militarization in their countries, which is endemic to all of Latin America, particularly in countries where the US maintains military bases and/or assists in military training. Reports included concerns over the Condor School in southern Bolivia; the International Law Enforcement Academy in El Salvador; the Escuela de Selva (Jungle School) in Ecuador; Guantanamo; and most pressingly, the recent move by the US to create and update seven military bases in Colombia.

The presence of these academies and foreign military bases are inextricably linked to continued repression of civilian populations and the criminalization of dissent. The recent coup in Honduras and the subsequent jailing and disappearances of resistance activists; the continued repression of the Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous group; the 2009 massacre of Amazonian indigenous in Peru; and the 22,000 documented deaths in Mexico over a three year period are all examples of an increasingly policed society. Greater militarization of the region has done little if anything to curtail the drug trade or improve civilian life. The consensus at the Encuentro is that increased military investments are a pretext for continued US geopolitical hegemony, since military activity in the region directly coincides with areas rich in natural resources and multinational corporate activity.

There are hopeful signs in the region too – the closing of the Manta base in Ecuador was the result of a ten year grassroots effort. The more progressive governments of Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador are bringing human rights violators to trial, and the establishment of humanitarian zones in Colombia is having some effect on counteracting the violence there.

To conclude the Encuentro each of us wrote a personal affirmation to justice on a small yellow circle of paper representing a corn kernel. We then stated our commitment aloud and placed each kernel on a single ear of corn in the center of our closing circle.


SOA Watch benefit ($5-20)
Sunday, July 25, 5-8pm
108 Orvilton Drive, Dewitt

detailed report back, food & music

¡Juntos, sí se puede!

Colleen teaches at SUNY Cortland and is a social change musician.