School of Americas Watch 3/21/06

Dear Friends,

Ten days ago, Carlos Mauricio, Lisa Sullivan and Fr. Roy Bourgeois set off on a three week journey to Bolivia, Argentina and Uruguay to build relationships with social movements and to convince popular governments in South America to stop sending their soldiers to train at the School of the Americas, a school synonymous with torture and responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

We are happy to share the good news with you that on Monday morning, the three SOA Watch activists met with the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales!

President Morales listened intensely as Carlos, Lisa and Fr. Roy explained the history of the School of the Americas (SOA) and its role in Bolivia. The three also spoke of Fr. Roy’s personal history here in Bolivia during SOA grad Hugo Banzer’s dictatorship when Roy was tortured, imprisoned and expelled from the country. Lisa, Carlos and Roy formally requested that Bolivia remove its troops from the SOA. President Morales’s interest gave the three great hope as they left the meeting to journey to Uruguay yesterday.

Previously, Lisa, Roy and Carlos had met with the Bolivian Vice President, the Chancellor, the First Minister, a Senator and a Congressman and were struck by the fact that half of them had been political prisoners themselves, under previous dictatorships and “democracies.”

Perhaps more importantly, the three also met with about a dozen social movements and human rights groups, and as many media outlets. In every instance they were received with enthusiasm and were moved by the deep awareness that already exists in Bolivian society about the SOA and its terrible impact on Bolivia and the rest of Latin America. Lisa writes:

“We were especially touched by the Aymara people of El Alto whose deep social consciousness and tremendous sense of organization made major contributions to allowing the first indigenous president of this country to be elected, which has heralded in a new moment of hope in this very poor country. They not only met with us several times, and organized a press conference, but have taken on this cause as their own, and are already taking steps to educate the large indigenous community about this school and launch a campaign to close it down.”

During the meeting on Monday morning, President Morales asked many questions. He was moved by Roy’s story of being imprisoned in the United States along with some 180 prisoners of conscience in efforts to close this school. He was also impressed by the huge movement in the United States to close this school and by the decision of President Chavez to remove all Venezuelan troops from training at the School of the Americas.

In January of 2004, after meeting with a U.S. human rights delegation, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela would no longer send troops to train at the SOA, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC. Read more about this victory:

President Morales said he would like to present this to the high military command in the next few days. Lisa continues:

“We leave full of hope, knowing that the compassion of so many people of the U.S. has been shared with the people of Bolivia, at so many levels. This experience would never have been possible if it had not been for the tremendous support of so many people here in Bolivia…We also want to extend our gratitude to the many social movements in Cochabamba who not only organized a series of events, but even risked their own personal security in doing so….It is also a symbol of this new moment of hope in which those who have struggled for so long and have suffered so much are now in a position, though still fragile, to try to bring about their dreams for this country.”

This visit is one of the many signs that there is a new moment of hope is arising here in Latin America. In this globalized world, it is becoming clear that we must connect and link these struggles for justice in all the Americas.

–> TAKE ACTION TODAY–> SAVE THE DATE: April 23-25 in Washington, DC – Tell Congress to Close the SOA!

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