by Ray Del Papa & Linda Belgrave, SOA Watch, July 27, 2009
When Your Only Tool is a Hammer, Every Problem Looks Like a Nail
Those who have supported the SOA Watch over the years know that Fort Benning and the U.S. Southern Command (SouthCom, the command and control facility for the US military in Latin America and the Caribbean) go hand in hand. Saturday morning, July 25, 60 people (two-thirds of them Latino) gathered in the pouring rain to march to the gates of SouthCom in solidarity with the people of Honduras.
Our demands, directed at the U.S. military, were straightforward:
1. Withdraw all US forces from Honduras (there are 600 troops stationed there)
2. Close all US military bases in Honduras.
3. Cut off all military aid to Honduras.
4. Return all Honduran military personal now being trained at the SOA (WHINSEC)
5. Close the School Of the Americas now.
Directly in front of the main gate participants gave testimony as to why these demands needed to be implemented. People made the trip from as far away as Maryland, as well as many locations in Florida, to be there for this important event; a vacationer from New York City joined the action.
Whole families from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers traveled from central Florida to stand with their brothers and sisters in Honduras; many of this party of twenty-five had had their own experiences at the hands of oppressive regimes in Central America. A mother (name withheld for safety) explained that it was especially important for women and children to march in opposition to the coup, as women, mothers, and children suffer disproportionately under oppression; her family back in Honduras is strongly opposed to the coup.
Isabella Gomez, of the U.S.—Latin American Solidarity Network and a member of SEIU, told of people being killed in her region of Honduras, as well as reports of other deaths in the north, reports that are not making into the stories put out by the U.S. media. Ms. Gomez fled Honduras twenty-five years ago to escape the death squads. At that time Micheletti was busy putting down a teachers’ strike in which she was involved. She also gave a telling critique of the current Honduran constitution—it doesn’t mention women at all! It might be worth noting that the U.S. Constitution, which also initially failed to mention women or minorities, has been amended many, many times. Amendments ending slavery and giving women the right to vote were especially hard fought. Opposition to progressive constitutional changes elsewhere in the world should not surprise Americans; military coups in response to efforts at change should shock us.
Pat McCann, of Veterans for Peace, pointed out to the crowd that members of the military, ordinary soldiers, not officers, are drawn from the poor, who often have few options. He vowed that the next time we come out to SouthCom, we will know some of the ordinary U.S. soldiers stationed there and we will talk to them.
Katherine Kean, of Crowing Rooster Production, talked about a documentary she made twenty years ago about the exploitation of poor workers in Honduras by U.S. Corporations. A dedicated activist for the Haitian people, she pointed out the parallels between the coup in Haiti in 2004 and the coup in Honduras, how both presidents were awakened in the early morning hours, put on planes, and flown out of the countries they had been elected to lead. Aristide has never returned to Haiti, much less to his Presidency.
Organizers of the action pointed out the connection between SouthCom and the SOA (WHINSEC), specifically that SouthCom approves curriculum for the School and directs military actions in all of Latin America. Secondly, they called on Obama to call the coup a coup and cut off all U.S. aid to Honduras so that Zelaya can return to his rightful office with no conditions.
Saturday’s action did have its trying moments. Thursday evening saw the beginning of a flurry of (unconfirmed) e-mail rumors that General Romeo Orlando Vasquez Velasquez, the commanding general of the coup, would appear for a speaking engagement at the Miami Beach Convention Center Saturday at the same time as the action at SouthCom. This brought suggestions for a change of venue for the protest, a change of date, and plain demands that folks go out to South Beach. Mostly what these rumors wrought was distraction and confusion. When that failed to derail our action, we learned that Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had called a press conference at her office with a former president of Honduras at the same time our event was taking place. This had a media effect. Saturday morning those media that arrived to cover the protest had to leave before it got going, in order to cover the Congresswoman’s event. Despite their hopes of getting back in time for our march, that simply was not logistically possible. If this were not enough, there was the Florida weather. It rained over most of Florida and just poured in South Florida.
One reporter caught a photo of a few hardy souls with soggy signs before leaving. While he missed our eventual numbers, he captured our determination to show that there is significant local opposition to the coup. Motorists’ favorable responses to our rally were unexpected. Many driving in the miserable weather took the time and effort to slow down and read our signs, honk, wave, and give us the thumbs-up. This, more than anything, illustrates a deep current of opposition to the coup, even in Miami, a bastion of the Latin right-wing.