VETERANS FOR PEACE, Chapter 23, MINUTES of meeting 3/17/2021
Present: Rev. James Swarts, Jeremiah Knowles, Marybeth Knowles, Arnie Matlin, Bruce Pease, Jack Spula, Mick Cole, VIc, Devora Gonzalez, Mike Tork, Steve Haveron-Smith, Lew Montemaggi, Jack Spula, Roger Griswold, Bob Shearer
Chapter 23 was fortunate to be joined by Devora Gonzalez who is the Field Organizer for the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW).
Devora Gonzalez Field Organizer at the School of the Americas Watch
Devora Gonzalez updated the group with actions and information starting from 2012, updating the group from the video. School of the Americas is just one piece of the violent process of border imperialism. The violence portrayed by border patrol and ICE against migrants based on the historical perspective of School of Americas. In 2009 the coup in Honduras caused a rise in migration from Honduras. From that point forward Honduras became one of the most dangerous countries to live in. Some of the highest rates of murders and political dissension resulted in persecution and murders. Extractivist corporations in Honduras have also contributed to the violence and exploitation of indegenous cultures. In 2016 a political activist, Berta Cáceres, began a struggle of justice. By 2017, the presidential race in Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández was proposing a change to the constitution that would allow for him to serve an additional term. Many people were voting against Juan Orlando. Several times in Honduras during the election the polling places would periodically shut down and Juan would be ahead. Even though this was blatant corruption, the US was one of the first countries to legitimize the election. By January 2018 there were mass arrests of individuals that had participated in protests against the election. There were 23 political prisoners; 2 of these prisoners were held in a maximum security prison modeled after US prison, Latova. This was an area in which these people were in constant fear in danger. When SOA Watch visited Honduras and one of the political prisoners was physically diminishing. Many of the aggressors in these murders were trained by SOA. All of the conflict in Honduras has led to mass groups to migrate out of Honduras.
Migrants are often faced with violence at different borders along the way. The southern border of Mexico, funded by the US, is particularly brutal with migrants and filtering those who continue to migrate north.
NAFTA in 1994 had a big impact on small farmers and the economy. This led to a lot of migration because small farms were struggling to maintain themselves. Another thing that was initiated in the US was a policy of “prevention by deterrence strategy”. It was a strategy to create enough mortal danger to deter people from migrating to the border. This led to the militarization of many of the borders, trying to prevent people from crossing borders. This led to even more dangerous routes for migrants to cross borders. Border patrol often tests strategies in El Passo to prevent migrants from crossing the border.
The Human Rights Coalition in Tucson Arizona has been tracking the number of deaths of migrants found in the desert, you can see how the deaths have been increasing. One of the deadliest years was in 2003. These totals are only based on bodies that have been found. Many bodies are impossible to identify due to the deterioration from the harsh environment. Coroners have been having extreme difficulty identifying bodies to return the deceased to families.
Undeterred is a film about a community that has been affected by a checkpoint that had been created along the border.
Border policies have also affected Native communities whose ancestral lands existed beyond the border between the US and Mexico. These Native communities are often harassed by border patrol as they come in and out of the reservation. The Native community in Mexico has had extreme difficulty traveling across the border for ceremonies with the Native communities in the United States.
Technology is also used against migrant communities. For example, elbit integrated fixed towers use microwave frequencies to identify people when they are crossing the border. Long term exposure to these microwaves cause cancer and many of these towers are being built in Native communities. These towers are Israli technology, many of these same strategies are used against the Palestinian communities.
Operation Streamline is a joint initiative of the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice in the United States, started in 2005, that adopts a "zero-tolerance" approach to unauthorized border-crossing by criminally prosecuting those perpetrating it. Up to 70 people are tried at the same time, sometimes wearing shackles in the courtroom. Entering without inspection is a misdemeanor, and re-entering after deportation is a felony. Even if migrants are deported immediately they now have a deportation on their criminal record. This has led to the criminalization of migration; instead of it being a civil offense. Those detained have often been detained less than 72hrs before are tried and convicted. This is not due process, not of the things that may have qualified these individuals for asylum are not taken into account.
All of these things continue to evolve through the years, starting long before the Trump administration. These policies can be traced long before the 1980s.
In 2008 there was the Merida Initiative by Mexico which strengthened border patrol in order to implement a “21st century border.” This led to the creation of additional checkpoints, beyond the border, through Mexico to prevent migration.
All of this leads to a mass amount of deaths and violence.
Projects Along the Border
No More Deaths migrants hotline. A program used to identify missing migrants for families remaining in Mexico. No More Deaths have also provided water along the border. Border patrol was seen slashing these water drops; this is the intention to kill, denying people water.
Other programs include identifying people that had been detained. Guiding people to medical examiners for lost relatives along the border. The Colibri Center for Human Rights provides assistance for people in identifying missing migrants. One of the barriers to programs like this is giving up DNA to systems that places migrants in databases and puts them at risk of being identified. Search and rescue programs have also been instituted in order to find people who had been lost in the desert. Research based on these calls around missing persons, 911 calls were routed to Border Patrol and they would take their time trying to find people.
The continued violence from the graduates of SOA often leads to migration of people from various countries. These migrants are met with violence at borders and various checkpoints. Often people are disappeared; both detained by the state or intentionally pushed towards dangerous border crossings by state entities. It is impossible to know the total number of people lost in borderlands.
Border Patrol has killed, directly, 100 people since 2010. 6 People were killed in Mexico by US border patrol. There has only been one trial for border patrol agent Lani Shwarts, who was aquitted.
We no longer get the names of those who graduated from WHINSEC and only get totals of graduates from different countries; Columbia, Chili, and Honduras are top 3 graduates. SOA Watch has engaged in civil disobedience in order to get SOA closed. When SOA changed to WHINSEC, SOA Watch changed their strategy from submitting a bill to close SOA to showing and educating about the historical connection between SOA, Border Patrol, migration, and instability in Latin America. SOA Watch began with border vigils in 2016 to have a Border Encuentro, a meetup of activists in both Mexico and the United States. In anticipation of these meetups, one checkpoint was open for people to move freely.
SOA Watch 3 program areas. First: Continue the historical work of educating about the role of the US and their military training, getting the name of graduates of SOA, and closing the SOA. Second: Dismantling/exposing the border imperialism by the US, their influence in Mexico. Third: Being in solidarity with those affected by SOA and border imperialism.
SOAW left DC in 2016. SOAW is only a staff of 5 people.
Mike Tork from the VFP SOAW/Latin America Working Group
If you are interested in participating in the SOAW/Latin America Working Group through VFP please contact Mike Tork at email@example.com. The goal of this working group is to grow veteran involvement in this initiative and collaborate with organizations to grow a coalition.
There are a lot of local organizations and initiatives in our local area that are relevant for VFP.
Bob Shearer: Climate Working Group: The group has been working on drafting a letter to John Kerry about issues of climate change. The group is also focusing on coalition building.
Marybeth Knowles: Deported Veterans + PPC: