Georgia: Huge protest against 'School of Assassins'
Columbus, GA - Over 20,000 people from across the country flooded Fort Benning on the Nov. 22-23 weekend, calling for the School of the Americas (SOA), a U.S. military training institute that trains Latin American soldiers in ‘counter-insurgency’ techniques, to be shut down. During the vigil to honor the memory of the thousands of men, women and children that have been tortured, kidnapped and murdered by SOA graduates, six people, in an act of civil disobedience, crossed onto the military base and were arrested. They face up to six months in federal prison for taking action to close down the SOA – the ‘School of Assassins.’
Throughout the weekend, groups that organize in solidarity with Colombia emphasized the need for people in the U.S. to take action to stop the U.S. government’s support for war and repression in Colombia.
Colombia is particularly affected by both the SOA and U.S. foreign policy. Colombia sends more soldiers to the SOA than any other country. Under aid packages such as Plan Colombia, Colombia receives billions of dollars from the United States. It is no coincidence that Colombia has one of the worst human rights records in the hemisphere, with over 40 Colombian trade unionists killed this year alone.
Charla Schlueter, a member of the University of North Carolina at Asheville chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), spoke at Saturday’s rally, highlighting the ways her chapter has stood in solidarity with Colombia, such as participating in the campaign to free the Colombian political prisoner Ricardo Palmera. “SDS helped exposed Palmera’s trials to be the farce that they were,” said Schlueter. “We oppose the extradition of Colombians like Palmera to the U.S. to be put on trial. We recognize that this is a neo-colonial practice that undermines the sovereignty of Colombia and that is used as a weapon to blackmail those fighting for justice.”
Chapin Gray from Colombia Action Network spoke during Sunday’s program, urging people to join the campaign to free Lily Obando, another political prisoner from Colombia. Obando is an organizer for FENSUARGRO, the peasant workers’ union who was arrested last August by the Colombian National Police under vague charges of “rebellion.”
“Whatever chains and gags they intend to put on us, the justice of our struggle requires that we continue resisting wherever we may be,” said Gray, quoting from a letter Obando sent to U.S. activists from her jail cell in Bogata. “The bars of the jail do not matter if you, wherever you may be, help us so that our voices may move beyond the walls and not be stopped.”
Over 150 people crowded the room to attend the event called “Eye Witness Reports from the People’s Struggle in Colombia,” hosted by Fight Back! newspaper. The forum featured Meredith Aby of the Colombia Action Network speaking on behalf of Lily Obando’s release, Angela Denio of National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera and Doug Michel of SDS on his experiences meeting with Patriotic Union member Imelda Daza Cotes, who is living in exile, and his experiences meeting with the student movement in Colombia.
Each speaker emphasized the importance of giving support and solidarity to all progressive forces fighting for change in Colombia. “It is important for people to understand the FARC as an integral part of the Colombian people’s resistance to U.S. intervention in their country,” said Kosta Harlan from Freedom Road Socialist Organization, who moderated the forum. “It’s our obligation as Colombia solidarity activists to educate people here on why Colombians have taken up arms. It is a response to the murderous assaults on social movements and trade unions by Bush, U.S. corporations and the Colombian elite. The U.S. corporations seek nothing but continued exploitation of millions of workers and campesinos – and their kidnappings, disappearances and murders of social activists need to be denounced.”