Sunday, December 26, 2010

School of the Americas Vigil 2010

by Rev. Don Coleman

On the weekend of November 19-21, 2010 over 5,000 gathered at the gate of Fort Benning demonstrating against the School of Americas (SOA) or, as it is renamed, the Western Hemispheric Institute of  National Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).  Hundreds of thousands of people from Central and South America have been brutally tortured and killed by their own governments trained by U.S. military at Fort Benning.

Speeches and singing and the drama of large puppets made the event festive in the midst of the serious business of working to close the School which, because of its mission, is still called “the School of the Assassins.”  For twenty years folks have come from all over the country, and now from Central and South America, mobilizing to stop these barbarous activities.  Actually, a former military officer was refused a visa because he intended to speak at the rally.

Participants are disappointed that President Obama has not taken a more active role in investigating the activities of the School.  And now with the new Congress closing down the SOA will not happen soon.  But our calling is to be faithful and to continue to lift up the names of those slaughtered through U.S. military training.

Thirty people were arrested.  Four of them were arrested for climbing over the fence, topped with barb wire that had been erected at the entrance of the base.  They are charged with trespassing.  Those engaged in this self-conscious act of civil disobedience include:  Louis Vitale, OFM. (crossed the line for the fourth time) and David Omondi (of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker) who pleaded ‘no contest’ and were immediately convicted in the federal court.  They were sentenced to six months in prison by U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles.  Nancy Smith and Chris Spicer, the other two who climbed the fence, pleaded ‘not guilty’ and will go to trial January 5, 2011.

Seven others were willing to risk arrest by demonstrating and closing the main street near the base leading to the city of Columbus.  Nineteen others were arrested by being caught up in the city police’s sweep that included a local barber who stepped from his shop to watch what was going on.  All these folks had to pay exaggerated bail and large fines and spent at least on night in jail.

Whether intending arrest or accidentally being caught up in the police action, demonstrators still stood by the call for justice and for the closing of the School.

So why does the U.S. military train military personnel of other countries to torture and kill teachers, priests and nuns, and labor organizers?  Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of
School of the Americas Watch, puts it this way:

For the past several decades, the US has allied with dictators in Latin America who helped the regimes small, elite group of wealthy landowners….We get involved militarily with these countries because they (are) rich in natural resources, with coffee in Colombia, bananas in Central America, copper in Chile, petroleum in Venezuela and tin in Bolivia.  With their militaries, the US joined with them to exploit those natural resources and to pay workers $1 a day….We are like the new conquistadors.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reflection on Broadview Vigil: Dec 10, 2010

Reflection on Broadview Vigil: Dec 10, 29010
Sharon Hunter-Smith

Today is Human Rights Day. Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world..."

Today, I went to someplace close to home--the Broadview Immigrant Detention and Processing Center. Up until a few years ago, this was invisible to me. There is a weekly Friday prayer vigil held there at 7:15 in the morning, when undocumented immigrant detainees from all over the Midwest are "processed" (note the industrial language; the center is located also in an industrial zone): handcuffed, shackled, tied together at the waist, and "loaded" onto buses and vans to transport them to the airport to be deported. Today, 90 people were deported. People are deported every Tuesday and Friday from Broadview. I went, because I wanted an Advent discipline that was related to some aspect of the current reality we are living in, that would help me articulate what it is we are waiting for during Advent.

There was a woman, 8 months pregnant, who was praying with us today. Her husband was being deported to Mexico. He'd lived and worked here for 17 years. Denise Griebler, who was able to go onto one of the buses, told us of a 31 year old from El Salvador who came here with his parents as a 3 year old. His entire family system is now in the U.S. He knows no one in El Salvador. He primarily speaks English. He will be escorted across the U.S.-Mexican border with everyone else on that bus and left off in Mexico with $20 in his pocket.

The vigil is centered around praying the rosary, which means nothing to my Protestant sensibilities but means a lot to the primarily Catholic detainees and their family members present. I can see how "...pray for us now and in the hour of our death..." might have a lot of significance for someone who had made the harrowing journey across the border once and who might be facing a different kind of harrowing journey now.

Some impressions from today: since I last went, religious leaders are now allowed inside the detention center to minister to people in the hours before they are deported (of course, they are only allowed in 4-6 am on Fridays). Even though there has been a law on the books in Illinois since June 2009 that allows undocumented immigrant detainees access to religious ministry, Broadview chose not to recognize that right in practice for over a year.

Today, one of the people who was inside providing ministry witnessed the way detention center rules change, seemingly on someone's whim. On the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website are instructions to family members of detainees that they may bring up to 40 pounds of things for the detainee to take with him or her when s/he is deported. Understand that not every family will have the privilege of knowing when their family member is going to be deported--they are supposed to be able to call ICE or Broadview and find out, but sometimes people leave daily messages for weeks and never get a call back, or the phone rings and rings when they call. For those who do make it to the detention center on the day their loved one will be deported, sometimes there are surprises. Today, when family members gave detention center officials suitcases for their relatives, they were told that the deportees were not allowed to have suitcases. The person offering ministry today had shopping bags in the trunk of her car and brought them in so that the family could unpack the suitcases and put clothes and things in the bags instead.

People who are in power can be arbitrary. They don't need to have a reason. During Advent, we are waiting to celebrate the birth of someone who came as a baby without power, dependent on the love of others to sustain him and who later sustained others with his love (and apparently scared a lot of people in power). Maybe during Advent, we walk around in the darkness to make sure we know why we don't want to stay in it.