More than 800 representatives from organizations throughout the Americas made their way to the northern city of La Esperanza, Honduras to take a strong stand against the militarization of their nations and communities. Following three days of workshops, the participants read their final declaration in front of the gates of the U.S. Army Base at Palmerola, Honduras, just hours from the conference site. The first demand on the list was to close down this and all U.S. military bases in Latin America and the Caribbean. By the end of the demonstration, the walls of the base sported hundreds of spray-painted messages and demands that contrasted sharply with their prison-like austerity.
Palmerola, formally called the Soto Cano Air Base, brought back some very bad memories among the hundreds of Central American participants. The U.S. government installed the base in 1981 and used it to launch the illegal contra operations against the Nicaraguan government. The base was also used to airlift support to counterinsurgency operations in Guatemala and El Salvador and train U.S. forces in counterinsurgency techniques during the dirty wars that left over 100,000 dead, and is now used as a base for the U.S.-sponsored “war on drugs.”
The demilitarization conference also called for an immediate halt to the recently launched “Merida Initiative,” the Bush administration’s new Trojan horse for remilitarization of the region. The resolution asserts that the measure “expands U.S. military intervention and contributes to the militarization of our countries” and representatives from the Central American nations and Mexico included in the military aid package committed to a process of monitoring the funds and defeating further appropriations.
The Merida Initiative was announced by President Bush as a “counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and border security” cooperation initiative in October 2007. The model extends the Bush administration’s infamous national security strategy of 2002 to impose it as the U.S.-led security model for the hemisphere. The approach relies on huge defense contracts to U.S. corporations, and military and police deployment to deal with issues ranging from drug trafficking to illegal immigration and seeks to extend U.S. military hegemony in foreign lands. It has been proven in Colombia and other areas where it has been applied to have the effect of increasing violence, failing to decrease drug flows, and leading to extensive human rights violations.
Among the 14 resolutions of the conference, three others reject aspects of the Initiative: the repeal of anti-terrorist laws that criminalize social protest and are a direct result of U.S. pressure to impose the disastrous Bush counter-terrorism paradigm; the demand to replace the militarized “war on drugs” model with measures of citizen participation, community heath, etc.; and the demand for full respect for the rights of migrants.
Although on the surface, Latin America is experiencing a period of relative calm after the brutality of the military dictatorships and the dirty wars, grassroots movement leaders from all over the continent described a context of increasing aggression. The indigenous and farm organizations that occupy territories coveted by transnational corporations have become targets of forced displacement. Social movements that protest privatization and free trade agreements have been dubbed terrorists and attacked and imprisoned under new anti-terrorist laws that are a poor legal facade for outright repression. The use of the military troops in counter-narcotic activities has become commonplace and often hides other agendas of the powerful. Police forces have come to deal with youth as if being young itself were a crime.
In viewing the threats of militarization in their societies, participants use a broader definition than just the presence of army bases and troops. “Militarism,” states the Campaign for Demilitarization of the Americas, is ” the daily presence of the military logic in our society, in our economic forms, in our social links, and in the logic of gender domination and the supposed natural superiority of men over women.” Using this concept, the conference covered the profound need to change the educational system and social norms, to work from within communities, as well as making demands for changes in the external conditions that affect them.
Despite days of testimonies that sometimes included tears and anger, delegates to the conference expressed hope above all else. Ecuador’s new constitution and decision to kick out the U.S. army base at Manta was cited as proof of progress.
Both concrete plans for action and an encouraging consensus emerged: the breadth of the challenge can be overwhelming but the dream of lasting peace provides an irresistible light at the end of the tunnel.
The declaration concludes on this note: “… through these campaigns and actions on the grassroots level, organized within each nation and throughout the continent, we can reach a day not long from now when we fulfill the dream of living free of violence, exclusion, and war.”
|The Merida Initiative was also a topic discussed at the Americas Social Forum in Guatemala City October 7-12. More than 100 people attended the workshop on the subject by the Americas Policy Program, where the initiative was analyzed and the military repercussions were discussed by people from Mexico and Central America. National sovereignty, criminalization of migrants, and social movements were also important themes. The Assembly of Social Movements (ASM), which grouped together representatives of indigenous organizations, campesinos, women’s groups, unionists, migrants, artists, LBGTI, youth, and other sectors, included the following paragraph in their final declaration:
“We are living through the struggles of the social movements, which have as a central theme the struggle for the definitive defeat of neoliberalism, expressed as an agenda and plural resistance: the struggle against militarization and plans of imperialism such as the Merida Initiative, Plan Colombia, the Security and Prosperity Partnership, military bases, the School of the Americas, the Fourth Fleet. We demand the full closure of the United States’ military bases and immediate cancellation of the Fourth Fleet.”
The declaration of the ASM also affirmed that “the autonomy of women is a basic condition to build egalitarian relationships in the new left in the Americas, free of the remnants of patriarchy.” It is in favor of “an ethical pact of non-violence and equality” within the movements, and “the rights of women to decide freely over their lives, bodies, sexuality, and territories they inhabit.”
Final Declaration of the La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras, October 3-6, 2008
From Oct. 3-6 the II Hemispheric Conference Against Militarization took place in La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras. Over 800 delegates from social movements met. We represented 175 organizations from 27 countries, as well as Original Peoples of Indoamerica.1
As the capitalist system enters perhaps its worst crisis in history, the world faces crises on many fronts: financial, energy, food, environmental, social, and political. Militarization has increased and its effects become more violent in an attempt of the system to control spaces and markets and natural resources.
In our hemisphere, militarization takes many forms. In the broad sense, military, institutional, and police violence are part of a continuous escalation of repression, occupation, and looting of natural resources that accompanies the neoliberal economic model.
Social movements have responded by fighting for our rights, lands, and territories. Diverse networks and organizations of the continent have come together again in a strategic and urgent effort with a common purpose to define lines of action that allow us to advance in a more coordinated and effective way before the continental and global threats presented by militarization, wars, and repression.
Therefore, we demand:
The participants of the II Conference Against Militarization
Considering the above, we reaffirm our commitment to struggle for a world and a continent demilitarized, disarmed, free of war, poverty, and violence. These days have allowed us to deepen the knowledge of the shared reality we confront, and to identify and formulate lines of strategic action that enable our popular movements to confront the permanent aggression and criminalization that our peoples and movements suffer. This is reflected in our continental plan of action against militarization, and through these Campaigns and Actions on the grassroots level organized within each nation and throughout the continent, we can reach a day not long from now when we fulfill the dream of living free of violence, exclusion, and war.
“The People Speak Out to Silence the Weapons!”
“With the ancestral force of Iselaca and Lempira, we raise our voices for life, justice, dignity, liberty, and peace!”
- Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Puerto Rico, United States, Canada, and guests from other regions. Indigenous peoples of Indoamerica included Mapuche, Aymara, Mayas, Lencas, Garífunas, Chorotegas, Emberá katíos del Altosinú, Zapotecos, and others.