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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.

Considering:

  • That militarization is the main factor in the violation of fundamental human rights, such as the right to housing, health, education, etc., and especially of the general and particular rights of indigenous and black peoples;
  • That militarization leads to an increase in political prisoners, torture, and forced disappearances, the criminalization of the young and maras, and affects us individually and collectively;
  • That militarization is a maximum expression of patriarchy, where women are not only the principle victims of violence, but their bodies become a battleground as they are seen as the spoils of war and vehicles of terror and domination;
  • That militarization relies on forced recruitment and/or deceptive practices that violate rights and destroy the futures of young people, especially the poor and people of color;
  • That militarization also expresses itself through violence, repression, and intolerance to sexual diversity, blocking the creation of an inclusive culture of peace without discrimination;
  • That militarization forces people to migrate and then applies anti-migrant laws in the United States and the European Union to criminalize them and make them victims of multiple human rights violations; militarization of the borders causes the death of thousands of men, women, and children a year;
  • That militarization constitutes a threat to small farmer movements since their demands for agrarian reform, food sovereignty, and access to land are put down with violence;
  • That militarization is the mechanism of control of capital over strategic resources and energy and violates the rights of communities to exercise control over their resources and make decisions on their own land and territory;
  • That the military structure of domination in our hemisphere is currently expressed in the presence of U.S. military bases, the Merida Initiative, Plan Colombia, the IV Fleet the Security and Prosperity Partnership of NAFTA, the School of the Americas (WHINSEC), the Delta Force and South Com;
  • That militarization is accompanied by terrorism of the media, a strategy of manipulation and fear, a military ideology characterized by media colonialism, among other forms, of domination and alienation;
  • That militarization is expanded through the so-called “War on Drugs” as the perfect excuse to militarize society and state structures;
  • That militarization is the response to criminalization of social protest conceived of as a threat to the system of domination under the so-called anti-terrorist laws that follow the model of the U.S. Patriot Act;
  • That militarization encourages the growth of the military budget, benefiting the war industry in the public and private sectors, generating foreign debt, and diverting resources that could be destined to satisfy economic, social, and cultural rights;
  • That militarization is the means of implementing and securing infrastructure megaprojects and investment of large transnational capital, such as Plan Puebla Panama, the Regional Initiative for South American Infrastructure (IIRSA), Free Trade Agreements, and Agreements of Association.

Therefore, we demand:

  1. Immediate and definitive closure of all U.S. military bases and of any other foreign nation in Latin American and the Caribbean, and a prohibition on transporting or opening new bases on our continent;
  2. Cancellation of the IV Fleet that violates the sovereignty of our peoples;
  3. Immediate withdrawal of the MINUSTAH in Haiti and its replacement with delegations of solidarity, cooperation, and reconstruction; immediate cancellation of the unjust foreign debt that is choking the country;
  4. Cancellation of infrastructure projects and megaprojects that violate the right of Latin American, Indoamerican, and Caribbean populations over their territories and ancestral resources;
  5. An end to Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiative that deepen U.S. military intervention and contribute to the militarization of our counties;
  6. The repeal of all anti-terrorist laws that harm our people and criminalize grassroots protest;
  7. Full respect for the rights of women and an immediate end to sexual violence, and the prostitution and trafficking of women where military bases are located and in conflict zones;
  8. Withdrawal of U.S. troops and all attempts to militarize the Triple Border and respect for the territories and sovereignty of the people of the south;
  9. The substitution of the militarized model of “war on drugs” with measures of citizen participation, community heath, etc.;
  10. Full respect for the rights of migrants and cancellation of the “wall of shame” on the U.S.-Mexico border;
  11. Respect for our right to have, manage, and operate our own means of communication, strengthening and creation of networks of our own media, indigenous, popular community, and alternative, and to recuperate public spaces for direct communication;
  12. Access to immediate and accurate information on the national budget assigned to finance militarization to disarm these budgets and demand that the resources be used for the wellbeing of the entire population;
  13. Lift the embargo on Cuba, especially now when it suffers along with Haiti the consequences of hurricanes Gustav and Ike;
  14. An end to the secessionist violence and the meddling of the U.S. government in Bolivia.

The participants of the II Conference Against Militarization

  • Salute the decision of the Ecuadorian people and government to permanently close the military base in Manta in 2009;
  • Express our solidarity with the Bolivian people and their struggle to defend the integrity of their nation and its sovereignty;
  • Salute the construction of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) based on unlimited respect for human rights and equitable relations.

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!”

 

End Notes

  1. 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.

 

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