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Thursday, 02 January 2020 21:04

!Presente!

Written by Mary Ryan-Hotchkiss and Manny Hotchkis
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MaryRyan-Hotchkiss and Manny Hotchkiss – Portland Chapter

On the 30th Anniversary of the massacre of five Jesuits and their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America (UCA), we participated in the SOA Watch weekend in Columbus, GA. We were especially motivated to attend because we had participated in a Maryknoll Lay Missioner-led trip to the UCA in El Salvador and had seen where the Jesuits were brutally assassinated. SOA Watch began when it was learned that 19 graduates of the SOA, the School of the Americas at Fort Benning US Army base in Columbus, GA, were involved in the murder of the Jesuits in their UCA residences.

L-to-R: Mary Ryan-Hotchkiss, New Orleans Affiliates Kevin Cahalan and Ben Gordon, and Manny Hotchkiss

Maryknollers at this SOA Watch included two Affiliates from New Orleans—Kevin Cahalan and Ben Gordon, Fr. Jack Moynihan, MM (a co-coordinator of the Affiliates in the 90s), several former lay missioners, and relatives of Maryknollers. Roy Bourgeois, formerly a Maryknoll priest and one of the SOA Watch founders, spoke briefly. This was the first time we had attended, but for many others, the SOA Watch gathering is an annual time to reconnect with fellow activists who had been advocating for Latinos and seeking to close the SOA for many years.

Marching at the SOA with Roy Bourgeois in the center

We learned that the SOA Watch doesn’t just watch the SOA, which has been renamed WHINSEC. SOA Watch team members based in Columbus and Tuscon, as well as in Panama, Honduras, Columbia, and Chile, work with local activists. The weekend highlighted six organizations helping those impacted by US violence and policies in the Americas, especially the Border Patrol Victims Network.  We mourned with a mother and grandmother in that network during their presentation and at a memorial candlelight ritual hosted by Pax Christi. The women told of their 16-year-old child being shot in Mexico, by a US border patrol agent. The boy, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, was shot in the back multiple times, then twice in the head. The agent was found not guilty of murder in a US court, but the family is pursuing suing him.

Project South provides legal support to social justice movements in the southeastern US, including shutting down detention centers, while the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), works in Georgia. No More Deaths is based in southern Arizona and works “to end death and suffering in the Mexico–US borderlands through civil initiative: people of conscience working openly and in community to uphold fundamental human rights.” They are well known for leaving jugs of water in the desert for migrants and for helping to defend humanitarians who are arrested for providing such aid.

Cis-El Salvador has been in El Salvador for 25 years working to support the people, helping to reduce violence and the people’s need to migrate. Paz Amigos is a small Columbus, GA, non-profit that welcomes and assists men as they are released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention at the nearby Lumpkin ICE detention center.

Mary and Manny with crosses.

The moving closing ceremony of this SOA Watch started with a Peace Walk led by Buddhists. There were no plans for civil disobedience this year but we were all asked to commit to the principles of nonviolence. Finally we solemnly processed with the puppetistas to the Gates of Fort Benning and remembered all the martyrs by lifting our white crosses with their names and responding, “!Presente!”

 


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