Oct 5, 2008

Hundreds Gather to Confront Militarization of the Americas

It rains--A LOT--in La Esperanza, Honduras. Over the past weeks the rains have wiped out crops, rural roads and the little that campesinos here have to live on.

But even as the streets become giant puddles and mud holes, and the rivers plan their assault on the fields, the name of the town still translates as "hope".

That at times absurd persistence also characterizes the struggle of the over 700 people from organizations across the hemisphere, gathered in the Second Hemispheric Meeting against Militarization. Absurd, because in just the first few hours of presentations, we already had a vision of a hemisphere under attack. Persistent because despite the threats and hardships, people showed up from all over to find ways to stop militarization and instead of being discouraged by the magnitude of the challenges found real ways to move forward by sharing ideas and cultures, problems and solutions.

To understand the conference, it's important to have a working definition of militarization. To conceive of it as merely the presence of armed forces is insufficient. In Colombia and Chiapas, for example, paramilitary forces constitute a major threat. In many parts of the hemisphere police forces are being used as the shock forces to put down social protest--enforcing plans to wrest control of natural resources from rural communities and create a climate of fear in the cities. Under today's model, the U.S. government, whose overt military interventions are still fresh in the memory of many participants here, can now occupy a nation without being present by training subordinated national armies to their ends and controlling the defense and intelligence infrastructure.

In a major advance, participants mainly from grassroots indigenous, peasant and workers' organizations also analyzed how militarization stems from a mentality, the same mentality of the patriarchy that perpetuates violence against women. Not only by armed forces that see women's bodies as the spoils of war, but also in the household and the streets. Militarization could not flourish if it weren't for this mentality, along with colonial forms of education that feed racism and discrimination.

They also discussed how the justice system plays a dual role. Throughout Latin America, "sons of the Patriot Act" have been born and adopted into national legislation at the express urging of the U.S. government and international finance institutions. These anti-terrorist laws--of no real value in fighting global terrorism--have already been applied to social protest in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Mexico. While new laws criminalize dissidence, on the other side of the dysfunctional justice system lies the impunity granted security forces that have committed all sorts of crimes against their own people, including rape, assassination, assault and torture.

The men and women of the Anti-Militarization Meeting know they are swimming counter-current, in the context of policies such as Plan Mexico and the Merida Initiative, and megaprojects that bring "development" backed up by machine guns. No matter. To get beyond what might seem like a romanticized view of resistance, what I should do is recount the day to day work of the individuals and organizations here. That's probably not possible, so just imagine what happens when you merge the knowledge and commitment of nearly a thousand people from across the continent in defense of their land, their lives and their communities against military domination. Even after the grim recitation of woes, it's enough to inspire action and, yes, joy (pictures of dancing and discussing, along with more details on the meeting, to come soon.)


  1. I just number one, wanted to thank you for writing these blogs... This conference is just one example of the many inspiring and hope-filled events that are happening that the majority of people are completely unaware of. I do have a question though, what is the difference between the Merida Initiative and Plan Mexico? I was thinking that they were one and the same. But if this is not the case I would like to know. Keep up the good work. You are an inspiration. I am currently living en la frontera de E.E.U.U and Mexico in El Paso, TX, about a block or two from Cd. Juarez. And we are seeing the direct effects of the militarization of the Americas right now with the raging "war on drugs" and the warring drug cartels. There must be a better way. Too much blood has been shed, and the militarization is making things worse. To be honest, I and many others, fear the military patrolling the streets more than the cartels. What does that say?

  2. Maggie,
    Thanks for your comment. Plan Mexico and the merida Initiative are indeed one and the same. It began being called Plan Mexico but for political reasons was changed to avoid the negative comparison to Plan Colombia and to give the impression that the plan was first hatched in Merida. We have a background piece at http://americas.irc-online.org/am/5204 for more information. I
    I couldn't agree more about the bloodshed. Please comment on the blog about the situation you're facing there since this will continue to be a major issue for us.