Reflections on SOA Rally and Vigil
by Steve Shanks

1st Sunday of Advent, 2005

Dear Friends,

I've collected some thoughts, reflections, and impressions regarding this year's rally and vigil, and have included them in the following. Since I'm writing this at the beginning of our season of Advent, I thought it might be helpful to begin with a quote from William Stringfellow for some context.

In the First Advent, Christ the Lord comes into the World; in the next Advent, Christ the Lord comes as Judge of the world and of all the world's thrones and pretenders, sovereignties and dominions, principalities and authorities, presidencies and regimes, in vindication of his lordship and the reign of the Word of God in history. This is the truth, which the world hates, which biblical people (repentant people) bear and by which they live as the church in the world in the time between the two Advents. -- from "Advent as a Penitential Season", William Stringfellow (1929-1985)
I was blessed this year to again co-facilitate nonviolence direct action trainings for persons that represented a broadening demographic. I was also asked to be present to several of the persons discerning a call to active nonviolence and civil disobedience.

Media coverage and photos are available at:

While the weekend's events to close the SOA/WHINSEC were getting started and with thousands converging in Columbus, Georgia, we had also received sad news from our friends in the Colombian Peace Community San José de Apartadó. On Thursday, November 17th, 2005, troops commanded by General Luis Alfonso Zapata Uribe attacked and killed Arlen Salas David, a leader of the peace community. It was only last February when eight members of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community in Urab´, Colombia -- including three young children -- were brutally massacred. Witnesses identified the killers as members of the Colombian military, and peace community members saw the army's 17th and 11th Brigades in the area around the time of the murders. In the face of this, families, children, and friends continue in faithful, peaceful, and nonviolent witness in this community of peace.

The SAN JOSE DE APARTADO PEACE COMMUNITY wrote on November 18 2005:

We make an appeal for national and international support, so that our extermination can be stopped; so that the inhabitants of the whole region of Arenas Altas are not forced to become internally displaced, which the Army has told us is their objective. The serious and committed work that ARLEN was carrying out will guide us. Pain barely lets us talk but we will continue to cry 'Dignity' out loud, like he taught us to do during his daily chores and his commitment to the community. His two small children will continue to walk besides us, building a different tomorrow in which there will be respect for life. ARLEN, OUR TEARS ACCOMPANY THIS HORROR BUT YOU ARE WITH US, GIVING US LIFE, THANK YOU FOR YOUR LEADERSHIP, FOR YOUR COMMITMENT. SOMEDAY HISTORY WILL JUDGE THOSE WHO MURDERED YOU.
To read the entire message from the San José de Apartadó community in Spanish you can go to:

Information about the February massacre in San José de Apartadó is available at:

On Saturday, survivors of torture shared some of the their stories with us. Carlos Mauricio, a former El Salvador professor who was abducted and tortured by Salvadoran death squads 22 years ago, remembers not only his own broken bones but also the suffering of others. "What has been very difficult to deal with is the memories of other people being tortured." In 1999, Mauricio and two other torture victims, Neris Gonzalez, a church worker, and Juan Ramagoza Arce, a doctor, brought a civil suit against two Salvadoran generals, former Defense Minister Jose Guillermo Garcia and former National Guard Director-General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova. Both graduated from the School of the Americas. In July 2002, the Salvadoran generals were found guilty by a West Palm Beach court under the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, which states that "victims did not need to prove the military leaders knew they were being tortured, only that Garcia and Vides allowed a culture in which soldiers could commit human rights abuses against civilians with impunity." The two were ordered to pay their victims $54.6 million in reparations. Last March, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the Florida jury's verdict, ruling that the case failed to meet the 10-year statute of limitations rule. The case is still under consideration. Reflecting upon his abduction, Mauricio says, "The recurring nightmare for me isn't the moment of being tortured. The recurring nightmare has been the moment of being abducted. It was very, very violent, and they came to my classroom." His sacred place. As you might imagine, it can be difficult for survivors of torture because of the flashbacks that result from being in such close proximity to the place where their torturers, and for many also the murderers of their friends and other family members, learned the means and methods of torture and oppression that they have used. For more on their work log on to

Some of the torture manuals used in training at the SOA/WHINSEC been released through the Freedom of Information Act, and on the Friday before this year's rally and vigil the fourth successful civil suit was completed, this time in Memphis. U.S. courts once again found in favor of the survivors against SOA graduates who have, and continue, to commit atrocities. It has also been reported that SOA/WHINSEC is starting to train students from Iraq and Afghanistan to take these same means and methods back to those countries.

This year Congress will be considering a bill to temporarily suspend operations at the SOA/WHINSEC. HR 1217, The Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2005. This bill would suspend operations at, and investigate, the School of the Americas, which is now using the acronym WHINSEC. The bill currently has 122 bi-partisan co-sponsors. I would invite you to prayerfully consider choosing to encourage your Congressman/woman to contact Rep. McGovern's office to become a cosponsor of this bipartisan bill. This would be one very concrete step to support human rights and promote peace and justice for the people of Latin America. It is my hope that our elected officials in Washington D.C. will represent us and support HR 1217. For more details, visit , and click on "Search Bills and Resolutions." Select the option to search by bill number, and in the "Enter Search" box, enter the bill number for HR 1217. By clicking on the "Bill Summary and Status" link, you can access other useful information about the bill.

On Sunday, more than 19,000 persons were reported to be present for the vigil which began as we honored with our witness and called to memory the hundreds of thousands who have suffered and died in a Litany in Honor of the Victims to which we responsively sang, "No Mas! No More!". The silent funeral procession followed the litany. As the name of persons who have died as an alleged result of SOA/WHINSEC activities was sung, those persons moving in procession raised their crosses, icons, or hands and sang responsively, "Presente!"

Elizabeth "Betita" Martinez of Z Magazine has described her experience of the vigil and funeral procession as being one of the many thousands of people who

listened as the names of 767 Salvadorans massacred at a single village rang out, one after the other, on a sunny afternoon last November in Columbus, Georgia. After each name we shouted PRESENTE! -- a salute to the dead.

Cristina Guevara, 25 years old - Presente!
José Francisco Reyes Luna, age 5 - Presente!
Vicenta Marquez, 80, widow - Presente!
Elena Rodríguez, 16 - Presente!
José Romero, 6 months, son of Lucas Guevara and Rufina Romero - Presente!
Orbelina Marquez, age 45, seamstress - Presente!
Mirna Chicas, 10 - Presente!
Fabi´n Luna, 20, day laborer - Presente!
Domingo Claros, woodcutter, and 15 family members down to an 8-month old daughter - PRESENTE!

On and on went the list of Salvadorans murdered in and around El Mozote by a U.S.- trained battalion during Ronald Reagan's "war on communism." Of the victims, 45 percent were children under 12. And when those names finally ended, a group of Colombians arrived at the stage with a 3-page list of recent victims in their country. The atrocities born at Fort Benning's School of the Americas have never stopped.

It was impossible not to weep during the two-hour naming. It was also impossible to watch the memorial procession marching by the stage at the same time, a human river stretching too far to be seen.

Too many of us do not know the long range reach and effects of the School of the Americas (aka School of Assassins) whose purpose is so simple: to guarantee Latin America's political, economic, and social conditions never threaten U.S. hegemony. No price for that is too high, it seems.

The names read did not include the 2 million Colombians killed or displaced by civilian-targeted warfare under the direction of SOA graduates. Or the hundreds of thousands of indigenous people murdered, tortured and disappeared in Guatemala when SOA graduate Ríos Montt ruled the country. Or the 30,000 killed or disappeared in Argentina when SOA graduate Leopoldo Galtieri headed the military. Or the ten SOA alumni indicted with Pinochet in Chile. Or the murders in Bolivia, Honduras, Mexico and Haiti...

We may have heard of the 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter murdered in 1989, but without knowing that 19 of the 26 Salvadoran soldiers cited for it were SOA alumni. Or that two of the three cited for assassinating Archbishop Oscar Romero as he conducted mass and that three of the five soldiers cited for the killing of four U.S. churchwomen were also SOA graduates from El Salvador. Or that the slaughter continues today, no matter claims by SOA brass that the worst abuse has ended. No matter that this terrorist training camp was so gently renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) three years ago.

A part of my lectio divina while I as at the SOA/WHINSEC rally and vigil this year was "Jesus Christ: Model of the Nonviolent Human Being" by Fr. John Dear and published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In it, he suggests that the God of nonviolence tells us that cultural violence is not our only alternative. "The only vocation to which a Christian is called," observed William Stringfellow, "is to be a mature human being." Fr. Dear suggests that an anthropology of nonviolence asks, in light of today's global violence, "What does it mean to be a human being?" It seems that a human being is called to be a person of nonviolence, a peace maker in a world of war, a seeker of justice in a world of injustice, a channel of compassion in a world of apathy. It also seems that a mature human being is one who worships the God of nonviolence by living at peace with every other human being. So, what does it mean to be alive in this age that we live in? In light of the peacemaking Jesus, Fr. Dear suggests that an anthropology of nonviolence would seem to answer that a full human life worships the God of life and gives over its own life so that all humanity may live in peace with justice, without the threat of violence. To be human is to be nonviolent.

The commitment to change among those who nonviolently and actively work on behalf of persons who have suffered torture, murder, and oppression as a result of the work of the SOA/WHINSEC is political, spiritual, and very real. This work may also have a positive influence on the future of the Americas and its people. As followers of the Way of Jesus Christ, I believe that we must denounce these social injustices and try to faithfully live our Christian commitment and prayer by working to forge Shalom and establish peace and justice. The church must be a sign of the kingdom within human history. I agree with others who have suggested that our preaching, liturgy, and teaching should take into account the social and community dimension of Christianity, and form men and women committed to peace: los pueblos unidos, jam´s vencidos. ¡Adelante siempre!

Love and prayers,
Deacon Steve Shanks

"Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
blessed are the peacemakers,
put down the sword."