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  • Activists from SOA Watch engage in an action against the training in torture tactics of Latin American military personnel.

    Activists from SOA Watch engage in an action against the training in torture tactics of Latin American military personnel. | Photo: Flickr/Caravan 4 Peace

Published 7 October 2016

Hector Aristizabal told teleSUR that as a speaker at the Border Convergence, he will be highlighting how “money from the U.S. was used to kill people in Colombia."

Thousands of people, heeding School of Americas Watch’s call for a U.S. Border Convergence, will be meeting on both sides of the U.S. and Mexico today for a weekend of protests against U.S. militarization and in support of migrant rights.

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“This was the last place in the world I wanted to be,” Hector Aristizabal told teleSUR, speaking of the United States.

“Nobody wakes up one day wanting to abandon their language (and) culture (just) to escape violence and poverty.”

Aristizabal, a theatrical performer and pioneering psychologist, has survived a civil war, arrest and torture at the hands of the U.S.-backed military in Colombia. He knows firsthand the dilatant nature of U.S. imperialism and its far-reaching meddling in countries around the globe giving rise to state terrorism that forces people into exile.

As a speaker at the weekend of events, Aristizabal told teleSUR he would be highlighting how “money from the U.S. was used to kill people in Colombia."

The international convergence will take place between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora in Mexico, from Oct. 7-10, and will see more than 430 human rights, social justice, faith-based, labor, and immigrant rights groups come together. The gathering plans to “highlight U.S. foreign policy as one of the root causes of migration, and to stage protests and nonviolent direct action against racism, xenophobia and U.S. militarization at home and abroad," according to SOA Watch’s statement.

The group has held an annual protest at Fort Benning, Georgia, for the past 26 years at the gates of the School of the Americas, which has since been closed and reopened as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

“It is the most important ongoing political demonstration in the country,” asserted Aristizabal.

The "School of the Assassins," as social movements call it, is a training ground for military, law enforcement and civilian officials from Latin America and the Caribbean, specializing in illegal torture tactics.

The protests have been held annually since 1990 to bring attention to the victims of violence inflicted by SOA-trained officials in Latin America.

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“(We want) to address militarism in the Americas,” Hendrik Voss, an organizer with SOA Watch, told teleSUR. He added that the decision to shift the demonstration to the border was in response to the current “human rights crisis” there, as well as the limitless “xenophobic rhetoric” emerging from the U.S. presidential campaign.

With border agents training at the school since 2015, Voss said “migrants are (being) seen as enemy targets … creating an uptick in violence at the border."

Speakers at the event will range from Ajamu Baraka, the U.S. Green Party’s vice-presidential candidate, to Indigenous land rights defenders, with the 3-day convergence featuring workshops, art and music.

A poster of the convergence by the Beehive Collective. | Facebook / SOA Watch

One of the artists performing is Olmeca, from Los Angeles, Califor, who has traveled throughout the world bringing music brimming with social commentary to the masses.

“The most important thing I bring to the table (is to tell people to be) okay with who you are, even if you’re not part of the dominant culture," he told teleSUR. His music addresses “social ills” but also celebrates “being unapologetic about being from both cultures," he said, referring to the U.S. and Mexico.

Having worked with undocumented communities for the past decade, the artist wants to bring more awareness about the Latinx plight.

“By the time we talk about immigration, we’ve already been repressed by the government,” Olmeca said, explaining that the root causes of migration are rarely discussed within the immigrant rights movement in the U.S.

While the event seeks to build awareness about how the training institute is a “military muzzle (that) keeps unjust policies in Latin America in place” and represses social movements, as Voss articulated, the event is also meant to be affirming of building alternative models and practicing solidarity.

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Both Aristizabal and Olmeca said while the border wall exists, they will continue to gather to see how “walls can be transformed into bridges."

“It is only economics, power and despotism that (has) created this wall to separate humans,” said Aristizabal.

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