Enough! A Report Back From the Border Vigil Against US State Violence
Originally posted on Truthout, By Steve Pavey // Reprinted with permission. Pace e Bene’s Louie Vitale attended this event and is pictured above.
Over a thousand activists from the US and Mexico converged at the border wall on Sunday, October 9, for a vigil to remember the victims of US state violence and celebrate our resistance against it. Gathered on both sides of the border, in Nogales, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico, we commemorated those whose lives were lost to this violence by saying their names to bring their spirits and witness before us. After each name we sang ¡Presente! to remember that the victims of violence are still here with us, they are not forgotten, and we will continue the struggle to resist US state violence in their name.
The SOA Watch movement began in part from the inspiration of the murdered Archbishop Óscar Romero of El Salvador, who said, “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.” The movement issues an ongoing challenge to US politicians and policy makers to listen to the analysis coming from the cries of the oppressed.
We can name only a small number of the victims of the militarization of the border, victims of the war on migrants and refugees and victims of the war on Black, Latinx, Muslim and other communities in the US. However, when we say their names, we also invoke the other hundreds of thousands who have suffered and died. Martin Luther King Jr. named the giant triplets of the Empire’s domination machine — racism, capitalism and militarism — and this white supremacist colonial machine represents a continuation of the “trail of tears” that still ravages the Indigenous people of this country.
Our collective response to this violence was to sing an adapted version of a song traditionally sung at the SOA Watch gatherings at the gates of Fort Benning: “No más, no more, tear down the border walls. ¡Basta ya, no más violencia, basta ya!” meaning, “It is enough already! No more violence, it is enough already!”
Below is the litany written collectively by the SOA Watch community of activists who are directly impacted by the many forms in which US state violence manifests itself, and read aloud during the convergence.
SOA Watch activists gathered on October 9 in Nogales, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico, to remember the victims of US state violence and celebrate our resistance against it. (Photo: Steve Pavey)
Tohono O’odham (desert people) have lived in the current border lands since time immemorial. Recognition of our existence is often undermined and the colonial policy of disregarding Tohono O’odham insight is the norm. The most current example of this are plans underway to construct 15 Elbit Systems of America’s Integrated Fixed Towers (IFTs), a surveillance operation representing another facet of the ongoing militarization taking place on Tohono O’odham land. Elbit Systems is an Israel-based company with a financial interest in the militarization of Palestinian, Tohono O’odham, and many other indigenous territories around the world. As Geographer Joe Nevins noted, the political conditions in Israel and the US may not be the same, but the technology is used for the same reason: to keep out “those designated permanent outsiders,” whether they are undocumented Latin Americans, or whether they are indigenous people or Palestinians.” To this we say … Ya Basta!
SOA Watch activists march along the border wall on October 8 in Nogales, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico, on their way to the binational rally of the SOA Watch Border Convergence. (Photo: Steve Pavey)
On Sept 15, 2016, the San Carlos Apache Tribe filed two related lawsuits against the US Forest Service and Tonto National Forest supervisor Neil Bosworth, objecting to approval of a mining company’s plans to start preliminary activities on its proposed mine waste site. Resolution Copper Mining Company wants to build a massive copper mine on Tonto National Forest land — land that is sacred to the San Carlos Apache. In the words of Wendsler Nosie, Sr., a councilman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, “We are calling on all religious faiths, and military veterans, for this country was founded on freedom of speech, religion and worship, to come together to stop the giveaway of sacred Apache Land at Oak Flat — which has been given away to a foreign mining company. They declared war on our religion, we must stand in unity and fight to the very end, for this is a holy war.” To this we say … Ya Basta!
Father Roy Bourgeois, SOA Watch founder, reads a closing portion of a litany to remember the victims of US state violence. (Photo: Steve Pavey)
Starting in 1994, the US Border Patrol adopted extreme enforcement strategies, including “Prevention Through Deterrence” with the intended goal of increasing the risks associated with crossing the desert. The traditional crossing areas for migrants for over a hundred years suddenly were shut, and people were “pushed” into the dangerous terrain along the Arizona border with Sonora. The unprecedented expenditure provided for military-type buildups, walls, sensors and drones, creating a zone where people die or disappear. Over 3,000 recovered remains later, the continued use of these practices ensures that death and disappearances still occur. The death count does not reflect the scale of the humanitarian crisis here. Death counts do not include those whose remains are never found. People do not merely go missing while crossing the border; they are disappeared by a border enforcement policy that kills. To this we say … Ya Basta!
SOA Watch activists gather at the border wall on October 8, in Nogales, Arizona, and Sonora, Mexico, for the binational rally of the SOA Watch Border Convergence. (Photo: Steve Pavey)
We pray for justice for all victims of excessive use of force by the Border Patrol and for an end to impunity for agents. We remember and honor those victims today, in Arizona and Sonora: Ramses Barron Torres, José Antonio Elena Rodriguez, Carlos Lamadrid, Jose Arambula, and others. On the California/Mexico border we remember Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, Valeria Tachiquin Alvarado, Francisco Manuel Cesena, Jose Guiterrez Guzman, and others. On the Texas/Mexico border we remember Sergio Adrián Hernandez, Guereca, Guillermo Arévalo Pedroza, Juan Pablo Perez Santillán, and others. That all victims and victims’ families be granted the justice that has been denied them. That no law enforcement official be allowed to take the law into their own hands on the border as has been the case for decades. To this we say … Ya Basta!
Led by US military veterans, SOA Watch activists march to the border wall on October 8 for the binational rally of the SOA Watch Border Convergence. (Photo: Steve Pavey)
The federal courts use Operation Streamline to treat unauthorized immigrants as criminals and their illegal entry as a federal crime. Daily, up to 70 men and women arrested along the border with chains around their ankles and wrists are brought to Tucson federal court, to answer to the charges of illegal entry, a misdemeanor, or illegal reentry, a felony. The result is little or no due process and a criminal record with sentences up to two years spent in federal prisons, or private prisons contracting with the federal government to fill their prison beds. Most migrants are never given the chance to explain why they made the treacherous journey, or the fact that they fear return to their country of origin. Under Operation Streamline, Customs and Border Protection targets for prosecution individuals seeking asylum — this violates US obligations under the Refugee Convention. To this we say … Ya Basta!
A common sight at the border wall: A person in Sonora, Mexico, meets a family member or friend in Nogales, Arizona. (Photo: Steve Pavey)
Throughout the United States, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detain an average congressionally mandated 34,000 immigrants and refugees every day of the year. This includes men, women and families. CCA has significantly increased their profits since the implementation of the quota: earning over $195 billion in profits in 2014. We are a land that ignores international protocols regarding the rights to freedom of movement to escape from government oppression, and to retain family unity, and instead locks them up and creates a climate of fear and otherness. To this we say … Ya Basta!
SOA Watch activists led by Puente gather for a vigil in solidarity with detainees and their families at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona. (Photo: Steve Pavey)
History has shown us that no wall can stop humans or other living things from surviving. Flora and fauna in the borderlands have been threatened by the construction of human borders. Photographs show deer, javelina, bobcats — even snakes and roadrunners, blocked by the wall. Studies tell us that puma, coati, bighorn sheep, and many more are prevented from finding mates, water, or food, by an expensive, ugly wall that doesn’t work. It’s time to take it down and demilitarize the borderlands. To this we say … Ya Basta!
SOA Watch activists at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona call for justice for Jose de Jesus and all those who have lost their lives while in ICE custody. SOA Watch activists led by Puente gather for a vigil in solidarity with detainees and their families at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona.
The wall has not only separated our families and our struggles, but has served to keep the consequences of the drug war in Mexico and the US interventionist policies away from the eyes of the American people. The 43 Ayotzinapa students shed light on the hundreds of thousands of people who have been disappeared in Mexico for over 50 years. Under the Merida Initiative, the administrations of Barack Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto have created a stronger terrorist state in which more than 150,000 people have been killed. Under the Southern Border Plan, the Mexican state has allowed the expansion of the militarized US policy of Prevention Through Deterrence to the borders of Mexico with Guatemala. The consequences have been the creation of a State of Exception where Mexico has become one of the most dangerous territories for migrants and refugees. For the 72 migrants in San Fernando and the 49 in Cadereyta, for Tlatlaya and Tanhuátaro, for Ruben Espinosa and Nadia Vera, for the thousands of victims and their families we say Fue el Estado. To this way we say … Ya Basta!
Father Roy Bourgeois, SOA Watch founder, alongside Carlota Wrey, founding member of People Helping People, and Eva Lewis, lead a nonviolent direct action march at the US Border Patrol interior checkpoint at Highway I-19 in Arizona to challenge the legitimacy of checkpoints and demand an end to militarized borderlands. (Photo: Steve Pavey)
In Honduras, seven years after the SOA graduate-led military coup, the violence and militarization continues. Those who speak out against the violent imposition of US-backed ultra-neoliberal policies are especially targeted, attacked and murdered. The March 2016 assassination of indigenous leader Berta Caceres galvanized international outcry, but the murderers go unpunished and US support for the suppressive regime continues.
SOA Watch activists stage a “die in” as part of their nonviolent direct action at the US Border Patrol interior checkpoint at Highway I-19 in Arizona to challenge the legitimacy of checkpoints and demand an end to militarized borderlands. (Photo: Steve Pavey)
The unprecedented exodus of our Honduran brothers and sisters is but a reflection of the massive arrival of hundreds of thousands of women, children and LGBTQ persons from Central America to the southern US border. It is one of the consequences of the conditions of violence, impunity and marginalization that were created after the implementation of a Plan Colombia-style program known as the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). Now, the Alliance for Prosperity, created to purportedly solve the mass displacements from the region, will be ineffective in addressing the root causes of migration, and instead increase militarization and criminalization of the poor and communities in resistance throughout the region.
SOA Watch activists memorialize the victims of US state violence. (Photo: Steve Pavey)
When captured in the US, the abuse against women continues in over 250 detention centers where they are locked away from their families, often for months or years. In Eloy, Arizona, 750 women are locked up every day with little hope of any relief or lowering of bonds. Recently in Tucson, women were dropped off by contractor G4S to a local shelter in shackles, chains and handcuffs. Other abuses, according to the ACLU, involve “denying necessary medical care to children as young as five months old, refusing to provide diapers for infants, confiscating and not returning legal documents and personal belongings, making racially charged insults and death threats, and strip-searching and shackling children in three-point restraints during transport.” To this we say … Ya Basta!
In Colombia, more than 220,000 confirmed victims of political killings, along with 92,000 disappeared join their voices with the living to say “no more” to war and “yes” to peace! Six million forcibly displaced speak of possibilities of going home. Thousands of prisoners of war and political prisoners speak of freedom, reintegration and reconciliation. However, despite the recent peace agreement, we hear of rising numbers of threats and assaults of popular leaders from the Congreso de los Pueblos, indigenous communities defending their land, Afro-Colombians defending their cultures. We lament that war and repression in Colombia have been paid for and directed from the halls of government in Washington, D.C. To the people of Colombia: our movement will continue to work so that the future may be a horizon full of justice with memory. Peace is a fruit of justice. To this we say … Ya Basta!
In the United States, the government continues to spend $1.3 billion in military operations and equipment. The perpetual War on Terror continues unabated, leaving millions of victims, while a media-induced culture of fermented fear and fabricated Islamophobia continues to target our communities. As Guantanamo Bay prison remains open and continues to hold innocent men, as prisons of concrete cage our bodies, as prisons of fear flatten our imaginations, as millions of us have our resources sharpened into weapons against our own human family and the path of peace means death threats and the path to peace is a mourning song, still we walk, we sing and to this we say … Ya Basta!
In Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, New York, Chicago, Tulsa and countless other cities across the United States, the police have killed over 840 people this year. The names of loved ones taken from us are so many — Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Tanisha Anderson, Kieth Lamar Scott, Paul O’Neal, Malissa Williams, Walter Scott, Rumain Brisbo, Freddie Gray — all victims of a white supremacist empire. In the face of this assault on our communities, we lift up the work of fearless organizers and activists courageous enough to stand up against the racist, violent, militarized brutality we see playing out in police departments, in prisons, in schools, at borders and in our communities. We honor the Black Lives Matter Movement. It is our time to stand together against the racism, capitalism, materialism and militarism that is tearing apart our families and destroying our communities. To this we say … Ya Basta!
With the support of 400 faith-based, immigrant rights, human rights, labor and social justice groups, we gathered for this International Convergence at the border calling for an end to border militarization and the criminalization of migrants, seeking to name the root causes of migration. We are tired of the political games played between Republicans and Democrats posturing to win our votes while making trade-offs with policies that sanction the violence used against our communities. Our choices can no longer be the lesser of two evils. This weekend we chose instead to lead ourselves. We stood on the side of human dignity and against neoliberal politics.
Our movement demands an end to the destructive US military, economic and political interventions in the Americas. We demand the demilitarization of the borders. We need to build bridges with our neighbors, not walls. We demand the dismantling of the racist and sexist systems that steal from, criminalize and kill migrants, refugees, natives, gender nonconforming people, communities of color, and others throughout the hemisphere. We demand respect, dignity, justice and self-determination for all communities, especially the poor and most vulnerable. We demand people prioritized over profit-making. Privately owned prison, oil, mining, military, and other corporations should not determine our future or that of the earth — the people should.
Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.
Steve Pavey, Ph.D., a photographer and applied anthropologist, works at Hope In Focus, which bears witness to the world as it is and as it could be through activist photography committed to walking alongside the world’s oppressed and marginalized, finding hope together in the collective struggle for human dignity and justice.