FIRST HEMISPHERIC CONFERENCE ON MILITARIZATION
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS (CHIAPAS)
MAY 6-9 2003
From May 6-9, the First Hemispheric Conference on Militarization gathered together civil and social organizations from all over the American continent in San Cristobal de las Casas. Representatives from organizations came together and discussed militarization, from which the people of the Americas are suffering. They discussed its causes, consequences, and of course, forms and instruments for putting an end to it and for constructing a new way to live without arms, soldiers, and wars.
The background for the forum was Chiapas, a Mexican state that has suffered permanent militarization since the Zapatista uprising in 1994. At the international level, the forum converted into a call, without power, against the aggression of the United States in Iraq, which was supported by European countries such as Great Britain and Spain. The US invasion did nothing but reinforce the justification and relevance for such a conference at this moment in time.
But there was also reason to celebrate. In Vieques, Puerto Rico, popular mobilizations prompted the closing on May 1 of a United States military base that had been in place for more than 60 years. The presence and testimony of people involved in the Puerto Rican social movement at the conference gave strength and hope to the searches for instruments to eliminate military bases and militarization from communities in North and South America.
While bombs and arms continued destroying entire societies, cultures, and, when it comes down to it, life itself, in the heart of the Highlands of Chiapas people from 28 countries joined together. Individuals did not attend the conference just to say that a world without militarization is possible, but also in order to create a common front through active solidarity networks among those who pursue political, economic, social, and cultural organizations without impositions, based on people’s self-determination and mutual respect.
Participants shared different personal experiences and contexts dealing with militarization through words. Sharing established similarities between places separated by continents, but united by suffering due to the militarization of territories that responds to a global and political hegemony.
Workshops were held in three different places, just a few meters apart. During the first two days, the dynamic consisted of alternate lectures and personal experiences among the different participating countries. On the third day, workshops were conducted by region, and the conference’s final declaration came from proposals from each group.
On the last day before the closing session, regions came together and presented a “fair” (i.e. through banners, signs, and games) of concrete proposals from each working group.
The plenary agreed to initiate the Campaign for the Demilitarization of the Americas (CADA). It also made other statements such as the Plan of Continental Action and the Continental Social Agenda.
During the four days and within the three meeting spaces, participants had the opportunity to listen to lectures, experiences, and denouncements as well as music, poetry, theater, puppets shows and clowns. Art and culture were present as instruments to awaken consciences against militarization.
The conference united a plurality of organizations, from Mexican to international indigenous, Colombian unions, Guatemalan students, and coordinators from marginalized areas. In total, there was a large variety of participants that shared a common denominator. In addition to a concern with militarization, the participants expressed their sense of being excluded and threatened by dominating neoliberal economic projects that affect the region: Plan Colombia, Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and the Andina Regional Initiative. These projects respond to the needs of transnational economic powers and the plans designed by the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Bank (WB).
Military bases form part of the inner workings of this economic machinery and are therefore situated precisely in the regions with the largest concentration of natural resources, as well as in relevant geo-strategic zones. Armies, therefore, are used to preserve the powerful economic interests of global capital which, to further complicate things, are diffuse around the globe.
This reality led the Conference to establish an agreement to struggle for demilitarization of the continent. The conference’s final declaration presented strategies promoting the construction of a new society whose fundamental principles are a culture of economic and social peace and justice, which caters toward solidarity agreements and exchange between people (see the Conference final declaration).
To this end, organizations have proposed two means of action. The first action is to share information, analysis, and diagnostics about experiences and consequences of militarization in the Americas. The second action proposed is: “to unite efforts, hearts, and wills to create peaceful alternatives” through the creation of a permanent and continuous process of analysis regarding experiences and alternatives.
SIPAZ was part of the network of organizations that facilitated and made the conference possible. The coming together of organizations represented the beginning of a continuous and permanent aim to denounce the militarization of American communities and represent political and economic interests. So has begun the Campaign for the Demilitarization of the Americas.
Convergence among participating organizations will continue at local, national, regional, and continental levels through follow-up meetings and spreading information about the conference to civil society and indigenous communities. In addition, groups will continue to hold different regional forums against neoliberal projects and in favor of people’s self-determination.
Participants in the Hemispheric Conference agreed to organize the Campaign for the Demilitarization of the Americas Conference, March 5-7, 2004, in Quito, Ecuador, before the Social Forum of the Americas, March 8-13, 2004, also in Quito, Ecuador. And they look forward to the Second Hemispheric Conference on Militarization in 2005.
On the final day, in his lecture entitled “Peace and Militarization”, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, reiterated that armed forces in Latin American must change their roles and put themselves at the service of people, not against them as they are today. He maintained that to halt the “grave situation of militarization“, it is necessary to create social, political, economic, and cultural alternatives for the people of the continents. “It is not enough to say NO to militarization and make Unites States bases leave: we have to work internally in our countries and protest the government officials who allow this to happen.”
Institutions created to safeguard world peace, for example the United Nations, are today facing a crisis. This conference shows that international civil society has become the protagonist in the ethical struggle for human rights as well as collective responsibility for respecting and defending human rights.
The First Hemispheric Conference on Militarization has established strategies to struggle against the most destructive instrument of today’s powerful states: the military. It is the responsibility of the conference’s participating organizations to continue denouncing, protesting, and exchanging information, as well as to strengthen solidarity among communities.
SIPAZ’s international aspect allows it to contribute and serve as a bridge and point of connection for many international organizations. In addition, SIPAZ can connect the struggle in the American hemisphere with other regions in the world that also suffer from militarization, either through war (Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine) or through the progressive installation of military bases (Valencia, Spain).
In the words of Mexican author Carlos Montemayor, each generation must struggle for its rights and liberties, because those things cannot be inherited (Inaugural Lecture: “General Discussion on Militarization and United States Hegemony”).
We continue, therefore, speaking out in order to construct a world in which the silence is the absence of arms and not of words.