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For the third year running, WRI organised an international training and action for International Conscientious Objectors Day. The focus of this year's activities was Chile and Latin America. Andreas Speck reports from Santiago.
In Chile, Latin-America and the whole world: INSUMISION!
It's 15 May, 10.45am: a group of four Chilean activists approaches Alameda and the Altar de la Patria with its eternal flame of Chilean “nationhood”. They position themselves “incognito” in the middle of Alameda, on the green in the middle of this dual carriageway, opposite La Moneda, the presidential palace. They communicate what they see to several small groups of activists from Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Spain, Britain, Uruguay, and Venezuela, waiting at Universidad de Chile metro station.
10:50am: a second group of three - from Chile, Paraguay, and Britain - leaves the metro station, and approaches the corner of Alameda with Zenteno street, at the Armed Forces Headquarters.
10:55am: Several groups leave the metro station, and walk calmly to the corner of Alameda and Zenteno street. Suddenly, the first group unfolds a banner just in front of the entrance to the Armed Forces Headquarters, reading “No recruits, no draft evaders - objectors, total resisters”. A second group lay down in front of the banner, others quickly painted their silhouettes with white paint on the pavement.
A second banner reading “Against the submissive law - objection, total resistance” was unfolded just a few metres left of the entrance. Here, others quickly wrote “No wars, no services - insumision” in big letters on the pavement.
Before the police - who were present in great numbers because they expected a Nazi demonstration at the same location - could interfere, all the painting was finished.
All the riot police, water canons, and tear gas throwers were there, but the police didn't know what to do. When they finally moved in, it was too late. After about 15 minutes, we decided to leave, and marched with the banner, shouting slogans, to the Plaza des Armas in the centre of Santiago, where the action ended.
This action above was the result of an international seminar and nonviolence training of conscientious objectors from several Latin American countries, jointly organised by Ni Casco Ni Uniforme from Chile and War Resisters' International.
During the seminar, CO activists from different countries reported on their domestic situation. A Venezuelan CO highlighted the social militarisation under president Chavez, and the division in the country, with paramilitaries on both sides intimidating everyone who does not follow the proscribed line of thinking - either pro-Chavez or pro-rightwing opposition.
Paraguayan COs reported on their success of now more than 115,000 declared conscientious objectors in the country, in spite of the lack of a CO law (or maybe because of this?). The Chileans explained their opposition to the draft military service law, which includes an unacceptable CO clause which does not meet the demands of the COs.
Prepare and train!
The training focussed on nonviolent direct action, and included the planning of the joint action for 15 May. We discussed the process of planning an action, decided on the objectives, and worked in groups on our ideas. Several problems had to be solved: the Nazi march (against homosexuals), due to take place on the same day, an unexpected proCO law action by reformist groups at the same place, and quite a lot of practicalities.
When we finally simulated the action in a role play the day before, it didn't look at all as described above. Nothing worked, and the “action” ended in complete chaos, with everyone feeling completely lost, and the “police” being in charge of the scene. However, a good evaluation helped everyone understand how important it is in an action to know your role - and to stick to it. And the final outcome on 15 May showed the value of proper preparation and training.
A force to be reckoned with
The action was a good example of coordinated action with groups from different countries. Most of the Latin American groups that participated are part of CLAOC, the Latin American Coordination for CO and anti-militarism, and some are also affiliated to War Resisters' International. At a meeting on 16-17 May, CLAOC discussed plans for the future, and also the co-operation between CLAOC and WRI.
The activities in Santiago showed that the Latin American CO movement is strong and lively, and has a clear anti-militarist perspective, which goes well beyond conscientious objection as an individual right. I am sure that we will hear more from CLAOC in the future. And I am sure that the Latin American militaries will need to learn that anti-militarism is a force that cannot be ignored...
Ni Casco Ni Uniforme, Roberto Espinoza 1839, Santiago de Chile, Chile (email email@example.com; http://www.objecion.cl/ ).