SOA Watch: Oficina América Latina / Calle 34 No. 18-70 - Apartado Postal 437 - Barquisimeto, Lara, VENEZUELA - Teléfono: 58-416-607-0972


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Remembering our loved ones: the struggle against the School of the Americas is a testament of our collective memory 

Camila Leiva 

In November of 2005 I had the opportunity to attend the vigil at the gates of the School of Assassins in Fort Benning, Georgia. 

I was there with college friends to protest that for almost 66 years thousands of Latin American military personnel have been trained there, in the “science” of torture and repression. 

That year we were more than six thousand people, from many different parts of the country and the world, and we gathered there with our banners, music, photos, giant puppets, acts of civil disobedience, and a lot of energy, to demand the closing of the School of the Americas.

Like every year, there was a funeral procession in which we named the thousands of people that have been murdered by the military trained in the School of the Americas. 

The procession was a very intense moment, full of sadness but also a great deal of collective strength. 

To hear thousands of people of different races, diverse communities and different countries gather together to yell out “PRESENTE!” after each victim named, is an experience I will never forget. 

I will also not forget the experience because it gave me the opportunity to name and remember my grandmother’s brother, Orlando Letelier, and feel that my family was not alone in our remembrance of him—we were part of a larger movement. 

When I heard by great uncle’s name, I felt a huge personal connection to him and remembered the true reason I was there.  

While it was my political commitment that had taken me to Fort Benning, I realized, in the process, that like many other Latin Americans, the existence of the School of the Americas had also affected my family and me on a personal level. 

The murder of my great uncle has deeply affected generations of my family. The act of terrorism that took Orlando’s life caused trauma and pain, but it also generated a commitment to dedicating our lives to the work to which he dedicated his life: to create a more just and democratic Chile that is free of U.S. government control. 

My grandmother, Fabiola Letelier, is part of this fight. As a lawyer she continues to defend human rights to this day. Now it is our turn, the children and grandchildren of the rebellious spirit that was generated by this dark history, to keep fighting for the justice that our family members and our people were working towards. 

For me, there is no clearer objective than closing the School of the Americas and demanding that our governments stop sending military to train there. Six countries in Latin American have said “NO!” to the School of the Americas and have publicly removed their soldiers. We must grow our movement so that all the countries in our continent stop sending soldiers to the School of Assassins. 


The gates of Fort Benning, covered with crosses and the names of the victims of the School of Assassins.


Camila and her university friends, listening to the different speakers of the vigil.

Camila (on the right) with her university friends in front of the gate, which is in the background.

Funeral procession from the 2005 vigil, always full of art and giant puppets.

Fotos by Ruth Schultz

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