13 de septiembre de 2006

Historic Latino Congreso Takes Strong Anti-War Stand

Historic Latino Congreso Takes Strong
Anti-War Stand
by Medea Benjamin

Published on Monday, September 11, 2006
by CommonDreams.org

Billed as the most comprehensive gathering of Latino
leaders in the US in three decades, over 1,600
delegates and observers attended the Latino Congreso in
Los Angeles from September 6-10. The Congreso grew out
of the massive mobilizations of Latinos this spring for
immigrant rights, and was a forum to discuss not only
the status of immigration reform, but also a wide range
of issues from how to best use Latino voting power to
global warming to the economic empowerment of Latino
communities. Mayor Antonio Villarraigosa and numerous
Latino Congresspeople greeted the participants, who
represented a diversity of labor, student,
environmental, health and community development groups.

The convention was organized by some of the largest
Latino advocacy groups in the nation, including the
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
(MALDEF), the William C. Velasquez Institute and the
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).

The war in Iraq was not high on the agenda. Of the
dozens of workshops and plenaries, only one session was
dedicated to the war--a panel that included Fernando
Suarez del Solar, a man who lost his son Jesus in Iraq
and has been speaking out against the war ever since.
But the elected officials who addressed the
crowd--Congresspeople, mayors, city council
members--failed to mention the war, and when
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez spoke at a reception for
Latina leaders, she advised Latinos to enroll in
schools like West Point and the Naval Academy so they
could get good jobs in the military.

When the delegates convened in a plenary session to
discuss proposed resolutions, however, the first to
come up was an anti-war resolution proposed by Rosalio
Munoz, coordinator of a group called Latinos for Peace
and a veteran of the Chicano Moratorium against the war
in Vietnam. The resolution represented a radical
position for a Congress sponsored mainly by
organizations that have never taken a public stand on
the war, in part because many of their members are
military families and they don't want to appear
disrespectful to the soldiers.

Entitled "US Withdrawal from Iraq War", it condemned
the aggressive recruitment of Latino youth into the
military, the spending of billions on war instead of
much-needed community services, and the post-9/11
racial profiling that has hurt all people of color. It
called for a withdrawal of troops from Iraq and a
foreign policy focused on diplomacy and peaceful

"Polls show that 70% of Latinos oppose this disastrous
war," said Munoz, "but few Latinos have been speaking
out. It's time for that to change."

Amendments were proposed from the floor to make the
resolution even stronger, like calling on elected
Latino officials to take leadership in promoting
legislation to bring the troops home. To the surprise
of even Munoz, not one delegate spoke out against the
resolution, and when the voice vote occurred, a lone
"nay" was overwhelmed by a sea of emphatic "ayes."

Among those delighted with the vote was Fernando Suarez
del Solar. "Ever since my son was killed in Iraq, I've
been trying to organize the Latino community to come
out against the war," said Suarez del Solar, "but many
of our elected leaders and community organizations have
been afraid to step forward for fear of being labeled
unpatriotic. So the passage of this resolution
represents an important milestone in our community."

Another indication of the strong anti-war sentiment at
the Congreso came from the enthusiastic response to a
petition being circulated by the women's peace group
CODEPINK called Give Peace a Vote. Part of a coalition
effort of Voters for Peace designed to create a strong
anti-war voting bloc, the petition asks people to
pledge that they will only vote for candidates who
support a speedy withdrawal from Iraq and no future
wars of aggression.

"People were so eager to sign and were thankful for a
way to express their outrage against this war," said
Edith Mendez from CODEPINK, one of the

One of those eager to sign was Jose Carrillo, a
delegate from Wisconsin and a union official with the
United Auto Workers. Carrillo has two sons in the
military who are presently serving in Iraq. "Latinos
often join the military because they have a sense of
responsibility to serve this country and the want to
prove they are patriotic Americans," he said. "It's
important to honor the sacrifices our soldiers are
making, but at the same time we have to speak out
against what many of us consider an unjust war."

Rosa Furumoro, a professor of Chicano Studies and a
speaker on the anti-war panel, said that more and more
Latinos are becoming concerned about the militarization
of the public schools. "With the military reaching all
the way down to our elementary schools," she said, "we
see our youth being socialized to go to war while
students in wealthier communities are being socialized
to become doctors, lawyers and businessmen."

While Latinos have historically been underrepresented
in the military, this is rapidly changing, with
recruiters aiming to bring Latino representation up to
22% of recruits, almost double what it is today.

Daniela Conde, a student at UCLA and a member of the
student group MEChA, echoed the concern about the
aggressive recruitment of Latino youth. "I began to
understand how the war has affected my community when I
saw my friends being recruited into the military and
how they became dehumanized. I want to see the high
schools preparing Latino youth for college, not for
war. And I want to see this country spending money on
uplifting poor communities, not killing people

Antonio Gonzales, one of the key organizers of the
event and a heavy hitter in the Latino community, was
delighted by the open expression of anti-war sentiment
at the Congreso. "An unjust war will always be opposed
by Latinos because our fundamental principle is justice
for all," he said. "Now we have to find more effective
ways to connect the Latino community with the peace

Medea Benjamin (medea@globalexchange.org) is cofounder
of the human rights group Global Exchange and the peace