It seems that we are always announcing a new attempt at co-operation between antimilitarist organisations in Latin America and the Caribbean. From time to time it is good to establish when a period ends and a new one begins, but at the same time, always trying to pretend to reinvent the wheel, or to focus our energies on trying to build something new, can burn you out and be unreal.
When we talk about the Latin American and Caribbean Antimilitarist Network, we talk of a recent initiative of co-operation, but at the same time it's the result of and in some way the continuation of previous experiences. Most of the groups in the network were at one time members of ROLC (Latin American and Caribbean Network of Conscientious Objection) and its later transformation into CLAOC (Latin American Antimilitarist and Conscientious Objection Coordination). The main emphasis, as the names say, was conscientious objection (CO). CO has the characteristic of uniting groups from different traditions, depending on the focus you give it. It can be organisations which are clearly antimilitarist, as they see in military service one of the clearest examples of the power of militarism in our societies; or it can be from a Human Rights perspective, with a focus more in the individual right of a person to not carry a weapon. So in ROLC, and later in CLAOC, there were groups representing the spectrum of the CO movement. This diversity, in itself, can be seen as a strength of the movement, but at the same time it shows big differences, which if they are not clarified over time, can lead to misunderstandings and lack of trust, and can finally make co-operation impossible.
As the Antimilitarist Network comes from this history, it has been necessary to work from a fresh start. It is hard to say when exactly it was that this new initiative started - one option is to go to the events of 15th of May, International COs' Day, in 2004, in Santiago, Chile. During the event there was a CLAOC meeting, where it was agreed that it was effectively inactive. The event, even though it was part of CO activities, had a clear antimilitarist focus, and with the goal of reactivating regional cooperation. Another moment can be identified in the proposal presented to WRI by Yeidy Rosa and Xavier León Vega to set up a WRI office in Latin America. This proposal included a consultation process with the different groups in each country, to identify the co-operation needs and how we could function in a better way. From the beginning it was clear that we didn't need new institutions –an office– but that we needed a space for dialogue, to share experience and co-ordinate efforts.
Through the years, WRI has worked with most of the member group of this regional network, where a number of groups are actually members of WRI. In this period WRI had the presence of representatives of these groups at WRI events, and there were even joint events, like in Medellin in 2003. But there has always been the perception of WRI being something far away, without clarity of how it functions, and very European. Most of these perceptions remain the same.
As an International, from the beginning WRI supported this new initiative, as WRI understands that, in international work, the first step is to build regional alliances. WRI has always respected the autonomy of this process, but at the same time offered to facilitate it. The first step was to set up a list serve (email@example.com) to allow us to have space for exchanging information. It is clear that the list has improved communication in the network but, at the same, it is a small group of people who post to the list, even though there are many people who have subscribed to it. It is the challenge of passive participation and how to transform it into an active one.
The list has enabled us as a network to come up with statements in response to emergencies, such as the increase of tensions between Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador in March 2008, or the coup d'etat in Honduras. These statements were a first step towards working in a co-ordinated manner. Taking the next steps, with more concrete actions, has not been easy. Mainly this is because there is a lack of clarity of what are our common aims as a network, and a lack of a clear decision-making structure, and many times we depended in “someone” taking the initiative.
From 2006 to 2010, members of a number of groups in the network have met at WRI meetings, allowing us to move forward the co-ordination process, at the same time making Latin America more visible within WRI itself. However there is a problem which is that in most cases the network has not had a say about who from Latin America could attend these meetings, and without regional meetings, these have been the only opportunities for discussing the co-ordination, which has been within a WRI framework and where clearly we need to meet and to make our own decisions as a network.
In May of this year (2010), using the opportunity of 15th of May activities in Asunción, Paraguay, we had a meeting with representatives of most of the groups in the network, which was an important step. From the different meetings, many ideas have come up: the problem is that almost none of them have been followed up.
As a network we still need to define what our common ground is when we talk about militarism. We call ourselves antimilitarist, but we don't know what exactly we mean by this, as we see in the network a diversity of forms of groups and struggles. For this we need to analyse the different forms that militarism in the region, and how this militarism is evolving. A clear example of this is the increase of policies of “citizen security”, with its clearest manifestation in the criminalisation of social protest and the militarisation of our communities in favour of the exploitation of natural resources, the permanent increase in military expenditure, the militarisation of our bodies, and the militarisation of the discourse from both conservative and 'progressive' regimes.
All of us in the network say that we want regional co-ordination, but at the same time we are overwhelmed by our local realities. The question is how we move from an electronic and passive co-ordination to an active one: this is the challenge we have as antimilitarists and in which we invite you to join us.