Puerto Rico's Report in Barranquitas, PR (testimony Mother Against the War) – 8th Meeting of International Women's Network Against Militarism

Mothers Against the War

Because motherhood is life and war is death, we struggle for peace

Mothers Against the War is a Puerto Rican community based organization that aims at attaining peace , for the mothers, and families that oppose wars as a way of dealing with national or international disputes, and to the use of torture as a way of extracting information from prisoners.
We orient Puerto Rican youth so they do not sign up a military contract.  We seek    health services for our military relatives and assist them in obtaining  conscientious  objector status. 

 www.madrescontralaguerra.blogspot.com madrescontralaguerra@gmail.com 787.619.5175 twitter@mclgpr sonia.santiago86Skype madrescontralaguerra@facebook.com

Madres Contra la Guerra- Mothers Against the War from Puerto Rico 
February 21, 2012
 Maternity is, and generates life.  War is the opposite of maternity.  When we bring a child into this world, is to enjoy life, not to Kill.
 Madres Contra la Guerra in Puerto Rico, have the inescapable commitment and the historical responsibility to preserve lives, not only our children’s, but also of the thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who we do not know.  Oh,  here we have our life and identity as a nation on the line.
 Puerto Rico is the fourth jurisdiction in military recruitment, for all US ARMY branches.  Let see the interest of the United States in Puerto Rico.  On July 25, 1898, US troops invade Puerto Rico establishing a military government and prohibiting communication in Spanish on classrooms and school premises.  Hundreds of US teachers were brought to teach in schools, displacing the local ones.  We are the last colony in America.  They have not defeated us.
 Puerto Rico is a Latin-American nation that stands defiant against imperialism.  In 1917, the United States imposed its citizenship to the entire Puerto Rican population.  The brave ones, those who declined the citizenship, were discriminated and sanctioned.  Coincidentally that very year, 27,786 Puerto Ricans were recruited to fight in World War I.  Since then, Puerto Rico is the first territory for the US Army recruitment and for “flesh to spare”.
 Hundreds of Puerto Ricans have died in US wars;  one hundred seventeen due to the “war on terrorism”, thousands have been injured or suffer post traumatic stress disorder… Ninety percent of the Puerto Rico National Guard, and the Reserve, have been in Iraq or Afghanistan, around 8,700 soldiers. Of those, about 1,650 have been mutilated.
The struggle against militarism in Puerto Rico has been militant and strong.  During the Vietnam War, thousands of youngsters burned they draft cards.
 I had the privilege to join the Draft Resistance Committee when I was 17 . We were able to the Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC) out of the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus.
 The real unemployment index in Puerto Rico rounds around 40 percent.  Military recruiters use the need for jobs, to sell militarism among youngsters.  Wars are declared by the powerful and fought by the poor.
 My son was a victim of that particular situation, for after ten months of being unemployed, despite several attempts to work, he joined  the US ARMY in January 2001, as a desperate act, like many others, looking for a job and better opportunities to study.
 He spent 16 months in Iraq.  Pain and anguish characterized these months.  There are no words to describe it.  I decided to create “Madres Contra la Guerra” on International Workers Day, May first, 2003 when I heard George W Bush, claiming “ victory” and stating that the war in Iraq was over, while my son was there.  We translate anguish into peace actions, educating the youth about not  signing a military contract and  supporting soldiers to file for Conscientious Objection Status and orienting them to access the health care they deserve upon their return.
When he returned to  a military base in Louisiana, we spoke with dozens of young soldiers: white poor, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and African Americans.  All of them, no exceptions, showed appreciation and hope knowing that the families were denouncing the horrors of that war.
Among other anecdotes, they shared how they were  used as human shields to protect the contractors of Halliburton and other transnational companies.  They also talked about the lack of fresh water, how they recycle it daily; the shortage of food, the ambushes, access restrictions, how some soldiers fight each other for food.  All the meals are processed, nothing is fresh, not even a piece of lettuce, in the words of one of them.  They talked about dehydration, sand storms and summer temperatures reaching the 135 to 140° Fahrenheit.
 They told me  how communication with Iraqis was prohibited.  In fact, the Puerto Rican soldiers told me, that they identify themselves with the Arabs, because of their physical and cultural similarities, as well as their cooking.  They interchanged food cans that we send them, as maternal lovely care.
 The military also prohibited the Iraqis to have visual contact with soldiers; clearly a fascist measure, an attempt to depersonalize the “enemy”.  They also told me  how they asked the soldiers to aim with the guns and to repress  innocent civilians.  These actions take a big toll on the soldiers’ emotional, mental and spiritual health .  Some of the symptoms of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD, prevalent among soldiers: insomnia, irritability, anxiety, depression, “flash backs”, nightmares, dreams with crude scenes of  the battle; panic reactions triggered by the sound of a helicopter, physiological reactions to everything which reminds them of the battlefield; altered state of the central nervous system; gastrointestinal problems, sweating, fast heart beats, cold sweat hands; nervousness;  memory loss; and  difficulty in handling family life and intimate relationships.
 Besides this psychosocial damage, there are cases of severe arthritis in the back and joints, as a result of carrying 100 pound backpacks for more than 10 hours daily, walking at temperatures higher than 120° Fahrenheit and for receiving the Anthrax vaccine without an adequate administration protocol.  The latter is the very condition of my son.  He has the back of a 50 years old man, and he is 30.
 There is also neurological damage, because of exposure to toxics and depleted uranium from explosives and from sudden head movements even with the use of the helmets.  In these severe  cases, the soldier is relocated to the United States, due to the absence of adequate medical treatment in the Veteran Hospital in Puerto Rico.
 All these symptoms generate a severe rupture  both: to the soldier and to his or her family. Madres Contra la Guerra, supports the efforts of those families to understand and stand by their military son or daughter.
 Some of the victims of these wars that we have worked with and embrace are Michael Martínez Santiago, 29, first battalion, first infantry division of Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico.  Died on Bakuya Iraq, when his truck tips, on September 6, 2004; on his second deployment.  His mother estates, that he was against the war and it horrors.
Ramón Mateo, 20, NAVY, part of the 7th regiment, 1ST division, from Suffcolt New York.  Died in crossfire, on his third day on his second deployment, in Al Anbar, on September 24, 2004.  His mother said that he did not want to go back there, since he experienced  a troubled situation with his superior after he refused to point with his rifle to an 8 years old kid.
 Sergeant Gary Alexander Vaillant Santiago, 41, 2nd Battalion 72 regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, from Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico.  Died on September 2004, after his tank stepped into a mine in Khalidiya Irak.  His mother Doña Rosín, indicates that his son been a Evangelical Minister, had indicates that was against the war. Miguel Angel Ramos Vargas, 39, advocate for the independence of Puerto Rico, part of the 335 batallion of the Nacional Guard of Mayagüez Puerto Rico, died when he protected a fellow soldier with his body in Bagdag Iraq, on May 31, 2005.  His mother Doña Eloína Vargas, indicates that his son was against this war, leaving documents stating that his widow do not receive, the medals or the US flag, events that did not happen for fear that  she would not be ellegible for federal aids, information that is not true.
 Pablo Paredes Burgos, 26, Puerto Rican from New York, Navy, was sentenced on May 11, 2005, to 3 month of “forced works”, for refusing to board the USS Bonhome sailing to Iraq, on December 6, 2004.  The sentence included 2 months of restrictions, 3 months of forced works, and rank demotion. 
 On his declaration, Pablo Paredes said: “what I tell to this court, is that I am convinced that this war is illegal.  If I am guilty of something, is about my believes.  I am guilty of believe that the war is immoral and unnecessary.” The military judge who sentenced Paredes, commander Bob Klant, expressed: “I believe that the government has proved successfully that any NAVY soldier has reasonable cause to believe that the wars on Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afganistán, were illegal”, the later comments were not published in the comercial press.  “We were very preocupied about the security of Pablo on the Base” told us Pablo’s parents , Víctor and  Milagros, honorary members of Madres Contra la Guerra. 
 Ricardo Torres, of Bayamón Puerto Rico, has been twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan.  He has orders to return to Iraq again.   He refused and was punished to work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, as reported by his mother Diana (fake name to Protect her identity), member of Madres Contra la Guerra.
 The real budget of the military is $3,000 million dollars annually for the recruitment centers, while the Pentagon reduces the budget for the Veterans Hospitals in Puerto Rico.  The Veteran Hospitals in Puerto Rico, takes care of 150,000 veterans from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands under sub-standard conditions, including the fact that it has no trauma unit.
We have the support of a network of lawyers in Puerto Rico and from  the Military Law Task Force  of the National Lawyers Guild, with whom we work advising soldiers to obtain a conscientious  objector status.  We have reached more than 250 soldiers for said status.
We also provide orientation and education in high schools, along with other peace groups, as under the No Child Left Behind Law, schools exchange students’ personal , confidential information with military recruiters, as a condition to receive education funds, which we believe is a human rights’ violation , as education is a right. We also orient high school parents  not allow that their children’s personal access be given to military recruiters by signing the opt –out form, yearly. 
The main message from Madres Contra la Guerra is: the commitment for a peaceful and loving society, preserving the integrity of  human beings.   War is the opposite of maternity.  We call upon the youth to embrace  us in this effort.  We want to liberate them from the horrors of wars, not only our children, but also Iraquis and Afghan children, denouncing here the murder of more than 1,300,000 civilians in these wars.
Sonia Margarita Santiago, PhD., spokesperson