Activists disrupt international military conference in downtown Toronto hotel

Feb 9, 2017

Activists disrupt international military conference in downtown Toronto hotel

Over a dozen activists with banners and a sound system disrupted a special conference of the Conference of American Armies (CAA) this morning. The conference is a gathering of military leaders from North, Central and South America and is being held at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto. The meeting, which was hosted by the Canadian Army, explored "domestic operations" as its primary theme, alarming activists who associate the CAA with the repression of political activists and land defenders.

"The state, and the military backing it, come down with brutal force on Indigenous peoples asserting their responsibilities to protect the water, as has been so illustrated in the camps of Standing Rock with the involvement of the National Guard," explains Jaydene Lavallee, a Métis organizer present at the hotel action. "This conference on 'domestic operations' is about armies of colonial states mobilizing to better defend industry from Indigenous people and their allies."

From La Guajira, Colombia to Elsipogtog, New Brunswick, militaries engage in domestic conflicts over resource extraction. The CAA, which was created as part of a Cold War strategy to increase collaboration with militaries in Latin America, is no stranger to military involvement in internal conflict. It was created in 1960 by U.S. commander-in-chief of Southern Command, Major T.F. Bogart and the groundwork for Operation Condor, which in turn led to the killing, torture, and imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of people while supporting military governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Even today, CAA liason officers are linked to the repression of civilians in their own countries who are engaged in land defence struggles or political activism. 

"In 2009, Hudbay Minerals had support from the Guatemalan military, including the feared “Kaibil” special forces, to carry out repression against local Mayan Q’eqchi’ communities and make way for Hudbay’s mining operations," explains Grahame Russell of the NGO Rights Action. "This includes the September 27, 2009 assassination of Adolfo Ich and shooting and paralyzing of German Chub." 

Honduras-based coordinator of the Honduras Solidarity Network, Karen Spring, points out that current CAA liason officers are linked to political repression in Honduras. Col. Gabriel Rixci Cárcamo Bonilla, CAA liason officer for Honduras, was the commanding Colonel responsible for the Honduran Third Infantry Battalion in the northern town of Naco from 2013 to 2014. During that time, the Intelligence Troop and Special Security Response Groups, known as "TIGRES", and Honduran Military Police of Public Order (PMOP) both received training at Bonilla's base. Both units have been used extensively to repress Honduran social movements and struggles in defence of natural resources and territories.

According to Spring, "the conference in Toronto and the presence of Honduran military on Canadian soil demonstrates Canada's clear foreign policy objectives of militarization and imperialism in complete disregard of basic human rights in Honduras. The Canadian government continues its support of the Honduran regime despite in-depth reports and documentation of extremely high levels of human rights violations, impunity and corruption."