The School of Assassins Update
The School of the Americas is now the
Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
from School of the Americas Watch Update, Winter
Thousands Protest Re-named School of Assassins
The spirit of resistance has never been stronger at the entrance
to Fort Benning than it was on November 18th and 19th. Despite
a cold, steady rain, more than 10,000 people stood vigil in solidarity
with those who continue to suffer and die at the hands of SOA
graduates. Speakers from Colombia and Mexico set the tone with
firsthand accounts of repression in their communities. The voices
of Pete Seeger and acclaimed Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn
amplified this cry for justice. 3,400 crossed the line as part
of the solemn funeral procession. 200 more followed in a second
wave of affinity group and high-risk actions including an 80-person
parade of giant puppets. Over 2,100 were arrested and given ban
and bar letters. The last of them were greeted by a cheering throng
of supporters when the Military Police dropped them off that evening
at a park a few miles from the base.
The creativity and diversity of this movement emerged as never
before. The women and men religious, the veterans, union members
and students who have been the backbone of our movement for 10
years accounted for the bulk of our numbers. This presence, this
grounding in our tradition, was an invaluable gift. Welcomed into
this gathering were hundreds of new activists, many from the ranks
of those who protested at the meetings of the WTO and IMF/World
Together, we showed that young anarchists can come into a
nonviolent protest and not only be respectful of the tradition,
but strengthen the witness with their courage and commitment.
We showed that faith-based activists are not afraid of working
with those who are different, but create a community that welcomes
all who would nonviolently resist SOA violence. The image of a
group of nuns crossing the line side by side with a group of black
bloc anarchists complete with black bandanas over their faces
powerfully expresses strength through unity and diversity. We
go forward re-affirmed in our commitment to nonviolent struggle,
aware that creativity will win over domination and this School
of Assassins will close.
Gracias to everyone who made this possible. Nonviolence training
teams took the SOA Watch roadshow across the U.S and into Canada
and people came to Fort Benning well prepared.
Local groups worked tirelessly to spread the word about our
gathering, and coordinate the formidable logistics of getting
thousands of people to Columbus, GA. Peacekeepers gave up their
freedom and mobility to take on an array of tasks that were absolutely
essential to the success of the vigil.
Journalists from the Atlanta Independent Media Center covered
the event without a corporate bias. Puppeteers gathered a week
in advance, and using only recycled garbage and their own imaginations
created a beautiful pageant expressing the hope and resistance
of the movement. Speakers, poets and musicians traveled from across
this hemisphere to add their voices.
To these people and all those whose spirits remained vibrantly
alive through two days of cold rain, who risked their freedom
in solidarity with those who risk so much more, go our heartfelt
thanks. You are an inspiration.
To Megan Rice, Charlie Liteky and Chuck Butler, still imprisoned
at the time of the vigil, your spirit was presente, pushing us
forward. To all who have served prison time for acts of conscience,
to all who stood vigil during those early, lonely years at the
gates of Fort Benning, we say gracias for paving the way for us.
Together, we are strong, and in the end, justice will prevail.
In Solidarity, SOA Watch staff and Advisory Group
Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA's
The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,
located at Ft. Benning, Georgia, is a combat training school for
Latin American soldiers. The school, until recently known as the
U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA), has been steeped in controversy
for nearly two decades.
From 1946 to 1984, the SOA was located in Panama. Before it
was kicked our of the country under the terms of the Panama Canal
Treaty, a major Panamanian newspaper dubbed it "The School
of Assassins." Being well-earned and well-documented, the
name stuck. SOA-trained soldiers have left a trail of blood and
suffering in every country where they have returned.
During its 54 year history, the SOA has trained over 60,000
Latin American soldiers. It continues each year to train hundreds
of soldiers in combat skills such as commando tactics, mine warfare,
military intelligence, and psychological operations. In 1996,
the Pentagon was forced to reveal the existence of training manuals
used at the SOA.
These manuals advocated torture, execution, and blackmail
and targeted civilians for these tactics. The manuals have since
been discontinued; but the strategy they embody persists.
SOA-trained troops continue to return home to wage war against
their own people, with disastrous consequences. Hundreds of thousands
of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, "disappeared,"
massacred, and forced into refugee camps by those trained at the
"School of Assassins."
Our Tax Dollars at Work
Recent Pentagon reports place the annual budget for the SOA
at $4 million. This represents only the operating budget and excludes
salaries and other expenses associated with the school. Previous
official reports have shown that the total fiscal requirements
for the SOA amount to $18.4 million tax dollars annually. This
includes operating expenses, "scholarships" for soldiers
and salary expenses for military and civilian personnel. In a
time when U.S. families are struggling to find resources for education
and other basics, it is a crime to use millions of dollars of
tax money on the School of Assassins.
Guns and Greed
A recent Pentagon report to Congress notes that combat training
at the school supports U.S. policy towards Latin America, which
''Seeks to develop stable, free market democracies throughout
the region. " The mission of U.S Southern Command (encompassing
the SOA) includes". . . protecting the supply of strategic
natural resources and access to the markets. "
Protecting U.S. interests in Latin America has translated
into creating a favorable business climate for U.S. corporations,
one with rock bottom wages and environmental standards and weak
or nonexistent unions. As the markets of Latin America open to
"free" trade, the most vulnerable are driven ever deeper
SOA graduates become the "enforcers" of these exploitative
economic policies. Soldiers trained at the SOA consistently use
their combat training against labor organizers, religious leaders,
student activists and others who work for just wages, decent housing
and other basic needs.
The economic rape of the poor that accompanies globalization
could not stand without the repressive military apparatus that
brutalizes those who rise up to resist.
Colombia and the SOA
Over 10,000 soldiers from Colombia have trained at the SOA,
more than any other country. Reports issued in 2000 by the U.S.
State Department and Human Rights Watch document the involvement
of Colombian SOA graduates in kidnapping, murder, massacres and
setting up paramilitary groups. 50% of the 247 officials cited
in an earlier report were trained at the SOA. Some Colombians
were featured as guest speakers or instructors or included in
the 'Hall of Fame'' after their involvement.
* Major David Hernandez Roias and Captain Diego Fino Rodriguez,
cited for the March, 1999 murder of the Antioqua Peace Commissioner
and two other civilians as they tried to deliver ransom for a
* Col. Alirio Antonio Uruena Jaramillo and two other SOA graduates
were implicated in the gruesome Trujillo ''Chainsaw'' Massacres
in which at least 107 prisoners were tortured and murdered.
* Major Jesus Maria Clavijo Clavijo and another SOA graduate
were linked to paramilitary groups through cell phone communications
and regular meetings on military bases. Clavijo was implicated
in the February 1999 paramilitary killings near El Carmen de Atroto.
Bombs and Bullets Still the SOA Mission... With the Same Chilling
In response to growing criticism, the Pentagon has mounted
a smoke and mirrors PR campaign to give the school a new image,
changing its name for the third time since it opened in 1946.
The "reformed" SOA, now called The Western Hemisphere
Institute for Security Cooperation, supposedly focuses on human
rights, democracy, peacekeeping, and counter-narcotics training.
The Pentagon touts a few new courses as evidence that the
school has been reformed. A close examination of the course descriptions
reveals that behind the new packaging, business as usual continues
at the SOA.
An article on the SOA web page describing the "Humanitarian
De-Mining" course states, "land mines left behind by
soldiers continue to terrorize and destroy lives long after the
fighting has ended." What's left out is that in a parallel
course, the SOA continues to teach soldiers to lay landmines.
Likewise, in the deceptively titled "Peace Operations"
course soldiers learn psychological operations, military intelligence
and population control techniques like setting up roadblocks.
Through all of the cosmetic changes and supposed reforms,
the SOA has remained a counter-insurgency (translation: anti-civilian)
combat training school. Before the recent name change, the late
Paul Coverdell, influential Georgia senator and SOA supporter,
noted that the reforms were "basically cosmetic" and
that the SOA would still be able to fulfill its purpose.
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