Leftist Victories In Latin America
Create New Opportunities for SOA Opponents
by Dan Bacher
ZNet, April 29, 2005
The increasing number of leftist, populist
led governments winning elections in Latin America means a new
opportunity for Fr. Roy Bourgeois and other opponents of the School
of the Americas (SOA) to close the institution down.
The left is on an unprecedented ascendance
in Latin America. After years of suffering under U.S. backed dictatorships,
the majority of the people in South America has rejected neo-liberal
policies and are under the rule of left-leading governments. SOA
Watch, the organization started by Bourgeois, now has the chance
to ask the elected leaders of these countries to pull their troops
out of training at the school.
The triumph of Hugo Chavez's Bolivarian
revolution in Venezuela, Lula's Workers Party in Brazil, Nestor
Kirchner's populist government in Argentina, socialist President
Tabare Vasquez in Uruguay and President Ricardo Lagos in Chile
are the result of a popular upsurge by populations sick of corporate
globalization and the predations of the IMF and World Bank.
'The victory of the socialist doctor,
Tabare Vazquez, in February's elections in Uruguay has prompted
analysts and left-wing presidents to talk of a 'new South America,"
observed James Painter, BBC Latin American analyst. 'They point
out that left-leaning leaders run the big three economies of Brazil,
Argentina and Venezuela, and now predominate in most of the rest
of the region. The only exception is President Alvaro Uribe of
Colombia, who remains adamantly pro- Washington and free market
Both President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela
and President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva of Brazil did extremely
well in recent local elections. Pro-government candidates won
in 20 of Venezuela's 22 states, according to Painter. Lula's Workers
Party in Brazil won the most number of votes nationwide and doubled
the number of local councils it won in 2000 - even though it lost
Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre.
In Central America, the left is also on
The FSLN in Nicaragua controls 42 percent
of the Assembly and dominates many municipal governments.
Likewise in El Salvador, the FMLN saw
an increase in seats in the Legislature and municipal government
posts in the most recent elections, though the presidency is still
controlled by the right wing.
The focus of SOA Watch, founded by Father
Roy Bourgeois, continues to be the passage of legislation in the
U.S. Congress to close down the School of the Americas. However,
his efforts to get progressive Latin American governments to pull
their troops out of training at the 'School of the Assassins'
are already beginning to bear fruit, something that would have
been unheard of just a few years ago. A new front has been opened
in the battle to close down the SOA.
Bourgeois recently met with Hugo Chavez
of Venezuela, a country that has sent 4,000 troops to the schools.
Chavez agreed to stop sending troops to the school - a historic
moment in the long struggle to shut the institution down.
'We are very hopeful that we will get
Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil and other countries to withdraw
from participation in the school this year,' said Bourgeois at
an appearance in Sacramento in March. 'We are very encouraged
by Chavez's decision to no longer sent troops to the SOA.'
When President Lagos of Chile, a member
of the country's Socialist Party, goes to Duke University in May
to speak, Bourgeois is planning to meet with him to ask him to
withdraw Chilean troops from the school.
'For many years, the eyes of Latin America
were focused on Nicaragua,' explained Bourgeois. 'The Sandinistas
did a lot of good things, like redistribute land, conduct a literacy
campaign and empower the powerless.'
However, the United States' intervention
in Nicaragua resulted in many of the revolution's gains being
set back after the U.S. battered the population with the brutal
Contra War. The result was the loss of the presidency by Daniel
Ortega to Violetta Chamorro in 1990.
The political situation now has changed
dramatically from those bleak years right after the Sandinistas
were defeated. 'After years under the IMF and World Bank structural
adjustment policies, the people and their governments are realizing
these policies are not working and they are moving away from them.
The majority of people are poor and struggling for their survival,'
'The populist victories in Brazil, Argentina,
Venezuela and Uruguay are all about bringing poor people into
the circle and addressing the issues of poverty and health care,'
he added. 'This will cause a conflict with the people in Washington,
but these countries have the right to self-determination. Our
country has been on the wrong side, on the side of the small elite
and the corporations, rather being on the side of the people.'
The growing groundswell against U.S. military
and economic domination makes this year a key time to get the
U.S. to close down the SOA. 'We must close down the SOA because
it provides the muscle for U.S. foreign policy and protects the
economic interests of the corporate giants,' said Bourgeois. In
March, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) reintroduced legislation in the
109th Congress to suspend operations of the School of the Americas
(now renamed - WHINSEC - the Western Hemisphere Institute for
HR 1217, "The Latin America Military
Training Review Act of 2005," had 78 bi-partisan introductory
co- sponsors -- thanks to intense lobbying efforts by activists
during the February Lobby Day and National Call-in Day by SOA
Watch. The bill currently has 100 bi-partisan co-sponsors, which
are listed at the bottom of the page.
The School of the Americas has trained
a majority of the dictators and military officers responsible
for the killing, massacre and torture of hundreds of thousands
of people in Latin America. Many of the soldiers and officers
responsible for the Guatemalan Genocide of the 1980's, where over
200,000 people were killed and 637 Mayan villages were wiped off
the face of the map, were SOA graduates.
Of the 28 soldiers involved in the slaughter
of the 9 Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter at the Central
American University in November 1989, 19 were SOA graduates.
Since SOA Watch has been demonstrating
at Fort Benning, 200 courageous activists have been jailed, spending
a total of 85 years in federal prison. Sacramento's own Leisa
Barnes last year completed a six-month sentence in the women's
federal prison in Dublin for participation in the protest at the
SOA in November 2003.
'We will keep coming back to Fort Benning
until we shut the SOA down," said Bourgeois. 'We will again
demonstrate at the school on November 19 to 20 this year.'
Please take the time to call your Congress
Member by DC office by calling the Capitol Hill Switchboard (202-224-3121)
and ask them to support Rep. Jim McGovern's HR 1217. For more
information, contact SOA Watch at http://www.soaw.org.
Here is a suggested message for you to
convey: "I am calling Congressman/woman ________ to remind
him/her that Rep. Jim McGovern has introduced HR 1217, The Latin
America Military Training Review Act of 2005, which would suspend
and investigate the School of the Americas, which now uses the
acronym WHINSEC. I urge the Congressman/woman to contact Rep.
McGovern's office to become a cosponsor of this bipartisan bill.
This would be one very concrete step to support human rights and
promote peace and justice for the people of Latin America."
Dan Bacher is an outdoor writer, alternative
journalist and satirical song writer from Sacramento, California.
He is editor of the Central America Connection and contributes
to numerous publications and websites, including Dissident Voice,
CounterPunch, Because People Matter and the Sacramento News &
Index of Website