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 2001

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 Bank.

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 new name)

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 into poverty.

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 kidnapping victim.

* 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 Results.

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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