COLUMBUS, GA – November 11 – Thousands are planning to take nonviolent direct action to close what they call a terrorist training camp on U.S. soil – the School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHISC), a combat-training school for Latin American soldiers. On November 22-23 thousands will gather at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia, site of the school, to expose a double standard. SOA grads continue to be implicated in egregious acts designed to terrorize and coerce civilian populations throughout Latin America.
The gathering will culminate on Sunday, November 23 with a solemn “funeral” procession to the gates of Ft. Benning. Many will negotiate a barbed-wire fence to enter the military base in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. Since protests against SOA-WHISC began over ten years ago, over 170 people served or are now serving federal prison sentences for civil disobedience.
The weekend’s program will feature music and speakers from Latin and North America, including Pete Seeger; Llajtasuyo; Francisco Herrera; Jon Fromer; Amy Goodman from Democracy Now!; Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking; Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness; Bob King, VP of the United Auto Workers International; and many others.
SOA graduates return to their countries to utilize their training domestically and are consistently cited for atrocities against their own people. Critics say President Bush used this same argument against Saddam Hussein to leverage an invasion of Iraq, while ignoring U.S. culpability in gross human rights violations throughout Latin America. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others working for human rights and economic justice. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared”, massacred, and forced into refuge by SOA graduates.
There has never been an impact-assessment of the training offered at the school. SOA-trained soldiers have returned to their countries to commit atrocities, both as soldiers and as renegades, forming paramilitaries, death squads and drug trafficking operations. A few weeks ago the Mexican Secretary of Defense revealed that SOA-trained ex-soldiers, once part of an elite Mexican army division, are now working as highly trained hired assassins for the Gulf Cartel.
Organizers of the convergence in Georgia are working in solidarity and coordinating with organizers of the protests to oppose the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in Miami (Nov. 19-21). Critics of the SOA/WHISC argue that the school’s underlying purpose is to clear the way for U.S. corporate interests.
“The SOA is part of a corporate-hijacked foreign policy that’s making us a lot of enemies,” said Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch. “If we want lasting peace and security we need a foreign policy that reflects our values of justice and democracy.”