Agnes Brien: Close the 'School of Americas'
10:03 PM, Dec 14, 2012
Members of the School of Americas Watch movement have gathered each November for more than 20 years at the gates of Fort Benning, Ga., to call for the closing of the school located within, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. In addition to thousands of students, veterans, union leaders, parents and grandparents from across the United States (along with members from SOA Watch Canada), representatives from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Costa Rica and Chile joined in the plea to “Close the SOA!”
This was my 10th year attending the gathering.
SOA/WHINSEC is located inside Fort Benning, instructing Latin American military and police personnel in courses such as military intelligence and counter-narcotics operations. Classes in leadership development, counter-drug operations and disaster relief are also offered. When the school changed its name from SOA to WHINSEC, it emphasized this new approach to human rights through a required eight hours of “Democracy and Human Rights” training.
The same human rights atrocities continue to occur in Latin America at the hands of graduates, despite the name change. At least 11 Latin American dictators have been graduates of the school since its inception in 1946. The US Department of Defense budgets $18 million yearly for this institute. There is an additional $28 million included in the new budget for a new training campus.
But there is reason to celebrate. In 2012, two additional Latin American countries, Ecuador and Nicaragua, have joined four other countries, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Venezuela, in removing their countrymen from WHINSEC. Each of these countries’ leaders was influenced by representatives from the School of Americas Watch team. Dairy farmers, teachers, journalists and musicians joined the team when they met with Ecuadorian President Correa and Nicaraguan President Ortega.