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What is the SOA?
The School of the Americas (SOA), renamed “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation” (WHINSEC) in 2001, is an institute that trains Latin American soldiers in military operations. SOA/WHINSEC graduates have participated in some of the worst human rights atrocities Latin America has ever experienced, including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. The SOA has left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned. Victims of SOA graduates include the tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and those forced to become refugees.
History of the SOA:
The school was originally established by the U.S. in the Panama Canal Zone in 1946. In 1984, the school moved to Fort Benning, Georgia due to terms in the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” Since its beginning, the institution has instructed more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics.
The Pentagon itself has acknowledged that in the past the School of the Americas utilized training manuals advocating coercive interrogation techniques and extrajudicial executions. After receiving their training at the institution, officers went on to commit countless human rights atrocities in countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Colombia.
Activists long lobbied Congress to shut down the school, and in the waning days of the Clinton presidency they nearly achieved their goal. In July 1999, the House passed an amendment that cut funding for the military institution, but the Senate decided to pass its own version of the bill that included funding. Compromise legislation between the House and Senate deleted the funding cut, effectively restoring public support for the school. Shortly afterwards Congress renamed the school Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) and revised the institution’s structure and curriculum. Although the curriculum is said to differ from the past, the teachers remain the same. Most of these teachers have graduated from the ‘former’ school and have been known themselves for human rights abuses.
Over decades that the school has been teaching, the graduates of the school have been killing. The people of Latin America have been in fear for their lives and their children’s lives. To learn more about specific massacres and to see who has been victimized, please look at the following links:
- Segovia Massacre, Colombia
- The Dead: Victims at El Mozote and Nearby Villages
- The 1989 University of Central America Massacre
What can I do?
SOA Vigil: After a brutal killing in 1989 of 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter at the University of Central America, Jesuit priests took a stand to stop the massacres occurring throughout Latin America. After research, it was found that nineteen of the military officers cited for the atrocity received training at the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). This brutality began the vigil that takes place every year at Fort Benning, Georgia. Through a nonviolent protest and vigil each November, thousands gather at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, where WHINSEC is housed, to show their opposition to this violence and to support a peaceful and just foreign policy. This past November, UD students joined over 20,000 others to instill peace in the world.
Legislation: The Latin America Military Training Review Act, HR 2989, that will suspend operations at the SOA/WHINSEC, investigate torture manuals and human rights abuses associated with the school, and conduct an assessment of military training in Latin America has been reintroduced by Jim McGovern on May 21, 2009. To take action contact your Representative and ask them to cosponsor HR 2989.
Lobby Days: Every April, SOA Watch has Lobby Days in Washington, DC for a long weekend, generally from Saturday to Monday. Workshops are provided Saturday and Sunday on grassroots lobby training along with other helpful information on the issue. Throughout the day on Monday, those who participate meet with and lobby Congress.