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The School of the Americas
Tries to Hide with a Name Change
by Sarah Nelson, Chicago Greens
It was a hot, sunny Chicago afternoon on Wednesday, May 24, 2000, and a coalition of groups including SOA Watch Illinois and the Chicago Greens were picketing at the downtown Federal Plaza. Not only was it hot outside, but apparently the covert operators and assassins trained at the US Army School of the Americas (SOA) in Ft. Benning, Georgia were starting to feel the heat as well. That is why we were participating in this National Day of Nonviolent Action
As stated in the flyer distributed by the coalition,During its 54-year history, the SOA has readied over 60,000 Latin American troops in commando tactics, military intelligence, psychological operations and combat skills. In 1996, the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the SOA. These manuals advocated torture, execution, and blackmail. SOA graduates have been responsible for massacres and assassinations throughout Latin America. Among the groups targeted are those who
- do union organizing or recruiting
- distribute propaganda in favor of the interest of workers
- sympathize with demonstrators or strikes
- make accusations that the government has failed to meet the basic needs of people.
On May 18, 2000, the US House of Representatives approved the Pentagon plan to close the US Army School of the Americas, and reopen it with a new name at the same location, with the same instructors and same counterinsurgency courses as before. The new name proposed is the Defense Institute for Hemispheric Security Cooperation. Seeking to overturn this name-change provision in the Defense Authorizations Bill, Rep. Joe Moakley (D-MA) offered an amendment to close the SOA. The Moakley amendment failed by 10 votes: 204 to 214.
Why is the Pentagon resorting to name change subterfuge? Because we are being heard and are having an impact. Last May, after thousands of us demonstrated and participated in civil disobedience outside the Pentagon, the House of Representatives voted to cut off all funding for the School of the Americas. Although it failed in the Senate, that House vote was a wake up call to the sinister operators at the SOA. Even the late Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-GA) called the name change "cosmetic"-a way to allow the SOA to "continue its purpose." Moakley says it's "like pouring perfume on a toxic dump." Having grown up in Chicago, my gut instinct is that it is just like when criminals take on aliases, so when the cops catch them, they can conceal their true identity and purpose. The SOA criminals realize the public is waking up to the crimes against humanity committed with their tax dollars and in their name.
The reasons for attending these demonstrations can be summarized by the statement issued by the A16 SOA Watch affinity group and emblazoned on the back of their T-shirts at the demonstrations in Washington DC in April, 2000:Economic oppression and military repression are flip sides of the same globalization coin. The economic rape of the poor that accompanies globalization could not stand without the repressive military apparatus that brutalizes people who rise up to resist. Those who oppose the globalization of greed and those who work to end US training of repressive foreign armies are joined in one effort.
"Those who oppose the globalization of greed and those who work to end US training of repressive foreign armies are joined in one effort."
In 1998 I picked up a video at the SOA demonstration entitled "School of the Americas: An Insider Speaks Out!" At the same time, the insider portrayed in this video, Major Joseph Blair, came on stage at the demonstration and candidly spoke about his 12 years as a Latin American Military Specialist and three years as an SOA instructor. He gave compelling testimony about the covert activities and training at the SOA. As revealed in the video:
The SOA trains more than 1,000 soldiers from Latin America each year in combat skills which are used with deadly efficiency against their own civilian populations. Supported by millions of taxpayer dollars, the SOA has graduated more than 500 known human rights abusers, including despotic dictators, drug traffickers and many responsible for the massacre of entire villages.
Major Blair candidly added: "the SOA was the best place a Latin American officer could go to launder his drug money."
Hundreds of newspapers, magazines and television commentators have written editorials calling for the closure of the school. Traditionally conservative papers in my own home town, such as the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times have called for its closing.
More and more, people I speak to during my everyday life are making the connections. They see, for instance, that billions of tax dollars are going to the IMF to prop up burdensome "juice" loans made by private banks to these Latin American countries and their dictators. They see that these dictators were kept in place by military, economic and covert funds and training provided by the US. In some instances, although the dictators were thrown out, the loans remain. They read articles based on declassified files that show the US SOA trained assassins that murdered thousands, including Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and Bishop Juan Gerardi of Guatemala. Bishop Gerardi was beaten to death with a concrete block days after announcing the release of a major human rights report. That report detailed the murders, torture and crimes against humanity committed by the former government of Guatemala.
For those who are interested in joining the annual vigil and Civil Disobedience at the SOA on November 18-19, 2000 contact the websites below:
SOA Watch http://www.soaw.org/
Jubilee 2000 http://www.j2000usa.org/
Public Citizen http://www.citizen.org/pctrade/
WTO Watch http://www.wtowatch.org/
Third World Network http://www.twnside.org.sg/
50 Years is Enough! http://www.50years.org/