What is the School of the Americas?
The School of the Americas (SOA), in 2001 renamed the ‘Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Initially established in Panama in 1946, it was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President, Jorge lllueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” The SOA, frequently dubbed the “School of Assassins,” has left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned. Some graduates served as bloody dictators in Panama, Argentina, Peru, and Bolivia. SOA graduates participated in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and in the massacre of 900 civilians at El Mozote, also in El Salvador.
Over its 57 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been and continue to be tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins.
SOA trains the military muscle to enforce exploitative economic policies
A recent Pentagon report to Congress states that combat training at the SOA supports US policy towards Latin America which “Seeks to develop stable, free market democracies throughout the region.” The mission of the US Southern Command (encompassing the SOA) includes “…protecting the supply of strategic natural resources and access to the markets.” From its beginning, the mission of the SOA has been to train soldiers to protect the interests of multinational corporations and maintain the economic status quo for the few rich and powerful in the US and their cohorts in Latin America. SOA graduates use their skills consistently against community organizers, unionists and others who are a potential threat to corporate interest.
Economic Oppression & Military Repression: Flip Sides of the Same Coin
Economic oppression and military repression are flip sides of the same coin. The economic rape of the poor that accompanies corporate 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.
Multinational corporations and the wealthy elites in North and Latin America are the very ones for whose interest terrorist training camps like the School of the Americas (SOA) exist. SOA graduates are trained to kill Latin American people who are resisting the same economic policies, power structures and corporations that we are struggling against here in the United States.
The example of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) shows that “free” trade agreements, such as the pending CAFTA Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will sharpen social inequalities and provoke resistance. Hours after NAFTA went into effect, indigenous communities in Mexico rose up to say “¡Ya Basta! - Enough is Enough!” The Mexican military responded swiftly and forcefully with troops, helicopters and artillery to squash the resistance.
At least 18 high-level Mexican officers involved in the ongoing civilian-targeted warfare campaign in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oaxaca were trained at the SOA. The voices, of and for the poor, represented by the Zapatistas and others – like Bishop Ruiz from the San Cristobal Diocese – threaten the powerful and wealthy. Corresponding to the growing economic justice movement in Mexico, the numbers of Mexican soldiers being trained at the SOA rapidly escalated.
Over 10,000 Colombian soldiers have been trained at the SOA. Their names consistently top the lists of perpetrators in human rights reports from and about Colombia.
• Banana workers murdered: 20 striking banana workers were brutally murdered. Eight of the 11 Colombian military officers cited for the slayings were SOA grads.
• Workers assassinated: SOA trained Capt. Tomas Monroy Roncanico was convicted of detaining six workers and slitting their throats.
• Union members targeted: Unionists Maria Gomez and Miguel Quintanilla were two of the labor leaders targeted for torture and murder by members of the Colombian Air Force. SOA grad, Juan Raffael Bustillo, commanded the troops cited.
• Labor leader assassinated: The assassination of Union leader Manuel Gustavo Chacon Sarmiento in broad daylight incited five days of strikes and confrontations between military and civilians. SOA-trained Capt. Cenen Dario Jimenez Leon was cited in the assassination.
The US has pledged $1.3 billion in aid to Colombia (which will primarily be paid to US weapons manufacturers and chemical corporations) in the form of military training, helicopters, and fumigation related expenses — as a part of “Plan Colombia.” This plan, known throughout Colombia as “Plan Death,” has already resulted in countless human rights atrocities and has had serious ecological ramifications. Although “Plan Colombia” is promoted as an initiative against drugs, the Plan clearly provides the military backing for the exploitation of the poor and Colombia’s resources by multinational corporations.
To learn more about “Plan Colombia” visit http://afsc.org/colombiaoil/