Students for Social Justice Support Closing School of the Americas Print
Thursday, 26 April 2007 00:00
Thousands of people, including 15 Fairfield students and four faculty members, gathered in Fort Benning, Ga., on a warm Sunday afternoon last November.

One street was flooded with people of all ages and backgrounds. People in the crowd played with instruments in the middle of the road, and hundreds of others sold clothing, gifts and food on the side.

An observer may have thought there was a parade, bazaar or party going on. These people were not here for any of these reasons, however. They were protesting the School of the Americas (SOA).

SOA closed in 2000 because of a pending vote in Congress, but it was reopened as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001.

Despite WHINSEC's claim to have changed its curriculum to focus more on human rights, this does not seem to be the case.

The school, which started in 1946, trains soldiers from numerous Latin American and South American countries including El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala.

Although this may sound harmless, these people receive sniper training, military intelligence training and interrogation tactics training.

Multiple SOA graduates have returned to their home countries and committed atrocities against their own people.

Students for Social Justice is making an effort to close WHINSEC. The club contacted Connecticut Representative Christopher Shays, who co-sponsored the bill as a result of their efforts. However, a student does not have to be in the club to make a difference.

Two examples of the many atrocities SOA grads have committed occurred in El Salvador and Guatemala.

In 1980, two of the three murderers of El Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero were SOA graduates. Romero was an advocate of peace and justice for the poor of El Salvador.

General Efrain Rios Montt, the brutal dictator of Guatemala from 1982 to 1983, trained at the SOA as well. Montt's regime tortured and murdered innocent Mayan peasants throughout the years he was in power. Sadly, these are only two of many incidents that involve SOA graduates.

Anyone comparing the SOA and WHINSEC curriculum, which is available at the School of America Watch Web site and the Center for International Policy (, would find no change regarding human rights instruction and the mission and purpose of the schools.

There is no way of knowing recent information about WHINSEC graduates because despite demands by Congress, the Pentagon is denying all requests to provide information about students and graduates to human rights organizations and the public.

Steps are being taken, however, by members of Congress to investigate WHINSEC. In June of 2006, Congress voted on Massachusetts Representative James McGovern's legislation, HR 1217, a bill that would "suspend operations at the School of the Americas, renamed WHINSEC and investigate the history of human rights abuses and failed policies of the institution."

The bill lost by a close margin, 218 to 188, with 26 no votes, but because of the mid-term elections in November 2006, over 20 WHINSEC supporters lost their seats. On March 29, 2007 McGovern reintroduced the same bill, this time entitled HR 1707.

The vote for this bill could take place as early as the first week of May. With all the changes in Congress, WHINSEC could be closed this year.

This week, Students for Social Justice will be having a campus-wide letter-writing campaign urging Congress to support HR 1707.

Students can stop by the table and sign a letter telling Congress that the effects of the gross human rights violations made by WHINSEC graduates are felt across the Americas.

Editor's Note: Kristin Villanueva is a member of Students for Social Justice.