Talking Points to close the SOA/WHINSEC Print
What is the School of the Americas?

The SOA is a military training school for Latin American security personnel. Its graduates are continually implicated in human rights violations against civilian populations across Latin America. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated the use of torture, extortion and execution.

The SOA was founded in 1946, and since its opening, has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers and police in courses ranging from commando tactics to military intelligence, psychological operations and counter-insurgency warfare.

In December 2000 Congress authorized the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC to replace the SOA. The renaming of the school was widely viewed as an attempt to diffuse public criticism and to disassociate the school from its reputation. The underlying purpose of the school remains the same: to control the economic and political systems of Latin America by training and influencing Latin American militaries.

The SOA is part of a corporate-hijacked foreign policy that's making us a lot of enemies. If we want lasting peace and security we need a foreign policy that reflects our values of justice, democracy and dignity.

You can't spread democracy through the barrel of a gun.

Pentagon officials claim that the SOA is bringing democracy to Latin America, but history has shown time and again that you can't spread democracy through the barrel of a gun. All U.S. backed military interventions in Latin America have led to the overthrowing of democratically elected governments.

If we want lasting peace and security we need a foreign policy that reflects our values of justice, democracy and dignity.

The US sends millions of dollars in military aid to Colombia each year, and human rights violations and atrocities continue. People need bread not bullets.

The realities of host countries create situations where atrocities will only continue, fueled in part by billions US military aid and training. For instance, Colombia, with over 10,000 trooops trained at the SOA, is the school's largest customer. In 2004, Colombia sent an estimated 337 students to WHINSEC (out of 811 total), while having the worst human rights record in the Western Hemisphere. According to the State Department's Country Report on Human Rights Practices for Colombia in the year 2003, "The Government's human rights record remained poor. Impunity remained at the core of the country's human rights problems, evidence suggested there were tacit arrangements between local military officers and paramilitary groups."

The Abuses Continue

An October 22, 2003 article in The Brownsville Herald (TX) reported that the notorious Gulf Drug Cartel has hired 31 ex-Mexican soldiers to be part of its hired assassin force, The Zetas. According to the Mexican secretary of defense, at least 1/3 of these deserters were trained at the SOA as part of the elite Special Air Mobile Force Group. Their highly specialized and dangerous weapons, training, and intelligence capabilities are now being used to increase the availability of the drugs and terrorize the region. The Mexican attorney general's office implicates them in dozens of shootouts, kidnappings and executions of police officers.

Colombia, with over 10,000 troops trained at the SOA, is the school's largest customer. Not surprisingly, Colombia currently has the worst human rights record in the Western Hemisphere. Human Rights Watch's February 2000 Report on the Colombian military implicates seven SOA graduates in 1999 crimes including kidnapping, murder, massacres and setting up paramilitary groups.

In April 2002 two SOA grads - Army Commander in Chief Efrain Vasquez and General Ramirez Poveda - helped lead a failed coup in Venezuela. Additionally, Otto Reich, who sat on the renamed school's Board of Visitors, met with the generals in the months preceding the coup. During the coup Reich advised business leader Pedro Carmona, who seized the presidency. In June Colombian police arrested SOA grad John Fredy Jimenez for the murder of Archbishop Isaias Duarte in March.

In February of 2005, eight civilians were massacred in San Jose Peace Community in Apartado, Colombia. Eyewitnesses report that members of the 17th Brigade of the Colombian military were occupying the area at the time of the gruesome murders. That brigade is commanded by an SOA grad, General Hector Jaime Fandino Rincon. Click here for more info.

In January 2000, SOA graduate and former head of Guatemala's notorious D-2 Intelligence Unit, Col. Lima Estrada, was arrested for the brutal murder of human rights champion Bishop Juan Gerardi on April 26, 1998.

The 1998 and 1999 US State Department Reports on Human Rights in Colombia provide information implicating SOA graduates in abuses including a 1997 massacre, an illegal raid on a human rights group in 1998, and involvement in kidnapping and murder in 1999.

None of the fundamental issues raised around the need to close the SOA have been addressed

Training methods, lack of oversight, the school's record of training known human rights abusers and graduating a crop of newly trained abusers: none of these fundamental issues has been addressed.

Despite attempts to distance itself from its notorious history, WHINSEC has virtually the same mission, curriculum and oversight practices as the "closed" SOA. No commission was established to review and re-think the curriculum or methods or any other aspect of the School, and no problem with past methods or results was ever truly admitted. The name change was an effort to silence opposition to the school without accepting and responsibility for wrongdoing.

In its report Unmatched Power, Unmet Principles, Amnesty International states that changes at the SOA/ WHINSEC "do not absolve the US government of responsibility for identifying and prosecuting those responsible for past human rights violations perpetrated by the SOA, including past and current US Army officials responsible for having drafted, approved, or taught with manuals that advocate illegal tactics such as torture." The report states that "the US government should take immediate steps to establish an independent commission to investigate the past activities of the SOA and its graduates, particularly the use of these manuals in SOA training and the impact of such training."

Abolish it!

The first step toward justice and true accountability is to close the school. Then a truth commission will need to be installed to explore the full scope of SOA atrocities, and following that we'll need to talk about reparations for the thousands of victims in Latin America.

The SOA is no more reformable than slavery. Some institutions are so vile that they must be deliberately and dramatically repudiated and abolished. Abolishing the SOA/ WHINSEC would have enormous symbolic meaning for Latin Americans, signaling the beginnings of accountability and a lessening of US hegemonic aspirations.

Without abolition, SOA/ WHINSEC would revert to its more grotesque and unencumbered forms of training as soon as there was no longer public pressure and scrutiny. A gangster's acquiring an alias and some plastic surgery is no insurance against further racketeering.

Democracy and Human Rights

There has yet to be a truth commission to investigate the SOA's role in fostering the crimes against humanity of its graduates. The authors of the torture manuals, and their chain of command, have yet to be indicted, much less prosecuted. No effort has been made to provide reparations to the victims of SOA grads or to their survivors. In the absence of these critical steps, it is obvious that the SOA's human rights rhetoric is nothing more than a public relations smokescreen.