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Mexico Practices What the School of the Americas Teaches PDF Print E-mail
Consistently the countries with the worst human rights record have sent the most students to the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) during the heyday of repression. Given that history, it is no coincidence that Mexico became the largest country client of the SOA after the 1994 Zapatista uprising.

In the first 49 years of the School, Mexico sent very few students (766 total) to be trained at the SOA. That number escalated sharply in 1996 and rose to 315 in 1997 - 1/3 of the graduating class. Proponents of the SOA claimed that this training was necessary because of Mexico's increased involvement in the "War on Drugs". However, that was just a smokescreen. The truth is that in 1997, only 10% of the Mexican students took counter- narcotic courses. The rest took the standard counter-insurgency classes. In 1999 not one soldier from Mexico took counter-narcotic-courses but 40 of them took military intelligence.

Graduates of the SOA have played a key role in the civilian targeted warfare in the states of Chiapas, Guerrero, and Oxaca. At least 18 top military officials involved in the conflict are SOA graduates. e.g. Gen. Jose Ruben Rivas Pena, who took the SOA's elite "Commando and Staff" course authored the army?s "Campaign Plan Chiapas 94" which calls for the "training and support for self-defense forces and other paramilitary organizations."

In the "First Declaration of the Selva Lacandona" from Mexico's Zapatista Army, the General Command of the EZLN called for "summary trials against the soldiers of the Mexican Federal Army and the political police who have received courses and have been advised, trained, or paid by foreigners ... "

With millions of dollars in US military aid and training, Mexico has undergone a massive militarization over the past decade.


While it is impossible to know how many US-trained officers are participating in counterinsurgency operations, some evidence can be gleaned by checking SOA enrollment lists against press reports of military operations. The headquarters of the Mexican Army's 31st Military Zone, located at Rancho Nuevo near San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas, had a kind of SOA class reunion feel to it when Zapatistas rose up in arms on December 31, 1993. Three of the army generals there - Gaston Menchaca Arias, commander of the Military Zone, Miguel Leyva Garcia, and Enrique Alonso Garrido- were all SOA alumni. Menchaca Arias and Leyva Garcia had been classmates at the SOA back in 1971.

However, Gen. Menchaca, who as a captain in 1971 when he studied "irregular warfare" at SOA, probably won't be the school's poster boy for military expertise. As the Zapatista Army was taking control of San Cristobal in the early morning hours of January 1, 1994, Concepcion Villafuerte of the San Cristobal newspaper El Tiempo, called the Commander at 1:45 am to ask him why there were so many armed people in the town. The US-trained specialist replied: "I don't know. Aren't they just people celebrating New Year's?" As the fighting continued in early January of 1994, another SOA grad, Gen. Juan Lopez Ortiz, was sent into Chiapas with troops under his command from the states of Campeche and Tabasco. In a 1994 interview with the Mexican magazine Impacto, this SOA grad called the EZLN "very criminal people [who] dare to call themselves an army while they send people to their deaths, armed with wooden rifles; when they use innocent people as human shields and they cover their faces with ski masks." Lopez Ortiz had first made a name for himself in 1974 fighting the Partido de los Pobres (Party of the Poor) in the mountains of the Mexican state of Guerrero. That infamous campaign left hundreds of peasants "disappeared." In 1994, the troops he commanded in the town of Ocosingo massacred suspected Zapatistas in the town's market; the prisoners' hands were tied behind their backs before the soldiers shot them in the back of the head.

The February 1995 invasion by the Mexican army of territory controlled by the EZLN brought another SOA grad onto the scene. Gen. Manuel Garcia Ruiz (SOA Class of 1980-the same year and course as Gen. Garrido), boasted to journalists of the army's "humanitarian" work in the aftermath of the invasion of the Lacandona jungle. According to the Mexican news weekly Proceso: "Brigadier Gen. Manuel Garcia Ruiz, with a diploma from the General Staff, was ordered to occupy Nuevo Momon, one of the Zapatista strongholds; on Friday, February 10, Lieut. Col. Hugo Manterola was killed in circumstances that still haven't been cleared up." Testimony compiled by the press states that there was an exchange of gunfire, which lasted approximately 10 minutes, between government and Zapatista soldiers. Gen. Garcia Ruiz's official version, however, denies that a confrontation occurred and claims that Manterola was the victim of a sniper.

Chiapas has also reportedly suffered the presence of a group of mercenaries from Argentina who were sent to the infamous 31st Military Zone in July of 1994 to help the Mexican Army perfect its counterinsurgency tactics. These same Argentines have worked for the CIA in the past in training US-backed death squads in Honduras led by SOA graduate Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez.

Excerpt from "Mexico Practices What the School of the Americas Teaches" by Darrin Wood.

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