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We Won't Stop Until They Do!

On April 16, 2012, human rights activists took to the streets around Capitol Hill in a spirited parade, culminating a week of trainings, workshops, music and lobbying to close the School of the Americas. Police on foot, bicycle, motorcycle and in vehicles prohibited free passage of the march, limiting SOA Watch activists abilities to be heard and seen by Congressional staff. Thirteen were arrested as they tried to lead the march down Independence Avenue in front of the Congressional buildings, but were impeded by dozens of police who blockaded their passage and expression of free speech.

Check out more photos of the march and action!

The 13 were released over 6 hours later and ironically charged with "blocking passage". Read their statements here.

Inside Congress, students, teachers, labor leaders and activists pressed their Representatives to cosponsor HR3368, the bill to suspend and investigate the SOA/WHINSEC. Amplify the voices of those who are meeting with their Members of Congress today, by calling your Representative's office in Washington, DC. Just call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard (the phone number is (202) 224-3121), provide the zip code of the place where you live, and the operator will connect you to your Representatives' office. Click here for a call script.

The weekend's conference, strategy sessions and concert brought organizers together around issues of de-militarization, joining the thousands in Cartagena, Colombia, who attended the People's Summit of the Americas.

We will not be silenced. Despite police censorship of our message, the movement to close the SOA/WHINSEC will continue to demand a closure of the School of Assassins and an end to militarization. Our efforts are fueled with the knowledge that we will prevail!

Check out more photos of the march and action!

Desde el Sur

SOA Watch activantes Marlín Rodríguez and Amanda Jordan prepared a short video piece from Chile which was aired to conference and strategy session participants.

Guatemala, Ríos Montt and the SOA PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 13 March 2012 19:24
By: Nick Alexandrov

Rios MonttThree decades after José Efraín Ríos Montt finished his coursework at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA)—where tens of thousands of Latin American soldiers have been trained in the art of violent repression; it was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001—he seized power in Guatemala, and then ripped its social fabric to shreds.  “During the 14 months of Ríos Montt’s rule, an estimated 70,000 unarmed civilians were killed or ‘disappeared;’ hundreds of thousands were internally displaced,” according to Amnesty International.  In the summer of 1982, he launched “Operation Sofia,” which destroyed 600 Mayan villages.
Pentagon Secrecy: SOA Watch Takes the Government to Court PDF Print E-mail
pentagon secrecyThe Pentagon continues to shroud its infamous School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in secrecy, but calls for transparency and accountability are getting louder.

After six years of denied Freedom of Information Act requests, in February of 2012, SOA Watch took the US government to court over its refusal to hand over the names of students and instructors at the SOA/WHINSEC. This is one more strategy to expose the myth of “benevolent” US foreign policy and end US militarization in the hemisphere. We will not stop until they do!

Over the last two decades, grassroots pressure and research has exposed more of the reality of U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America. In the 1990s, activists uncovered manuals advocating torture and the targeting of union organizers which were used at the School of the Americas for years. Since then, researchers, journalists and activists have painstakingly linked hundreds of human rights abusers to the institute.

After the renaming of the institution in 2001, the school claimed that human rights abusers would no longer be admitted for training. Researchers, however, soon exposed several cases of known human rights abusers attending WHINSEC-despite claims that the "new" school was committed to human rights.

With this new critical information, SOA Watch published a briefing paper in 2004 detailing information about human rights abusers attending the renamed institution, along with other points that made the case for the closing of WHINSEC. The organization shared this research with Congressional decision-makers. (Find the briefing paper at SOAW.org/briefing.)

In light of these condemning facts, the Pentagon was forced to respond. Instead of addressing concerns about WHINSEC continuing to train known human rights abusers and hiring instructors who were involved in criminal activity, however, in 2005 the Department of Defense simply stopped publicly releasing information about WHINSEC students and instructors.

Up to that point, SOA Watch volunteers and staff had compiled the names, course, rank, country of origin, and dates attended for every soldier and instructor at the SOA/ WHINSEC from 1946 to 2003. While continuing to claim that WHINSEC is a transparent institute, the Department of Defense has refused to release student information. The Freedom of Information Act requests made by SOA Watch since FY2005 have all been denied, illustrating WHINSEC's unwillingness to submit to oversight from the public, whose tax-payer dollars help fund the school.

The human rights community and Members of Congress have taken issue with WHINSEC's secrecy. The House of Representatives has twice passed amendments to the Defense Authorization bill demanding that the Pentagon release information about WHINSEC students to the public. In 2010, this measure was even signed into law by President Obama. WHINSEC supporters in Congress, however, managed to slip in the caveat that the Secretary of Defense could issue a waiver to ignore the public's right to know and refuse to release the information, if he "determines it to be in the national interest."

Predictably, Defense Secretary Robert Gates used the waiver to deny human rights organizations and the public access to the information.

Reports that study the effects of U.S. military training are essential resources for Congress and administration officials making decisions about foreign military training. Despite the value of transparency, openness, and the public's right to know, the Pentagon has decided to value secrecy instead, presumably to prevent further exposure of the negative impact the SOA/ WHINSEC continues to have throughout the Americas.

In a letter to President Obama in August 2011, 69 members of Congress wrote that the "rejection of public accountability and transparency is a reflection of the overall values and attitudes of the Defense Department and the WHINSEC regarding public debate about the merits of the school."

In recent years and months, SOA grads have continued to pop up in new stories and eyewitness reports across the region. Six Honduran generals were linked to the 2009 military coup in that country; four of them were trained at the School of the Americas. In 2010, the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the U.S. Office on Colombia released their groundbreaking report, "Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications," which exposes serious problems with the implementation of U.S. foreign military training. According to the report, 30 of 33 Colombian brigade and division commanders who could be identified attended one or more courses at the SOA/ WHINSEC, and their research indicates a direct connection between SOA-trained officers and high levels of extrajudicial executions.

In July 2011, an arrested leader of the Zetas drug cartel in Mexico claimed to have recruited Mexican troops trained at Fort Benning. (The Mexican Secretary of Defense has said that at least one-third of the original members of the Zetas drug cartel were ex-members of the Mexican special forces trained at the School of the Americas.)

SOA graduates are again on the offensive in the Americas. Otto Perez Molina won Guatemala's presidential elections in November 2011, and in Honduras, "Coup General" Romeo Vásquez Velásquez has announced his plan to run for president in 2013. In El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes named retired General David Munguía Payés, also an SOA graduate, as the country's new Minister of Public Security and Justice in November 2011. The legacy of the SOA/WHINSEC continues to ravage the Americas.

The research that grassroots investigators and the SOA Watch movement have done only reveals the tip of the iceberg of US militarization of the Americas.

After six years of denied Freedom of Information Act requests, in February of 2012, SOA Watch took the US government to court over its refusal to hand over the names of students and instructors at the SOA/WHINSEC. This is one more strategy to expose the myth of "benevolent" US foreign policy and end US militarization in the hemisphere. We will not stop until they do!

View the official complaint lodged by SOA Watch.

View the official complaint lodged by SOA Watch.

Uniting Our Struggles: Exposing US Militarization of Latin America Exposes the Roots of Migration PDF Print E-mail
Written by Nico Udu-gama   

border fenceIt was the mud that I first noticed as we were escorted into the holding cell at the Santa Teresita Customs and Border Patrol station. Dried mud, on the cement floor, in chunks, broken up, trails of dust; even on the hard benches, next to a small pile of woolen blankets and a muddy pair of sweatpants. Next to used apple juice containers, stacked one inside the other, which had given some small relief.

The mud in that detention center was our reminder that someone before us had endured the harsh desert conditions, seeking a better life, only to be stopped, detained and probably sent back across the border. We were released 3 hours after being detained; the charges of “entry without inspection” had been dropped. The challenges facing the previous detainees were higher. Would they try to cross again, risking imprisonment or even death in the desert? Or would they go back home, condemned to a life of poverty and violence?

Read more about the SOAW Feb 12-19 Border Delegation
Fr. Roy Bourgeois and SOA Watch Field Organizer Nico Udu-gama Arrested Following Protest at the U.S.-Mexico Border PDF Print E-mail
Written by Hendrik Voss   
Sunday, 19 February 2012 21:08
On Sunday, February 19, activists from School of the Americas Watch, Project Puente and other organizations around the border region held a vigil to call attention to the role of the US government in the militarization of Mexico and the failed War on Drugs. The vigil took place on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border at the Sunland Park-Anapra Fence. Father Roy Bourgeois and Nico Udu-gama joined the vigil on both sides of the border, and were arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol following the vigil when they left the vigil site.

Father Roy Bourgeois and Nico Udu-gama were charged with crossing the border through an unapproved entry point and were taken to the Santa Teresa Border Patrol Station in New Mexico. After several hours in custody and background checks, the Border Patrol decided to dismiss the charges and to release Father Roy and Nico in the afternoon.

The protest was the culmination of a week-long delegation of 10 people, headed by SOA Watch founder Fr. Roy Bourgeois, from across the United States, which has met with people on both sides of the border in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.

Over 60,000 people have been killed in the violence in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon deployed some 50,000 troops and federal police five years ago to confront the drug cartels. Much of this militarization has been bankrolled by the US government’s Merida Initiative, which has poured over $1.5 billion into this “war on drugs,” especially in the form of US military equipment and training. The result of this militarization has failed to curtail the flow of drug, but has caused the loss of thousands of innocent Mexican lives. The death toll in Ciudad Juarez alone is nearing 10,000.
Last Updated on Monday, 16 July 2012 19:08
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