Latin America Hopes that Obama Closes the School of the Americas Print

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In the context of Obama's visit to Brazil, Chile and El Salvador from March 19-23, the international movement SOA Watch calls for the closure of the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA / WHINSEC).

"Obama has to listen to us and he can still do something, for example, like closing the School of the Americas through an executive order, and that is what we expect from him," said Pablo Ruiz, representative of SOA Watch.

During his visit to the region, organizations hope that Obama will commit to closing down the School of the Americas, where, over more than sixty years, over 61,000 Latin American soldiers have been trained in courses such as combat techniques, commando tactics, military intelligence and torture techniques.

According to reports on the website of this human rights defense organization, hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, murdered, disappeared, massacred and forced into exile by soldiers and officers trained in the school.

"SOA graduates pursue educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and the poor and peasants fighting for the rights of victims," the organization reports.

SOA Watch is a movement created in early 1990, following the slaughter of six Jesuit priests of the UCA (University of Central America, El Salvador), Julia Elba Ramos and her daughter, Celina, on November 16, 1989, in San Salvador.

A US Congressional
special committee declared that those responsible for the massacre were trained at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, located in Columbus, Georgia, as were those involved in the assassination of Monsignor Romero and American Maryknoll and Ursuline nuns in 1980.

SOA is a Symbol of U.S. Intervention

"The military dictatorships were not just a crazy idea of some soldiers in Latin America; most of the military dictatorships were propitiated and promoted by the
United States government," said Ruiz, who is also member of the Ethics Commission Against Torture in Santiago, Chile.

He warned that the coup in Honduras in June, 2009, was led by two soldiers from the School of the Americas, and that while El Salvador has a progressive government, at any minute could
suffer a coup d'etat if it strays from the policies of the United States: "we are not surprised if one is already being prepared."

"In October 2009, we tried to meet with President Funes to express our concern that El Salvador continues to send soldiers to the SOA; unfortunately we could not coordinate the meeting with him, but we did met with the (political party of the) FMLN" Ruiz told.

In 1996, SOA Watch reported that they found manuals which directly advised soldiers at the school to torture prisoners.

"For us, the School of the Americas remains a symbol of U.S. intervention. The U.S. government has multiple mechanisms of action, the CIA and the School of the Americas being among the most important, "he added.

In 1993, the
United Nations Truth Commission reported on officials responsible for the worst atrocities committed during the brutal civil war in El Salvador.

More than two thirds of the officers named had been trained at the School of the Americas. These crimes include the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero; the El Mozote massacre in 1980, with more than 900 deaths; the killing of labor leaders at the Sheraton Hotel; the Lake Suchitlán massacre in 1983, with 117 deaths; the Los Llanitos massacre in 1984, with 68 deaths; among others.

Obama Must Hear the Voices of the Victims

"We still have some hope with President Obama, he needs to hear our voices, the voices of Latin America, the voices of people who have suffered violence because of the training that the United States gives to Latin American soldiers," said the SOA Watch

In the case of Chile, the group has requested a meeting with President Obama.  The U.S. embassy answered the request, saying that they "would consider, but Obama has a very busy agenda."

The petition is backed by Rep. Jiménez, whose parents were killed by a graduate of the SOA. "[Rep. Jimenez]" will accompany us in the meeting, if one is given, and if President Obama is willing to meet with human rights organizations," remarked Ruiz.

SOA Watch in Chile is composed of a group of family members of assasinated politicians, the Ethics Committee Against Torture, the Oscar Romero
Committee (which works in Santiago and elsewhere in Latin America) and other groups.

Pablo Ruiz reiterated their call for President Obama to meet with victims groups and not just with the leaders of Latin American countries.

"We invite President Obama to meet with COMADRES of El Salvador, with the victims of torture in Brazil and the families of murdered activists here in Santiago; voices of Latin America have something important to say - to ask him to order the close the School of the Americas, "he said.

ILEA is a Danger to Democracy in Latin America

Ruiz also commented on the danger posed by the International Law Enforcement
Academy (ILEA), which is based in San Salvador,  under the auspices and guidance of the United States.

"I understand that the UCA is giving human rights courses at ILEA, but in no way does that ensure that the ILEA is really a school that promotes democracy," he said.

Mainly because U.S. notions to fight social movements go above the respect for human rights, and that is transmitted in any training that the US provides, said Ruiz.

In the first week of February, the Argentine foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, reported that police officers receive training in "torture" and "coup techniques" at the ILEA - where some judges and prosecutors also train -, and compared it to the School of the Americas.

Both the Salvadoran authorities and the Director of the ILEA denied this. However, the SOA Watch representative stated that "the U.S. is not a good example for our police forces, much less our miltary."



Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 March 2011 15:48