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Home News Press Releases 10,000 Gather at the gates of Ft. Benning Military Base to Close the US Army School of the Americas
10,000 Gather at the gates of Ft. Benning Military Base to Close the US Army School of the Americas PDF Print E-mail
Over 10,000 people from all over the Americas gathered at the gates of Ft. Benning today to demand the closure of the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA). Over 3,600 risked arrest by crossing onto the base in a massive act of civil disobedience. Of those, more than 2,100 were arrested and processed, including clergy, students, veterans, grandparents . They were given letters banning and barring them from entering the base for five years. The protesters were taken to local parks and released. The last bus load of protesters was released shortly before midnight.

The civil disobedience began Sunday morning as over 3,400 people "crossed the line" onto the base in a solemn funeral procession, carrying thousands of crosses and other sacred symbols inscribed with the names of victims of SOA violence in Latin America. They were led by a group dressed in black shrouds and white death masks who carried coffins to commemorate the assassination of six Jesuit priests and their two co-workers in El Salvador in 1989 by SOA graduates. When met by military police a half mile inside the gate, the lead group fell to the ground, reenacting a massacre. They were among the first to be carried away by the military police.

Once the entire first procession had completely crossed the line, 32 additional activists, dressed as campesinos and soldiers, crossed the line and staged a massacre by Colombian paramilitaries. They were taken into custody by military police as well.

Then a second procession of 200 activists with giant puppets, costumes and drums entered the base. Other affinity groups entered simultaneously through different entrances and engaged in various creative actions of nonviolent resistance, such as street-theater and the blocking of the road with their bodies. Dozens of activists planted corn in Ft. Benning soil as a symbol of life and hope.

In Chiapas, Mexico 300 members of the civil society group Las Abejas fasted and prayed simultaneously with the Georgia action. At great personal risk, Mexican human rights activists planted corn in soil at a military camp in Chiapas in a coordinated symbolic action.

Despite drenching rain and cold, the thousands gathered were dancing in the streets to the music of acclaimed musician Bruce Cockburn, folk legend Pete Seeger, the Andean group Llajtasuyo and others. Speakers from Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, and elsewhere in Latin America gave powerful testimonies. Actor Martin Sheen, who plays the President of the United States on the TV show "West Wing," received enormous applause when he stated "as acting President of the United States, I declare that the School of the Americas must be closed immediately." Sheen was among those arrested Sunday afternoon.T

The SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American military in skills including psychological operations, military intelligence, and counterinsurgency operations. The SOA costs U.S. tax payers millions annually. Hundreds of SOA graduates have been among the worst human rights violators in our hemisphere, including those responsible for the execution of six Jesuit priests, the rape and murder of four U.S. church women, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, and the massacre of over 900 civilians at El Mozote.

Recently,both Colombia and Chiapas, Mexico have been targeted for massive U.S. military aid and counterinsurgency training. Colombia has more SOA graduates (10,000) than any other nation. Paramilitary death squads are a key element of civilian targeted warfare as it is taught at the SOA. In Colombia, former Defense Minister Gen. Harold Bedoya, SOA graduate and guest instructor, has advocated the use of paramilitaries for years. In Chiapas, Gen. Jose Ruben Rivas Pena, who took the elite Command and General Staff course at the SOA, has also called for the use of paramilitaries. Paramilitaries, in collaboration with the Colombian and Mexican militaries, are now cited for the vast majority of human rights abuses in these conflicts.

"We know the names of the generals and the high-ranking officers implicated in these killings, and nothing has been done," said Luis Eduardo Guerra, a Colombian peace activist whose community has repeatedly been targeted by paramilitaries. "We know that the officers who trained the paramilitaries were trained at the School of the Americas." Guerra was a featured speaker at the vigil.

The growing opposition to the SOA includes more than 150 U.S. bishops, including 15 Archbishops and over 140 Latin American bishops who have called for its closure.
 

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