Tens of Thousands to Rally Across Hemisphere to Demand Closure of US Combat Training School for Latin Americans Print
WASHINGTON ? The recent indictment of human rights abusers in Latin America, the denial of a FOIA request for the names of Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) graduates, George W. Bush?s signing of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and plans to resume U.S. military aid in Latin America make this year a pivotal one for peace activists around the world to raise their voices and demand the end of human rights abuse and military intervention in Latin America. Thousands around the country and the world are preparing for hemisphere wide actions taking place throughout November 17-19 calling for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA).

The SOA/WHINSEC, a combat training facility for Latin American military and police located at Fort Benning, Georgia, made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this shocking admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place.

Graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC, more than 60,000 over its 60-year history, continue to be implicated in human rights violations throughout Latin America. New research confirms that the school continues to support known human rights abusers. Despite having been investigated by the United Nations for ordering the shooting of 16 indigenous peasants in El Salvador, Col. Francisco Del Cid Diaz returned to WHINSEC/SOA in 2003.

?The SOA/WHINSEC and its infamous graduates who have committed crimes against humanity are seen by many Latin Americans in the context of a legacy of the U.S. governments? disregard for human rights,? said Hector Aristiz?bal, a human rights activist and torture survivor from Colombia.

Support for the SOA/WHINSEC continues to erode. Earlier this year, the governments of Argentina and Uruguay announced that they would cease all training at the school, becoming the second and third countries to announce a cessation of training. In January of 2004, Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela would no longer send troops to train at the school.

The annual Vigil to close the SOA/WHINSEC has grown from a dozen people in November of 1990 to more than 19,000 in 2005. This year?s gathering will culminate on Sunday, November 19 with a symbolic funeral procession to the gates of Ft. Benning. Many will negotiate a barbed-wire fence to enter the military base in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. Since protests against SOA/WHINSEC began more than a decade ago, over 180 people have served federal prison sentences. Simultaneously on the weekend of November 17-19, demonstrations will take place in Arizona, Ecuador, El Salvador, Paraguay, Colombia, and Chile.