U.S. Army Training School for Latin Americans Losing Ground Print
Columbus, GA ? Announcements last week about the resumption of U.S. military training in Latin America, the Bush Administration?s support for legislation allowing torture and the results of the recent mid-term elections are catalyzing a hemisphere-wide movement for human rights. This weekend tens of thousands of people from North, South and Central America are demonstrating to demand a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy and the closure of a military training school that is synonymous with torture and military repression for millions around the world.4

The School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC), narrowly averted closure earlier this year when a bill to cut funding to the school lost in Congress by a margin of 15 votes. The mid-term elections saw 34 Representatives who opposed the bill lose their seats.

?The Bush Administration and the School of the Americas are out of alignment with the values of everyday Americans,? said Chris Inserra, 48, a teacher and mother of three. ?We need a foreign policy that reflects our values of justice and democracy.?

Support for the SOA/WHINSEC has also been eroding across Latin America. 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.

This weekend, Patricia Isasa will join those rallying at the gates of Fort Benning. Isasa, an Argentinian torture survivor and human rights activist, was 16 years old in 1976 when she kidnapped, tortured and held prisoner by Argentine police and soldiers for two and a half years without a trial. One of Patricia's torturers was Domingo Marcelini, a graduate of the School of the Americas.

?We will demonstrate both to remember the past and to demand accountability for the present,? said Isasa, who has been receiving death threats as she prepares for trial. ?The School of the Americas began the road to Abu Ghraib. It is an immoral place.?

While Isasa addresses the crowd at Fort Benning, simultaneous events will be taking place throughout Latin America -- in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Paraguay and Peru. Gatherings calling for the closure of the School of the Americas will also be held in Canada and Ireland.

The SOA/WHINSEC, a military training facility for Latin American security personnel, 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 over its 60-year history, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place. The annual Vigil to close the SOA/WHINSEC at Ft. Benning has grown from a dozen people in November of 1990 to more than 19,000 in 2005.