Thousands Turn Out to Protest US Army Training School for Latin American Soldiers Print

Columbus, GA – 25,000 people from across the Americas gathered this weekend for the 18th annual Vigil to Close the School of the Americas at the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. The U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) - renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), is a military training school for Latin Americans soldiers and security personnel.

Citing the school’s lack of transparency, historical ties to brutal dictatorships throughout Latin America and the ever-growing number of human rights abuses and crimes committed by its graduates, protestors converged to hear from the experiences of torture survivors and social movement leaders from across Latin America, presidential candidates Dennis Kucinich and Cynthia McKinney, Iraq war veterans, and religious leaders.

The weekend’s events culminated with a symbolic funeral procession to the gates of Ft. Benning led by torture survivors from Latin America, SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois, presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, former prisoners of conscience and other human rights activists. Eleven human rights advocates, ranging in ages 25 to 74, were arrested for taking their protest onto the Fort Benning Military Reservation in act of nonviolent civil disobedience. They took this action knowing that they likely face three to six months in federal prison. Since protests against the SOA/ WHINSEC began eighteen years ago, 226 people have served prison sentences of up to two years for civil disobedience. Three more face charges from the city for refusing to relinquish crosses whose size exceeded Columbus police regulations.

“I decided to take a stand against injustice,” said Joan Anderson, a 65-year old Casper, Wyoming resident who is among the eleven who carried their witness against the SOA onto the army base, risking arrest. “The torture of innocent people is wrong and it’s time to address it on a more personal level,” she added.

Thanks to an ongoing grassroots campaign, support for the SOA/WHINSEC continues to erode. In 2007, Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Oscar Arias of Costa Rica announced that they would cease to send military and police to the school, becoming the 4th and 5th countries after Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela to withdraw from the U.S. Army training facility.

Thousands of people took part in simultaneous events calling for the closure of the School of the Americas in Chile, Arizona, California and Canada. Three were arrested during Fort Huachuca protest against torture in Sierra Vista, Arizona.