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Home News Press Releases Military Coup by SOA Graduates in Honduras Shines Spotlight on Controversial U.S. Military Training School
Military Coup by SOA Graduates in Honduras Shines Spotlight on Controversial U.S. Military Training School PDF Print E-mail

The June 28 coup in Honduras was carried out by the School of the Americas (SOA) graduates Gen. Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the head of the of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran military and by Gen. Luis Prince Suazo, the head of the Air Force. The leadership of SOA graduates in the coup follows a pattern of anti-democratic actions by graduates of the SOA (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, WHINSEC). The Pentagon claim -- that the institute instills respect for democracy and civilian leadership while teaching combat skills to Latin American soldiers -- has once again been disproved by the actions of the institute's graduates.

SOA-trained Honduran Army Attorney Col. Herberth Inestroza justified the military coup and stated in an interview with The Miami Herald “It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That's impossible.'' Inestroza also confirmed that the decision for the coup was made by the military. Another SOA graduate, retired General Daniel López Carballo, told CNN that the coup was warranted because Venezuelan President Chávez would be running Honduras by proxy if the military had not acted.

The crisis in Honduras began when the military refused to distribute ballot boxes for a nonbonding opinion poll that was supposed to determine whether or not a majority of Hondurans desire to enter into a process to modify their constitution. President Zelaya fired the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, SOA graduate General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez. The heads of all branches of the Honduran armed forces quit in solidarity with Vasquez. Vasquez, however, refused to step down, bolstered by a Supreme Court ruling that reinstated him. Vasquez remains in control of the armed forces.

Vasquez, along with other military leaders, graduated from the United States' infamous SOA. According to information that SOA Watch obtained from the US government through a Freedom of Information Act request, Vasquez studied in the SOA at least twice: once in 1976 and again in 1984.

The head of the Air Force, General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, studied in the School of the Americas in 1996. The Air Force has been a central protagonist in the Honduran coup. When the military refused to distribute the ballot boxes for the opinion poll, the ballot boxes were stored on an Air Force base until citizens accompanied by Zelaya rescued them. Zelaya reports that after soldiers kidnapped him, they took him to an Air Force base, where he was put on a plane and sent to Costa Rica.

Former Representative Joe Kennedy stated, "The School of the Americas...is a school that has run more dictators than any other school in the history of the world."

The SOA has a long history in Honduras: In 1975, SOA graduate General Juan Melgar Castro became the military dictator of Honduras. From 1980-1982 the dictatorial regime was headed by yet another SOA graduate, Policarpo Paz Garcia, who intensified repression by Battalion 3-16, one of the most feared death squads in the Americas.

Honduran Gen. Humberto Regalado Hernandez, who was inducted into the SOA's Hall of Fame, was a four-time graduate. As head of the armed forces, he refused to take action against soldiers involved in the Battalion 3-16 death squad.

This is not the first time the SOA has been involved in Latin American coups. In April 2002, the democratically elected Chavez government of Venezuela was briefly overthrown, and the SOA-trained soldiers Efrain Vasquez Velasco, ex-army commander, and Gen. Ramirez Poveda, were key players in the coup attempt.

The school graduated at least eleven Latin American dictators, among them are:

· Argentine Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, who seized power in a bloody coup, bringing down another SOA grad, Gen. Roberto Viola, who came to power during Argentina’s Dirty War.
· Guatemalan dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, who seized power in a coup in 1982 and conducted a scorched earth campaign against the Mayan Indians.
· Panamanian dictators Gen. Omar Torrijos, who overthrew a civilian government in a 1968 coup, and Gen. Manuel Noriega, a five-time SOA graduate, who ruled the country and dealt in drugs while on the CIA payroll.
· Ecuadoran dictator Gen. Guillermo Rodriguez, who overthrew the elected civilian government in 1972.
· Bolivian dictators Gen. Hugo Banzer Suarez, who seized power in a violent coup in 1971, and Gen. Guido Vildoso Calderon, who grabbed power in 1982.
· Peruvian strongman Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado, who in 1968 toppled the elected civilian government.

Over its 58 years, the SOA/WHINSEC has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counter-insurgency techniques, sniper skills, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. Human Rights groups are calling for the closure of the institute. Rep. Jim McGovern has introduced H.R. 2567 in the House of Representatives, which calls for the suspension of operation of the school and a Congressional investigation into the connection between human rights abuses in Latin America and U.S. military training.

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