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Nov 28th
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Military Coup in Honduras PDF Print E-mail

The School of Coups is at it again...

Tegucigalpa, Honduras - On June 28, 2009, graduates of the School of the Americas overthrew the democratically-elected government of Honduras.

SOA General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez
In a well-planned operation, 200 masked soldiers under the command of General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez stormed the presidential palace in the middle of the night. The soldiers grabbed President Zelaya from his bed, forced him onto an airplane and flew him into exile. The state television was taken off the air. Electricity to the capital, Tegucigalpa, was cut, as were telephone lines and cell phone service.

The leadership of SOA graduates in the coup follows a pattern of anti-democratic actions by graduates of the school (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, WHINSEC), a U.S. military training facility for Latin American soldiers.

The Pentagon’s claim that the institute instills respect for democracy and civilian leadership, while teaching military combat skills, 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.’’

ImageThe crisis in Honduras began when the military refused to distribute ballot boxes for a referendum to determine whether or not a majority of Hondurans want to enter a process to modify their constitution.  In response, President Zelaya fired the head of the military, SOA graduate General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez. The heads of all branches of the armed forces then quit in solidarity with Vásquez.  Vásquez, however, refused to step down, bolstered by a Court ruling that reinstated him. Vásquez remains in control of the armed forces.

Vásquez Velásquez, along with Honduran Air Force, General Luis Prince Suazo and other coup leaders, graduated from the SOA. Records show that Vásquez Velásquez took a basic combat arms course at SOA in 1976 and another course on small military units in 1984, while Prince Suazo took a 1996 course on joint operations.

The SOA and Honduras

The SOA has a long and shameful 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 grad, Policarpo Paz García, who intensified repression by Battalion 3-16, one of the most feared death squads in the Americas.

Honduran General 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 a Latin American coup. In 2002 when the democratically elected Chávez government of Venezuela was briefly overthrown, the key players in the coup attempt were graduates of the SOA. The SOA has trained at least 11 Latin American dictators.

Resistance & Repression

Honduran social movements are resisting the regime and engaging in daily pro-democracy protests, strikes and civil disobedience. Thousands of farmers, women, indigenous people, teachers, students, unionists and ordinary citizens have united in the National Front of Resistance against the Coup. The Honduran military has responded with curfews, suppression of critical media, brutal repression and even murder.
Since June 28, SOA Watch has been in constant communication with pro-democracy organizers in Honduras. We organized meetings for Honduran social movement activists with the State Department and Members of Congress in Washington, DC and also organized street protests and online actions to build grassroots pressure.
After calls from our partners in Honduras for international support, seven SOA Watch activists joined the social movements on the ground for two weeks in July.

SOA/ WHINSEC training of the Honduran coup army continues
The outcome of the struggle between the military coup and the anti-coup resistance will have far-reaching consequences for all of the Americas. Join the resistance!

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Local Organizing
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The Saturday morning assembly in the Convention Center during the 2013 November Vigil was organized in the Peoples Movement Assembly (PMA) format. The PMA model has been developed by Project South and through the US Social Forum (USSF).

Six-hundred people took part in 21 small group discussions about the role of nonviolent direct action, and grassroots organizing. The groups developed collective political understanding through dynamic conversations, and new relationships started to form. A goal for the PMA process is to engage everyone to come up with answers to questions about strategies, to develop our political analysis, and to come up with joint plans for action.

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SOA Watch Chile Declassified List with Names of WHINSEC Graduates

By Pablo Ruiz, Equipo Latinoamericano of SOA Watch
SOAW Chile achieved an important victory; to declassify the names of over 760 Chilean soldiers who took courses at the School of the Americas/WHINSEC during the past decade.

School of the Americas Watch Chile, with the participation of other human rights organizations (La Agrupación de Familiares de Ejecutados Políticos, La Comisión Ética Contra la Tortura, La Comunidad Ecuménica Martín Luther King, La Corporación 3 y 4 Álamos and La Juventud Guevarista) used Chile’s “Transparency Law” to achieve a first victory in their home country.

The Defense Ministry, the Chilean Army, Navy, and Air Force handed over lists that include first and last names, dates, and courses attended by Chilean military personnel at SOA/WHINSEC between 2001-2015.

The declassified materials also mention the names of “invited instructors” who assisted the military school in Georgia as well as those of other high-ranking Chilean officials who are part of the WHINSEC leadership. Additionally noteworthy about the response by the military is the mention of WHINSEC personnel that travelled to Chile to instruct the “Personal Development Course for Cadets” at the Chilean Escuela  Militar. Nonetheless, what is left out is the “Combined Operations Course 2012,” held at the Academia de Guerra and organized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Estado Mayor Conjunto ) together with the mobile team of WHINSEC.

Although the information is incomplete, the declassification still represents an important step since one of the characteristics of the SOAW movement is to monitor the behavior of the troops that receive training at the military base and for that purpose it is indispensable to know, who its graduates are.

Despite the Army not revealing the identities of Escuela Militar students and of some other officials, using the argument that this is “legally secret information,” it is an important accomplishment in the fight for more transparency and for continuing with the to demand to stop sending Chilean soldiers to the School of the Americas.

SOA graduates participated in the assassination of the singer songwriter Víctor Jara, in the car bomb attack, carried out in the middle of Washington, DC, that killed  Orlando Letelier and Ronnie Moffitt, and in the death of union leader Tucapel Jiménez; among hundreds of other cases that involved soldiers who received training in the US.

The fight for accountability in the US

It is important to remember that the lists with names of Latin American soldiers who trained at the SOA/WHINSEC after 2005 are classified and secret information in the US.
Prior to that year, from 1946-2004, the names had been declassified. This allowed SOA Watch to know that a significant number of soldiers, who committed human rights abuses, had been trained in counterinsurgency methods in the US; including courses that suggested “to use torture, blackmail, extortion and reward payments for murdered enemies.”

In April 2013, Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton from the District of Northern California, responded favorably to a Freedom of Information request presented by SOAW activists Theresa Cameranesi and Judith Liteky, demanding the declassification of the names of all Latin American soldiers who received training at the so-called “School of the Assassins.”

Judge Hamilton reminded in her verdict that the Freedom of Information Act is meant to “assure a well-informed citizenry, a fundamental  thing for making a democratic society work and necessary to stop acts of corruption as well as to hold the governing body accountable to the governed.” Her verdict was immediately appealed by the lawyers of the US government and the trail continues to this day. 

Image Looking Back to Move Ahead I was asked to write a piece about people of color organizing to attend the 2009 SOA Watch vigil and about our plans for 2010. I believe everything happens for a reason.
Ron Teska Ron Teska, a stone carver and organizer from Wind Ridge, Pennsylvania worked on this piece of art throughout the November Vigil weekend in Georgia.
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