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Home Action Legislative Action Current Bills and Actions McGovern's 2/04 Dear Colleague Letter
McGovern's 2/04 Dear Colleague Letter PDF Print E-mail
The following letter was sent by Rep. McGovern's office to all the Democratic and Republican Legislative Directors on Friday, February 13th. You can reference it when you contact the offices; or you can adapt the talking points to create your own letter.

Only the Name Has Changed:
Close the WHISC/SOA
Join the 107 Bipartisan Cosponsors and
Co-Sponsor H.R. 1258

February 12, 2004

Dear Colleague,

On January 13, 2001, the U.S. Army officially "closed" the School of the Americas (SOA), and at the same time re-opened a near-identical Department of Defense facility at the same location, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC). For the past several years, the U.S. Congress has debated whether to close the School of the Americas, including voting in 1999 to do so. The recent change in name and minor modifications in the School's structure were made by the Pentagon in direct response to the votes in Congress, but unfortunately, they do not respond to the concerns raised by the Congress.

There are several troubling aspects about the SOA/WHISC that compel us to continue to call for its closure:

1) None of the fundamental issues raised around the need to close the SOA have been addressed in the renamed WHISC -- not its training methods, nor its lack of oversight, nor the school's record of graduating human rights abusers. Virtually the same courses are being taught, the oversight committee does not appear to be vigorous, the number of hours devoted to human rights training has not changed, the staff has not been changed or retrained in any way, no commission was established to review and re-think the curriculum or methods or any other aspect of the School, and no problem with past methods or results was ever truly admitted.

2) The failure of the U.S. Army to deal seriously with the record of the SOA, the most intensely scrutinized aspect of US military training in Latin America, raises questions about the quality and emphasis in the vast array of other training programs. U.S. military training, whether at the WHISC or in the many other locations in the United States, or throughout the hemisphere, is extensive and appears to be on an upward trend. Some 15,000 - 20,000 Latin American security personnel were trained in 2002, with only some 900 of those going to the SOA/WHISC. Given the enormous scope of this training, it is vital to ensure that training abides by human rights and democratic standards. If the Pentagon continues to refuse to deal seriously with the charges brought against the SOA, then it raises serious questions about the quality of our other training programs. A review is required of all US military training in Latin America, one that can independently assess the training needs of our hemispheric allies and determine the best means to meet those needs.

3) Human rights abuses and problems with civil-military relations are not, unfortunately, a thing of the past in Latin America. In Colombia, for example, pervasive military links to paramilitaries that commit horrific rights violations, including numerous massacres, are well documented not only by human rights groups, but by the U.S. State Department and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many countries, like Peru, Mexico and Venezuela, are still grappling with questions of how to train, respect and institutionalize proper civil-military relations. Further, in the countries noted above, there are serious links and collaboration between the militaries and narcotics traffickers. Training that strengthens militaries while giving only window-dressing attention to human rights, rule of law, and civil-military relations issues, as at the WHISC/SOA, is not the appropriate response.

4) No other region of the world requires a similar training institution - why then does Latin America and the Caribbean? The WHISC/SOA is part of the legacy of the Cold War, when the U.S. emphasized its military dominance in Latin America in order to deter foreign military interest in the hemisphere. Today, Latin American and Caribbean militaries - like those in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Near East - engage in the majority of their U.S. training through programs carried out in their own countries, or through IMET, Expanded IMET, international narcotics (INL) programs, or regional joint exercises. The WHISC/SOA is an anachronism, which has turned into an albatross around the neck of the Pentagon because of its close association with human rights abuses and some of the worst dictatorships in the hemisphere. Closing the WHISC/SOA will not harm our military relations in Latin America.

It is not inevitable that our policy follow the same path as in the past. Please join the more than 100 bipartisan cosponsors to H.R. 1258, to suspend operations at the WHISC and evaluate our genuine training needs for Latin America. Please contact Cindy Buhl in my office if you would like to cosponsor this bill.


James P. McGovern
Member of Congress


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