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Home Action Media Outreach Articles David Cook: A Letter To Wamp On School Of The Americas
David Cook: A Letter To Wamp On School Of The Americas PDF Print E-mail
Rep. Wamp,

First, let me thank you for the work you have done for the people not only in Chattanooga but throughout America. To help you help them further, allow me to introduce you to a man named Oscar Romero.

Oscar Romero was the archbishop of El Salvador in the 1960s and 1970s. On an early morning in 1975, the El Salvadoran National Guard stormed his village, using governmental machetes to butcher and kill his parishioners. The government claimed the Guard was punishing communist rebels; Romero knew instead they to be the poor peasants taking communion from him each week, and suffering daily under the heels of tremendous economic inequality and governmental abuse.

In their death, Romero saw the death of Christ.

At this time, he was supported by the Council of Latin American Bishops, who in 1968, had declared that God indeed had a preference, and His preference was for the poor of the earth.

"At the last judgment we shall all be judged according to the treatment we have given Christ, Christ in the person of those who are hungry, thirsty, dirty, sick, and oppressed,'' writes Dom Helder Camara, the deceased archbishop of Brazil who once called upon his fellow Catholic bishops to sell away all their gold ornaments to help the poor.

God's "preferential option for the poor'' gave revolutionary hope to the millions of ditch-poor folks in central America, yet immediately put bishops like Romero, and Camara, at enemy-odds against the established power, namely the government.

The story is a sad one. Throughout central America, totalitarian governments have been the enemy of freedom, the enemy of poor people, the enemy of God. Dictators, assassins, death squads and paramilitary groups all waged acts of terrorism against their own people. Against this, Romero fought his holy war, using the weapons of his Christ-God: forgiving his enemies, feeding the poor, speaking truth to power even as pamphlets were distributed throughout San Salvador saying, "Be patriotic. Kill a priest.''

The pamphlets proved to be prophetic; in 1980, as Romero was leading a funeral, breaking the bread of the sacred body of the communal Christ, assassins entered his church and shot Romero dead. As his blood poured onto the altar, and as some believe, into the communion wine, his reported last words were Christ-like: "May God have mercy on the assassins.''

It is these assassins that I ask you to consider today.

For the last five decades, the US government has funded, sponsored, financed and operated an organization called The School of the Americas. Situated in Fort Benning, Georgia, the School of the Americas (now known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) is the premier training facility in the Americas, as Latin American dictators, rulers and paramilitary groups send their men to SOA to receive instruction on torture, execution, assassinations and fear-based terrorism.

"Over its 59 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics,'' writes School of the Americas Watch, the leading opposition to SOA/WHINSEC. ''These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins.''

From Bolivia to Colombia to El Salvador to Uruguay, SOA graduates have become the messengers of death to the poor, the widowed, the priests, the children of Latin America. Were we to line up the dead and decapitated outside the SOA gates, the bodies of those whose murderers once walked its halls, the line of death would stretch and stretch and stretch longer than one could imagine.

In 1989, SOA graduates murdered six Jesuit priests, a woman working alongside them, and her teenage daughter. Within months, a group called School of the Americas Watch formed in Georgia with the single goal of working to shut down the SOA/WHINSEC.

Seventeen years later, the movement to shut down the SOA/WHINSEC has reached tremendous, international attention. Beginning Wednesday, thousands of Americans will participate in a three-day fast and call to action, drawing the world's attention to the histories of the SOA/WHINSEC and the things we can do to stop it.

Currently in the House of Representatives is Bill HR 1707 (sponsored by Jim McGovern with 72 original co-sponsors) which would suspend any and all US governmental funding of the SOA/WHINSEC and also investigate its maddeningly long list of human rights violations. This bill is available immediately for your co-sponsorship, and will soon reach the voting floor.

Your vote and co-sponsorship in favor of this bill will show your solidarity with the poor and oppressed people of the Americas; those whom the SOA graduates assassinate, rape, torture, threaten and murder are eerily similar to the same folks that Christ himself associated with: the poor, the widowed, the radical priests, the oppressed, the outcast, the dissidents.

I ask you today to cast your vote, your whole vote, in their favor. To do otherwise is to continue to support an exportation of violence that allows totalitarian governments to do what they do best: suffocate freedom from their people through terrorism.

As an example, when SOA/WHINSEC students in Georgia practice simulations with empty bullets, the village priest, played by the US Army chaplain, is often either killed or abused.

As an example, SOA graduates were responsible for the military violence, freedom-less dictatorships and terror reigns in Bolivia and Chile, Argentina and Guatemala, Uruguay and Colombia, the last of which has sent more troops to SOA than any other Latin American country (perhaps because the US is its biggest investor).

As an example, SOA graduates elected into the school's "Hall of Fame'' include Hugo Banzer, the Bolivian whose strategy was to "silence'' the church by assassinating its leaders; he also hosted Nazi warm criminals and participated in drug trafficking.

Before his death, Oscar Romero wrote then-president Jimmy Carter, whose administration funneled millions of dollars to El Salvador, which in turned promised death to Romero's beloved poor.

"You say that you are a Christian,'' Romero wrote to President Carter. "If you are really Christian, please stop sending military aid to the military here, because they only use it to kill my people.''

And so my open letter to you ends in the same way.

(David Cook is a former journalist for the Chattanooga Times-Free Press. He currently teaches American history at Girls Preparatory School, and strongly encourages fellow Chattanoogans to contact Representative Wamp via email or telephone regarding this issue and research the School of the Americas Watch. Mr. Cook can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for more information on this issue.)

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