The Guardian December 6, 2000


US Army detains 1700 at School of Americas

by Dianne Mathiowetz

Thousands of opponents of the School of the Americas at Ft Benning in 
Columbus, Ga, defied a steady downpour and frigid temperatures to carry out 
a massive act of political resistance on November 19.

From El Salvador to Argentina to Colombia, graduates of this US Army 
training school have been involved in numerous military coups, massacres, 
political murders, rape and torture of prisoners, "disappearances" of 
civilians as well as drug-running and other crimes. Washington has 
supported all the governments and agents carrying out these crimes.

Dressed in black shrouds, carrying coffins and crosses inscribed with the 
names of those killed by SOA-trained troops throughout Latin America, over 
3,500 people entered Ft Benning in a solemn procession.

After marching nearly a half-mile onto the military camp, protesters 
lowered the coffins to the ground and poured red paint on the shrouded and 
masked lead contingent, who then fell to the wet ground, refusing to get 
up.

Military police picked them up and placed them on canvas litters in order 
to take them to be processed. The hundreds of crosses put into the ground 
created a symbolic cemetery of the School of the Americas' victims. "No 
mas, no more," chanted the demonstrators.

A second wave of protesters, carrying giant paper mache puppets, crossed 
onto Ft Benning. These anti-globalisation activists and puppeteers, whose 
street theatre has enlivened protests from Seattle to the country's 
capital, created a colourful display of popular resistance.

Randy Serraglio, who spent six months in a federal prison for trespassing 
on Ft Benning in previous years, explained that they would plant corn seeds 
on the military property. "Corn is life", Serraglio said of that powerful 
Latin American cultural symbol. "We are talking about hope for the future."

Linking military to globalisation

The addition of anti-globalisation forces underscored the expanding 
awareness of the link between US military policy and corporate domination 
in the world.

Katherine Cristiani, a senior at Oberlin College in Ohio, explained why she 
was participating in the action. She said, "I think the School of the 
Americas is a symbol of the role of violence and exploitation that the US 
has played in South America."

More than 1,700 people were held by military authorities, who established 
their identities and handed them letters banning them from the base for 
five years.

The US attorney's office will determine if any of the protesters will be 
prosecuted on charges of trespassing, resisting arrest or assaulting law-
enforcement officers.

In 1999, 65 people were cited out of the over 6,000 who crossed onto the 
base. Post Commander Major General John LeMoye said he decided to cite more 
demonstrators this year to "give us an opportunity to engage in dialogue 
about the school".

Starting in 1946, with the school located in Panama, the US began training 
the militaries of Latin America as part of its Cold War strategy of 
containing popular movements.

The 1977 Panama Canal Treaty that turned the waterway over to the 
Panamanian Government also forced the School of the Americas to relocate to 
Ft Benning. This took place in 1984.

Close to 60,000 members of the militaries of 22 Latin American countries 
have received advanced training at the SOA in its more than 50 years of 
existence.

For Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOAWatch, which initiated the campaign 
to close the School of the Americas, it was events in El Salvador that 
revealed the deadly impact of this "advanced training".

SOA-trained soldiers massacred over 900 men, women and children in the 
village of El Mozote. They carried out the assassination of Archbishop 
Oscar Romero as he celebrated mass. The school's graduates also murdered 
six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 15-year-old daughter on the 
grounds of the University of Central America in San Salvador.

Torture and murder "optional"

Ten years of protest have put a spotlight on the SOA's role in the 
repression exercised by military and police throughout Latin America.

An SOA training manual openly suggested the establishment of bounties and 
the summary execution of suspected "guerillas". When this manual was 
discovered, US military officials at the School dismissed this instruction 
as "optional".

While the Pentagon claims that the school offers "human rights" training 
and strengthens "democracy", the record shows that under the rule of SOA 
graduate Rios Montt of Guatemala, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous 
people were murdered, tortured, disappeared and forced into exile.

Likewise, in Argentina, when SOA graduate Leopolo Galtieri led the 
military, more than 30,000 civilians were killed or disappeared in what is 
known as the "dirty war".

In Colombia, where the US has just authorised an additional $1.3 billion in 
aid, mostly for high-tech weaponry, half of those cited for human-rights 
violations were trained at the SOA.

These and many other examples are fuelling the movement to end 
Congressional funding to the school.

"New name, same shame"

The US military is attempting to defuse and confuse the movement by 
officially closing the SOA on December 15 and re-opening it on January 17, 
2001, with a new name, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security 
Cooperation.

The "new" school will have an oversight board of civilians and will require 
mandatory human-rights courses. Signs at the protest saying "New name, same 
shame" indicate that no one was taken in by this public-relations ploy.

The next national action of SOAWatch will take place in Washington from 
March 29-April 3 to demand that the new Congress and President close the 
School of the Americas for good. For more information, visit the Web site 
www.soaw.org.

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Workers World News Service

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