Join the Movement That’s Making a Difference: Close the SOA

On November 15-18th people from throughout the US, Canada and Latin America will converge outside the entrance to Ft. Benning, Georgia. Benning is the home of the US Army’s School of the Americas (officially now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC).

Since the 1940s the SOA has been this hemisphere’s premier military school for anti-insurgency (i.e. terrorism) training. Each November since 1990 increasing numbers assemble at the gates of Benning to demand that the SOA be closed. Last year roughly 20,000 peaceful protesters came for an intense, somber and spirited weekend of solidarity. The colorful event is carnival, commemoration and consciousness-raising all in one.

Central New Yorkers have been making the annual trek to Benning since the mid-nineties. Some years some of us have been arrested and imprisoned for nonviolently “crossing the line” into the base. We call it “prison witness.” For those positioned to do so, it’s a powerful, life-transforming tactic. Such witness nurtures the movement.

On October 10th President Evo Morales announced that Bolivia would send no more soldiers to the SOA. Bolivia joins Costa Rica, Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay in officially boycotting the SOA. (Cuba, of course, never sent soldiers there.)

War-torn Colombia continues to be the main source of SOA students. This past August former WHINSEC instructor, Colonel Alvaro Quijano, was arrested for links to a Cali drug cartel.  In 2003-2004 Quijano and another accused officer, Major Wilmer Mora Daza, taught “peacekeeping operations” and “democratic sustainment” [sic] at the SOA. Thanks to this scandal, another SOA/WHINSEC grad, General Hernando Pérez Molina, has also been relieved of his post.

To learn more about the SOA and this year’s November convergence, check out  www.soaw.org or phone the SOA Watch national office in DC at (202) 234-3440. To connect with local activists working on the issue, come to Caribbean Latin America Coalition/CLAC monthly potluck meetings at Slocum House (call Mike Pasquale, 446-2720 home, for details).  

– Ed Kinane