7,000 Protest at School of the Assassins
Revolutionary Worker #986, December 13, 1998
This report on the recent protest at School of the Americas comes from a correspondent in Atlanta:
Almost 7,000 people came from all over the world to the gates of Fort Benning, in Columbus, Georgia, on November 21 and 22. They came to shut down the infamous School of the Americas (SOA), located at this Army base. People come every year. And every year there are more of them.
Since it was established in 1946, the U.S. Army School of the Americas has instructed and indoctrinated about 60,000 military and police officers from Latin America and the Caribbean. This is a training camp for government killers, death squads, torturers, U.S. agents and coup-makers. People have renamed the SOA the "School of the Assassins."
In 1996 the U.S. Defense Department finally admitted that training manuals used at the School of the Americas (SOA) included instructions in torture, beatings, murder, extortion and the recruitment of informers. Graduates include Bolivian dictator Hugo Bánzer Suárez, Guatemalan dictator General Rios Montt, Salvadoran death-squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, and Haitian coup-maker General Cédras.
The record of those responsible for death squad killings and massacres in Latin America over the last decades reads like a "Who's Who of SOA graduates." The annual November date for confronting the SOA was chosen to commemorate six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper massacred on that day by a U.S.-trained death squad in El Salvador.
I was talking to an activist from Minneapolis when the brass at Fort Benning sent out a guy with a bullhorn to announce that this is an inappropriate protest, and that people should voice their complaints through the "appropriate civilian channels." The crowd chanted "Close the SOA!"
This year, over 2,000 people stepped forward to enter the military base itself in a mock funeral procession.
This is a brave choice. Last year, 600 crossed that line and were arrested. Some received six months in prison and $5,000 fines each--from a judge whose other claim to fame was acquitting the officer who oversaw the U.S. massacre of the villagers of My Lai in Vietnam. One of the leaders of this SOA Watch campaign, Father Roy Bourgeois, was not able to attend this year's protest because he is serving a prison sentence for a previous action.
The well-known actor/activist Martin Sheen led the procession onto the base. He told the RW: "I'm here today because I'm told by my conscience that this is the only way that I can free myself--by standing with those who are abused, neglected, oppressed because of the policies of my country. I love my country enough to risk its wrath--by drawing attention to its darkness, to its evil--in the hopes that it can better itself and free itself."
A student told me why she decided to cross onto military property: "There's 48 of us here from Oberlin College in Ohio, and we came to send a message that people throughout the country--older people, younger people--we are all here because we believe that the School does not promote democracy at all. It promotes hatred and violence. We want the school to be shut down. We are tired of this being done in our name."
As the procession edged forward toward military property, the names of Latin American people killed by death squads were solemnly read from a stage. The crowd yelled out "Presente!" for each. Some people were crying.
An older man wearing a "Veterans for Peace" cap said to me: "The United States is a militaristic organization. I was an artillery officer during the Korean War. I used to kill lots of people. And I remember with grief now how I used to cheer when we'd blow their bodies up. Now I realize they were young men just like myself." Speaking about the School of Assassins, he said, "A third of the graduates are from Mexico. We're using American equipment to suppress the Mayan Indians in Chiapas. The people don't realize what the CIA and our foreign policies are doing."
A Jesuit priest from Los Angeles, pointed out, "The actions that transpire here have their effects not just in Central and South America, but also in the United States. In Los Angeles, there is a large immigrant population, and there are people whose lives have been destroyed directly by graduates of the SOA and who have fled for political asylum to the United States. And they don't necessarily want to be in the United States. They'd prefer to be in their home country, except living in their country was life-threatening, and we are the cause of that."
It was announced from the stage that the U.S. military had backed down this day and decided not to prosecute the protesters who entered their base. Soldiers loaded all 2,319 of them onto buses and dropped them off in a park about a mile and a half away. One high school student looked over the crowd and told the RW, "This is a very powerful movement. I think it's gonna have a major impact."
For more information on SOA, see the "Crimes of Imperialism" section of RW Online at www.net/~rwor.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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