As human rights activists throughout the United States travel to Fort Benning, Georgia, thousands more around the world are preparing for massive demonstrations to call for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for
Security Cooperation, formerly known as the school of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC). Thousands are expected to gather November 17-19 at Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the school, while simultaneous demonstrations will take place in Ecuador, El Salvador, Paraguay, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Arizona and California.
The SOA/WHINSEC, a military training facility for Latin American security personnel, made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this shocking admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school over its 60-year history, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place.
Thanks to an ongoing grassroots campaign, support for the SOA/WHINSEC continues to erode. Earlier this year, the governments of Argentina and Uruguay announced that they would cease all training at the school, becoming the second and third countries to announce a cessation of training. In January of 2004, Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela would no longer send troops to train at the school.
“We plan to protest because we want future generations to live in peace and with justice. And that, to our understanding, will never happen if we continue to allow soldiers to be taught that things should be resolved with weapons and violence, as is taught at the School of the Americas,” says Pablo Ruiz, a Chilean torture survivor who will take part in the demonstrations in Chile.
The annual Vigil to close the SOA/WHINSEC at Ft. Benning has grown from a dozen people in November of 1990 to more than 19,000 in 2005. This year’s program will feature music and speakers from Latin and North America, including torture survivors, civil rights activists, and social movement leaders from Argentina, Guatemala, Colombia and El Salvador; Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking; Charles Steele Jr., of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; a delegation of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and a line-up of diverse musicians who will offer Folk, Latin,
Hip-Hop, Andean music and more.
The events will culminate on Sunday, November 19 with a symbolic funeral procession to the gates of Ft. Benning commemorating those killed by graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC. Many will negotiate a barbed-wire fence to enter the military base in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. Since protests against SOA/WHINSEC began more than a decade ago, 211 people have served federal prison sentences for their participation in nonviolent civil disobedience actions.