School of the Americas (WHINSEC)

A questionable at best U.S. military training school for Latin American soldiers

The School of the Americas (SOA) is an American military training school for Latin American soldiers located at Fort Benning, Georgia. SOA was established in 1946, and has since trained more than 64,000 Latin American soldiers in military intelligence, sniper training, counterinsurgency, commando and psychological warfare and interrogation. Graduates from the school return to Latin American, and have accounted for hundreds of Latin Americans being tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared” and massacred.

History

SOA was established in Panama, but was expelled out of the country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Then President of Panama stated that SOA was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” In 2001 it was renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

Examples in how SOA directly resulted in chaos in Latin America include the 2009 Honduran coup, led by General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez who was trained at SOA. The Honduran government took the president from his home and flew him first to a US base in Honduras, and then to Costa Rica. This was the first Central American coup in the 21st century.

Impacts

SOA has had huge impacts on violence in Latin American countries, and has contributed to migration of Latin American peoples coming to the US to seek refuge. Though SOA is not the sole reason for violence in Latin America (the “War on Drugs,” militarization of borders, and capitalistic greed being other contributing influences from U.S. foreign policy) it is a part of that problem that must be dismantled if “comprehensive immigration reform” is ever to take place.

Today, SOA/WHINSEC graduates continue to make headlines in countries like Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and Chile, highlighting the importance of closing this school which is directly responsible for human rights violations, including murder, torture and genocide.

SOA/WHINSEC’s mission statement proposes to educate and train “eligible military, law enforcement and civilian personnel of nations of the Western Hemisphere” within the context of the Charter of the Organization of American States in an effort to “foster mutual knowledge, transparency, confidence and cooperation among participating nations and promote democratic values, respect for human rights, and knowledge and understanding of U.S. customs and traditions.

In light of this mission statement, egregious human rights abuses continue. Most recently, a February 2017 investigation by the Guardian found that three of the eight people arrested in the assassination of indigenous environmental activist in Honduras, Berta Caceras, were linked to US trained troops, two of which were trained at SOA/WHINSEC.

SOA Watch

The School of the Americas Watch is a activist group that has been holding vigils, fasts, demonstrations and nonviolent protests since its founding in 1990 with the aim to close down SOA/WHINSEC (or whatever new name the military training center is given). They are based in Washington DC, but have local chapters in almost all US states and welcome involvement to end this violent training center in the US that dramatically affects our neighbors to the South.

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