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As President Bush expands the “war on terrorism”, thousands are planning to take nonviolent direct action to close what they call a terrorist training camp on U.S. soil – the School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHISC). This coming weekend, November 15-17 thousands will gather at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia, site of the school, to expose a double standard. SOA grads continue to be implicated in egregious acts designed to terrorize and coerce civilian populations throughout Latin America.
“Bush said that we must uproot every known terrorist training camp,” said Abi Miller, “We’d like to point out one that’s operating with impunity in our backyard.” Miller is among 26 human rights activists now serving three to six-month sentences in federal prison for their part in last November's peaceful procession.
The weekend’s program will feature live music and speakers from Latin and North America, including The Indigo Girls. The gathering will culminate on Sunday, November 17 with a solemn “funeral” procession to the gates of Ft. Benning. Many will negotiate a barbed-wire fence to enter the military base in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience.
Human rights advocates have voiced growing concern over turmoil in Latin America this past year. In April SOA grads led a failed coup in Venezuela after meetings with Otto Reich—President Bush’s controversial appointee for Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs—who sits on the SOA/WHISC’s monitoring board. In Colombia the human rights situation further deteriorated as peace talks came to a halt while military aid was given a boost by the Bush administration’s spending request. Colombia has the worst human rights record, has the most SOA graduates, and receives the most U.S. military aid in the Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile the economic models of privatization and so-called free markets promoted by the SOA/WHISC and the U.S. government have led to economic and political collapse in Argentina, and economists fear neighboring countries may soon follow.
Opponents of the school point out that there have been no wars between nations in the Western Hemisphere in decades. SOA grads return to their countries to utilize their training domestically and are consistently cited for atrocities against their own people. Critics say that President Bush is using this same argument against Saddam Hussein to leverage an invasion of Iraq, while ignoring U.S. culpability in gross human rights violations throughout Latin America.
“The SOA is part of a corporate-hijacked foreign policy that’s making us a lot of enemies,” said Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch. “If we want lasting peace and security we need a foreign policy that reflects our values of justice, democracy and dignity.”
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