The story of the School of the Americas, or School of the Assassins is a disturbing tale of such organized and planned terrorism; one would never believe it was real. Every year in Fort Benning, Georgia the people protest. This year we brought it to LA.
The brutality caused by the School of the Americas is very much real. It is so real that several speakers at the vigil were victims of torture at the hands of SOA graduates. We carried crosses bearing names of those who were lost in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Colombia, among others. Hector Aristizabal, a speaker at the vigil, held a cross bearing the name of his own brother who was brutally tortured and murdered in Colombia. It was so real, it was scary. And this story, though it did take place in Latin America, was completely caused by, funded by, and organized by the US government. We funded these murders, rapes, tortures. We are terrorists.
The passionate efforts to close the School of the Americas (SOA) down included a yearly mass protest in November at its current location in Fort Benning, Georgia. (It was originally in Panama.) The school finally closed in 2001 but reopened one month later in the same location with the same staff teaching the same courses, but was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Co-operation (WHISC).
The vigil was a replica of the Fort Benning protest and was held at Los Angeles State Historic Park. It featured speakers Father Roy Bourgeois, Martin Sheen, Cindy Sheehan, Blase Bonpane, Eisha Mason, Fernando Suarez del Solar, Don White, Lucia Munoz, Dr. Jose Quiroga, Patricia Contreras, Josh Harris, Jim Lafferty, Hector Aristizabal, Maria Guardado, Mario Avila & Frankie Flores and music by Cuauhtemoc Azteca Dancers, El Salvador's Hip Hop Marmota Fu, Ross Altman, Maria Armoudian, Will B. & Dennis Davis.
Several speakers told of their experiences as activists fighting to close the school down, others spoke of their experience as torture victims and survivors of murdered family members. Lucia Muñoz spoke about the aftermath of the SOA for women, most notably the femicide in Guatemala. The speakers urged us to teach about the SOA in classrooms, to go to the yearly protests in Georgia and to call our representatives. After the speeches and music we carried our crosses in a procession march while singers on the stage sang the names the crosses bore, and we held them up and sang “presente.”
Once the march ended we placed our crosses down and participated in a “die-in” following a performance depicting “birds of destruction” turning a village into flames. Then puppetistas performed a “return to life celebration” using huge paper mache faces and hands to wake our dead bodies up as an allegory for the uprising that must take place atop the ashes of the brutalized. Then the celebration began and the day’s events were over.