Since 1990, thousands of activists, torture survivors, members of unions and faith communities, veterans, community organizers, indigenous people, students, and teachers have gathered at the gates of Fort Benning in Georgia to protest the murderous School of the Americas (SOA). This infamous training center of soldiers from Latin America and the Caribbean was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation (WHINSEC) about a decade ago. A better name would have been School of the Assassins.
SOA/WHINSEC was created to fight communism during the Cold War. Today it claims to fight drug lords and terrorists. Bull! It is all about defending U.S. corporate interests in Latin America.
For decades, its “graduates” have taken skills learned at a United States military facility and returned to their countries to lead military coups and massacres. These soldiers have waged bloody wars of repression, torturing and killing the populace, especially indigenous people.
My wife Marilyn and I went four times to participate in actions demanding that the damn SOA be closed. We went because you have to stand up for what you believe in.
As retired union members, Marilyn and I stood with our sister and brother unionists. With the hundreds of United Autoworkers Union members in yellow T-shirts proclaiming “Solidarity Has No Borders: Solidaridad No Tiene Fronteras” and “Labor Says Stop the Killing and Torture — Close SOA/WHINSEC.” We stood with the Buddhists, the Veterans For Peace, the nuns, priests, college students, and so many others from so many places.
It ended with a procession. Thousands of activists carrying white crosses with the names and ages of victims of senseless murder and genocide in Latin America committed by military forces, many trained at SOA/WHINSEC. As each name was read, all crosses were raised by the marchers. “¡Presente!” was shouted by the crowd. Name after name, the list goes on. The youngest I remember was a two-year old child. I cried as I listened to the endless litany of those killed. In our house in Yakima, Washington, there are two crosses. On one is written “Maria Guevara, 40,” on the other “Eduardo Hernandez, 70.” How did they die? What role did the U.S. government play in their deaths?
SOA-trained killers murdered Monseñor Oscar Romero, four church women, six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter, all in El Salvador. They are also responsible for the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador. And for the deaths of many more campesinos killed in villages throughout Central America. People murdered by soldiers of governments supported by the United States and trained by the U.S. military. The U.S. government has the blood of countless people on its hands. SOA/WHINSEC must close!
Marilyn and I have been to Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and St. Lucia as volunteers working with children. We have one godchild in Guatemala and another in the Dominican Republic. We think often of these children and their families. We have met many migrants in the U.S. who have fled their homes to escape death at the hands of the police and the military. These are not strangers! They are our Sisters and Brothers with faces, names, and stories.
This year the School of the Americas Watch Border Encuentro will be on the Mexican/United States Border. On November 16-18, just as this paper goes to print, thousands will gather in Arizona under the auspices “Dismantle Border Imperialism! Struggle, Create, Power to the People!” Demands include an end to the racist systems of oppression that criminalize and kill migrants, refugees and communities of color. Protesters will march and demonstrate in Nogales at the ugly border wall for the respect, dignity, justice, and the rights to self-determination of communities.
We need to keep up the pressure until the SOA/WHINSEC is closed and consigned to the dust bin of history. For information on how to get involved, check out soaw.org or facebook.com/SchooloftheAmericasWatch.
Solidarity Knows NO Borders and Stop the Torture and Killing are not just words on T-shirts, but a call to all for action. Open the borders! ¡Hasta la Victoria!
Marilyn and Roger Yockey are community organizers. He is a retired trade unionist, teacher, and journalist. She is a retired teacher and paralegal. Send comments on the article to: FSnews@mindspring.com.