Nine US human rights activists are holding a vigil at the Tolemaida military base near Bogotá with a 12-foot banner that reads “U.S. MILITARY OUT OF COLOMBIA.” The Tolemaida base is one of seven in Colombia to which the US military has been granted access for 10 years under the US-Colombia Defense Cooperation Agreement signed in October 2009.
The agreement has been met with opposition by Colombian and international human rights groups. It caused tensions in the region after a US Air Force document became public that revealed that the US military is planning to use the seven Colombian bases for “full spectrum operations throughout South America” against threats not only from drug traffickers and guerilla movements, but also from “anti-US governments” in the region.
Father Roy Bourgeois, SOA Watch founder and Purple Heart recipient, is leading this delegation of activists. Most of them have served federal prison terms for civil disobedience actions demanding closure of the School of the Americas (SOA), now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).
“The bases agreement operates from the same failed military mindset that has given rise to the School of the Americas,” said Father Roy Bourgeois. “The purpose of the bases and the purpose of the SOA/WHINSEC are the same: to ensure US control over the region through military means.”
SOA/WHINSEC is a US military training school for Latin American soldiers in Fort Benning, Ga. SOA/WHINSEC has trained over 12,000 Colombian soldiers in counter-insurgency techniques, sniper skills, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. Human rights groups are calling for closure of the Institute. The recently released report “Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, US Accountability, and Global Implications” outlined the connections between SOA/WHINSEC graduates and instructors with extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations in Colombia. From November 19-21, thousands will gather at the gates of Fort Benning to call for the closure of the SOA/WHINSEC. (SOA Watch press release, Aug. 3)