Nicaragua: Ortega announces withdrawal from SOA

Nicaragua will no longer send military personnel to the US military’s controversial Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), President Daniel Ortega said during a meeting with a delegation of human rights activists in Managua on Sept. 4. Nicaragua will be the first Central American country to withdraw from the school, which critics say has trained many of Latin America’s most notorious human rights violators since its founding in 1946. Five South American nations have ended their relations with SOA/WHINSEC: Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela, and, as of June 27, Ecuador.

“The SOA is an ethical and moral anathema,” President Ortega said during the meeting. “All of the countries of Latin America have been victims of its graduates. The SOA is a symbol of death, a symbol of terror.” Nicaragua has reduced its participation in the school since he returned to the presidency in 2007, Ortega said, sending five soldiers in 2011 and none this year. The country has also withdrawn from the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR, for its initials in Spanish), a military pact linked to the Organization of American States (OAS).

Ortega is the leader of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and served a term as Nicaragua’s president from 1985 to 1990, at a time when the US was funding and training the rightwing contra rebels fighting against the FSLN government. Withdrawing from SOA/WHINSEC “is the least that we can do,” Ortega said. “We have been its victims.” But he indicated that the move was difficult, since Nicaragua is a small, impoverished nation whose economy is largely dependent on its ties to the US.

The human rights delegation was organized by two US-based organizations: the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), which seeks the closing of SOA/WHINSEC, and the Nicaragua Network, an organization promoting solidarity with Nicaragua. Delegation members included SOAW founder Father Roy Bourgeois, SOAW Latin America coordinator Lisa Sullivan and Alejandro Ramírez, a member of a Honduran human rights organization, the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH). SOAW is planning a delegation to meet with representatives of the government of US president Barack Obama on Sept. 17 to push for closing the school.

SOA/WHINSEC trained nearly 14,000 military and police personnel from 2001 to 2011. Almost half were from Colombia; Chile and Peru also sent large numbers of soldiers and police agents. The Central American countries with the greatest participation from 2008 to 2011 were Honduras, with 234 soldiers, and El Salvador, with 227. (Adital, Brazil, Sept. 5; SOAW press release, Sept. 6)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 9.