SOA activists march on detention center

Seven activists were arrested from Nov. 22 to Nov. 23 for nonviolent acts of civil disobedience during the 25th annual protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. The protest's sponsor, SOA Watch, opposes the US Army's training of Latin American soldiers, charging that SOA graduates have been among the region's most notorious human rights violators. A special focus on the US government's treatment of immigrants marked this year's activities, which followed US president Barack Obama's Nov. 20 announcement that his government would grant a temporary deferral from deportation for several million undocumented immigrants.

Five of the arrests took place on Nov. 22 at the Stewart Detention Center for immigrants in Lumpkin, Georgia, 30 miles from Columbus. Hundreds of activists demanded the closing of the center, which is owned and operated by the private Corrections Corporation of America (CCA); release of the 1,800 immigrants held there; and an immediate end to mass deportations. Although SOA Watch has held small protests at the Stewart facility in the past, this year's was significantly larger, according to Stewart County Sheriff Larry Jones, who estimated participation at more than 1,000. Two more arrests took place at the gates of Fort Benning on Nov. 23, when some 2,500 protesters held a funeral march and vigil focused on WHINSEC itself. (Columbus Ledger Enquirer, Nov. 20; SOA Watch, Nov. 22, Nov. 24)

Anti-militarization activists were also planning to hold protests against WHINSEC in El Salvador, Chile and Colombia. The Latin American countries that still send soldiers to the US training program include Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. (Adital, Brazil, Nov. 20, from Rebelión)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 23.