Thousands of activists attended the 21st annual protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), in front of the US Army’s Fort Benning base in Columbus, Georgia, on Nov. 20. The SOA Watch movement, which sponsors the protests, opposes the army’s training of Latin American soldiers, noting that SOA graduates have been among the region’s most notorious human rights violators.
Organizers estimated the crowd at about 5,000, while Columbus police said 3,007 people participated. Only one person, Theresa Cusimano of Denver, was arrested for trespassing on the fort’s property; she faces a maximum sentence of six months for her act of civil disobedience. The largest SOA protest to date was in 2006, when SOA Watch reported 22,000 participants, and the number of people arrested reached 85 in 2002. Attorney Bill Quigley, a professor of law at Loyola University in New Orleans who particpated, said he thought the lower activity this year resulted from the Occupy protests: “It’s a good thing that there’s so much going on around the country, and I think it reduced the turnout this year.” (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Nov. 20; SOA Watch blog, Nov. 20)
Chicago activist Chris Spicer, who was recently released from federal prison after serving a six-month sentence for civil disobedience at the 2010 SOA protest, was arrested again in nearby Lumpkin, Georgia, on Nov. 18, this time for trespassing at the Stewart Detention Center during a march of 270 people for immigrant rights. The Stewart facility is the country’s largest privately owned immigrant detention center. “The SOA and inhumane immigration policies are part of the same racist system of violence and domination,” Spicer said, referring to the fact that many immigrants to the US are refugees from violence by US-trained militaries. Stewart County judge Wayne Ammons set Spicer’s bail at $5,000. (SOA Watch blog, Nov. 18)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 20.