SOA protests at Ft. Benning —and throughout Americas

On Nov. 19 and 20, some 22,000 people gathered outside the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia to demand the closure of the US Defense Department’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly called the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), a combat-training school for Latin American soldiers. The protest, organized by SOA Watch, is held each November at Fort Benning to commemorate the 1989 murders in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter; some of the killers were SOA graduates. It was the largest protest yet at Fort Benning; last year about 19,000 people attended.

The gathering culminated on Nov. 19 with a symbolic funeral procession to the gates of Fort Benning, led by Latin American torture survivors and social justice movement leaders, among them Renato Antonio Areiza from the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, in Colombia. Renato’s sister was murdered in 2005 by troops under the command of an SOA graduate.

At least 13 people were arrested by military police after they committed civil disobedience by entering the base through a hole in the fence. Three other people were later arrested for crossing. (SOA Watch Update, Nov. 19)

While record numbers attended the annual demonstration at the gates of Fort Benning, thousands more gathered at protests and vigils throughout the Americas. Coordinated actions protesting US militarism and calling for the closure of the SOA were scheduled to take place over the weekend of Nov. 18-19 in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Paraguay and Peru, as well as in Canada and at other sites in the US. (SOA Watch, Nov. 19)

The Movement of Christians for Peace with Justice and Dignity organized vigils on Nov. 18-19 at four key sites emblematic of US militarism: the US-leased air base in Manta, Ecuador; and the capital cities of Paraguay, El Salvador and Colombia. (Message posted by “PeSePu” on Colombia Indymedia, Nov. 17) In Ecuador, actions were also scheduled in Quito, Ibarra, Ambato and Tulcan. In Colombia, in addition to Bogota, there were actions planned for Medellin (Antioquia), Cali (Valle del Cauca), Popayan (Cauca), Sogamoso (Boyaca), Neiva (Huila) and Barrancabermeja (Santander), where 1,000 women dressed in black were to commemorate the victims of militarism in the region. Actions were also scheduled to take place in two other towns in Santander: Piedecuesta and Landazuri. (Red de Defensores no Institucionalizados de Colombia, Nov. 18) Thousands of women took part in the protest in Barrancabermeja on Nov. 18, according to a message posted on Colombia Indymedia. The action was organized by the Popular Women’s Organization (OFP). (Message from “Chrisman” posted on Colombia Indymedia, Nov. 19)

On Nov. 11 in San Salvador, hundreds of students joined human rights activists in a torchlight procession on the campus of the Jose Simeon Canas Central American University (UCA) to commemorate the Nov. 16, 1989 murder of the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter. The massacre took place on the UCA campus; the rector and vice-rector of the university were among those killed. The vigil was preceded by a student demonstration marking the 17th anniversary of the launching of a major guerrilla offensive by the leftist Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN). El Salvador’s 12-year internal armed conflict ended with peace accords in 1992. About 85,000 people were killed, most of them civilians, out of a total population at the time of about 4.5 million. (La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 13 from AFP, Prensa Latina) The military and death squads of the US-backed Salvadoran government were responsible for the vast majority of the killings. The rightwing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) remains in power since June 1989. The FMLN is the second-largest political party.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 19

See our last posts on the SOA, Colombia and Central America.