Late on June 21 the US House of Representatives voted 214-203 against an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill that would have closed the US Defense Department’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), a combat-training school for Latin American soldiers, formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). Critics say that since its founding in 1946, SOA/WHINSEC has trained many of the region’s worst human rights violators.
Despite the failure to close the institution, School of the Americas Watch (SOAW)—an organization that mounts huge protests at the school’s site in Fort Benning, Georgia, each November—says “the margin of SOA/WHINSEC survival is rapidly dwindling.” This year the amendment had 111 cosponsors and won the support of a number of Congress members from the Republican Party of US president George W. Bush. “Tens of thousands of emails, faxes and calls flooded the halls of Congress” in the three days before vote, SOAW reports. (SOAW report, June 22)
The House, dominated by the opposition Democratic Party, approved two amendments on June 21 relating to Latin America, both proposed by Republican members.
The legislators voted 254-170 for an amendment from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) to provide more funds for opposition groups that she said were promoting democracy in Cuba. The House approved by acclamation an amendment proposed by Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL) to increase the budget for Voice of America radio transmissions to Latin America to counter what Mack called “the propaganda of [Venezuelan president Hugo] Chavez which is being exported to Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba.” Mack added that there is no press freedom in Venezuela, where “all people can hear or see are the things that Chavez allows.”
Congress is still working on the spending bill, which will provide a total of $34.2 billion for the State Department and foreign aid budgets for fiscal year 2008, including $530 million in aid to Colombia for use against drug trafficking and armed groups. (EFE, June 21 via Yahoo en español, quotes retranslated from Spanish)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 24