US: annual SOA protest smaller but ‘energizing’

Some 2,000 activists traveled to Columbus, Georgia, for the 23rd annual vigil outside Fort Benning to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). The activities, held this year from Nov. 22 to 24, were sponsored by SOA Watch, which 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. Previous years were marked by trespass arrests as protesters tried to enter Fort Benning; nearly 300 activists have served prison sentences of up to two years for acts of civil disobedience since the vigils began. This year no protesters entered the base. One activist chained himself to the base’s fence on Nov. 23 but eventually unlocked himself after local police agents refused to arrest him.

The police estimated the number of protesters at 1,700, far less than the 22,000 reported in 2006; Father Roy Bourgeois, who started the protests in 1990, put this year’s attendance at about 2,000. But Bourgeois noted that the participants were younger this year, with over half seeming to be high-school and college students; SOA Watch said the vigil had “energized the movement.” “I think that as teenagers and as young adults who are going to be a part of the culture when we grow up, we should be educated on what our government is doing, who our government’s involved with, and I think that it’s such a good cause to be down here,” Audrey Lodes, who rode to Columbus on a bus from Nerinx Hall High School, a Roman Catholic girls school in Webster Groves, Missouri, told a reporter. “And I think it’s such a different perspective on our government than we ever see in the newspapers or in the media,” she added. (WTVM, Columbus, Georgia, Nov.23; 
Columbus Enquirer-Ledger, Nov. 24)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 24