US: SOA protest marks 20th year

About 5,000 activists marched in front of the US Army’s Fort Benning base in Columbus, Georgia, on Nov. 20 in the 20th annual protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). The school trains Latin American soldiers; SOA Watch, which sponsors the protests, says SOA graduates are among the region’s most notorious human rights violators.

A total of 26 people were arrested during or after the demonstration. Two protesters were detained for crossing into the base, while 10-12 were arrested for blocking a highway outside the base in a nonviolent civil disobedience. Local police made more arrests after the rally had started to break up; the detainees included bystanders, journalists from Russia Today television and two radio reporters.

Rally participants included Thomas Gumbleton, Roman Catholic bishop of Detroit; United Auto Workers (UAW) president Bob King; Father Jesús Alberto Franco, a defender of the human rights of indigenous, campesino and African-descended communities in Colombia; and Alejandro Ramírez, an activist in the resistance to the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras. The US State Department initially denied Ramírez a visa but relented under pressure from US organizations. The crowd was about the same size as last year; the largest demonstration to date was in 2006, when SOA Watch reported 22,000 participants [see Update #1013]. (SOA Watch, Nov. 21; La Jornada, Mexico, Nov. 21, from correspondent; New York Times, Nov. 21)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 28.

See our last post on WHINSEC/SOA.