FT. BENNING, Ga. – Thousands of people converged Nov. 19 here for the vigil to close the School of the Americas. We heard powerful messages from Camilo Romero, an organizer with United Students Against Sweatshops, who helped to organize a protest at the Coca-Cola headquarters yesterday; from Patricia Isasa, an Argentinian torture survivor and Isabel Díaz-Ubillús, a Peruvian organizer and educator; from many unionists from the United Auto Workers; and from Brigida Gonzalez de Cartagena from the San José de Apartadó Peace Community, where another member of the community was tragically killed this week by a military brigade headed by an SOA graduate. Music by Francisco Herrera, Anne Feeney, Jon Fromer, Kuumba Lynx and the SOA Watch Musicians Collective kept the crowds inspired and dancing.

Over the years, the Vigil to Close the SOA at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia has grown into a massive people-power convergence with many important side events taking place throughout the weekend.

As the weekend’s events were getting started, SOA Watch received sad news from our friends in the Colombian Peace Community of San José de Apartadó.

On Nov. 17, troops commanded by General Luis Alfonso Zapata Uribe attacked and killed Arlen Salas David, a leader of the peace community.

More than 10,000 Colombian soldiers have been trained at the SOA/WHINSEC. Colombia continues to send more soldiers to the SOA than any other country – with chilling results. Graduates of the school are consistently cited for human rights abuses. The U.S. is an active contributor to the war in Colombia, providing billions in military aid

and training to the Colombian military. Movements for justice in the Americas need to stand in solidarity with the people of Colombia, work to change U.S. foreign policy and close the SOA.

*General Luis Alfonso Zapata Uribe, who has commanded the 17th Brigade of the Colombian Army since May 2005, was trained in counter-insurgency at the School of the Americas. He attended the Small-Unit Infantry Tactics C-7 course to become familiar with small-unit operational

concepts and principles at the squad and platoon level, [to] receive training in planning and conducting small-unit tactical operations.

The San José de Apartadó Peace Community wrote today, Nov. 18:

“We make an appeal for national and international support, so that our extermination can be stopped; so that the inhabitants of the whole region of Arenas Altas are not forced to become internally displaced, which the Army has told us is their objective. The serious and committed work that Arlen was carrying out will guide us. Pain barely lets us talk but we will continue to cry ‘Dignity’ out loud, like he taught us to do during his daily chores and his commitment to the community. His two small children will continue to walk besides us, building a different tomorrow in which there will be respect for life. Arlen, our tears accompany this horror but you are with us, giving us life. Thank you for your leadership, your committment. Someday history will judge those who murdered you.”

Click here to read the entire message from the San José de Apartadó community in Spanish and English.

the Coalition of Immokalee Workers will present

Legislative updates: 122 Co-Sponsors to Close the SOA!

About the SOA/ WHINSEC:

The US Army School of Americas (SOA), based in Fort Benning, Georgia, trains Latin American security personnel in combat, counter-insurgency, and counter-narcotics. SOA graduates are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America.

In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Among the SOA’s nearly 60,000 graduates are notorious dictators Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. Lower-level SOA graduates have participated in human rights abuses that include the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the El Mozote Massacre of 900 civilians.

In an attempt to deflect public criticism and disassociate the school from its dubious reputation, the SOA was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001. The name change was a result of a Department of Defense proposal included in the Defense Authorization Bill for Fiscal 2001, at a time when SOA opponents were poised to win a congressional vote on legislation that would have dismantled the school.

The name-change measure passed when the House of Representatives defeated a bi-partisan amendment to close the SOA and conduct a congressional investigation by a narrow ten-vote margin.