GW students and activists from across the United States will demonstrate outside the School of Americas (SOA) in Ft. Benning, Ga. Nov. 21.
The demonstration will mark the 20th anniversary of the execution in November 1979 of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador, who were murdered by graduates from the School of Americas. But these murders represent just nine of the hundreds of thousands of victims of this federally subsidized U.S. training school.
For those not familiar with the SOA, it has trained more than 60,000 Latin American troops in techniques of torture and assassination against their own poverty-stricken populations. Its alumni include some of the world’s most renowned military dictators, including Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Panama’s Gen. Manuel Noriega, a former CIA informant, and Salvadoran death squad leader Roberto D’Aubuisson. In El Salvador alone, more than two thirds of government officers cited for the worst atrocities in the decadelong civil war that killed 80,000 people were SOA graduates.
The founders of the school were blunt about the aims of U.S. foreign policy. As George Keenan, head of the State Department’s planning staff, argued in 1948, We have about 50 percent of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population.In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization.The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.
The SOA is part of several strategies the U.S. has used to dominate South and Central America militarily, politically, but most importantly economically. As Keenan clearly stated, military force and stability was necessary to protect the economic interests of U.S. businesses. Lower wages and poor working conditions mean more profits. Multinationals have set up sweatshops throughout South and Central America and are assured the political stability and economic security that SOA graduates provide.
It is no wonder that SOA graduates are taught to target labor unions and activists. The results speak for themselves: these businesses reap millions, sometimes billions, in profits each year.
Documentation of the real purpose of the SOA is not hard to find. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to admit the existence of a torture manual. As one SOA graduate said, We were trained to torture human beings. They had a medical physician, a U.S. medical physician which I remember very well, who was dressed in green fatigues, who would teach students.[about] the nerve endings of the body. He would show them where to torture, where and where not, where you wouldn’t kill the individual.
A North American nun, Diana Ortiz, described her own torture, for the crime of teaching Mayan children to read, at the hands of SOA graduate Gen. Hector Gramajo, a former Guatemalan Defense Minister. They took me to a clandestine prison where I was tortured and raped repeatedly. My back and chest were burned more than 111 times with cigarettes. I was lowered into an open pit packed with human bodies – bodies of children, women and men, some decapitated, some lying face up and caked with blood, some dead, some alive – and all swarming with rats. Two years after his involvement in Ortiz’s rape and torture, Gen. Hector Gramajo delivered the school’s commencement address.
As the atrocities have been publicized, more and more people have become involved in the struggle to shut down the SOA. Last November, 7,000 protesters came out to shut down the SOA in Ft. Benning, Ga. As a result, funding was temporarily cut. This reveals where change comes from.
This year’s demonstration promises to be even bigger with the aim of, once and for all, shutting down the School of Americas.
-The writer, a member of the International Socialist Organization, is a student in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development.