School Of The Americas

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See also: Censorship | Imperialism

Acronym: SOA: School Of the AmericasAlso: WHISC: Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation

A US Army training school that prepares soldiers and military personnel from Latin American countries in subjects like counter-insurgency, infantry tactics, military intelligence, counter-narcotics operations, and commando operations. This training is funded by US taxpayers, and all of the training is conducted in Spanish. Most of the classes are taught by Latin American instructors. According to the SOA itself, more than 60,000 members of Latin American militaries have attended the SOA since its inception in 1946.


Wasn’t the SOA closed?

On January 17, 2001 the SOA’s name changed (as noted above) to the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation” (WHISC), as a result of a Department of Defense proposal included in the Defense Authorization Bill for Fiscal 2001. The measure passed when the House of Representatives defeated a bi-partisan amendment to close the school and conduct a congressional investigation by a narrow ten vote margin. See Legislative Update.

Is the new school different?

A point by point comparison between the old school and the new school show that the changes are almost entirely cosmetic. In a media interview last year, Georgia Senator and SOA supporter, the late Paul Coverdell, characterized the DOD proposal as “cosmetic” changes that would ensure that the SOA could continue its mission and operation. Critics of the SOA concur. The new military training school is the continuation of the SOA under a new name. It is a new name, but the same shame. See Talking Points, Critique of WHISC, Course Comparison

What is the history of the SOA?

The School of the Americas was first established as the U.S. Army Caribbean Training Center in Panama in 1946 to help professionalize Latin American and Caribbean militaries. In 1963, under President John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, the training center was renamed the School of the Americas. Along with the name change, the School changed to a Cold War focus. In 1984, the school was forced to move from Panama to Fort Benning, near Columbus, Georgia, under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaties.

Why do you want to close the SOA?

SOA graduates have included many of the most notorious human rights abusers from Latin America. SOA graduates have led military coups and are responsible for massacres of hundreds of people. 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. SOA graduates were responsible for the Uraba massacre in Colombia, the El Mozote massacre of 900 civilians in El Salvador, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, and the Jesuit massacre in El Salvador, the La Cantuta massacre in Peru, the torture and murder of a UN worker in Chile, and hundreds of other human rights abuses. In September 1996, under intense pressure from religious and grassroots groups, the Pentagon released seven Spanish-language training manuals used at the SOA until 1991. The New York Times reported, “Americans can now read for themselves some of the noxious lessons the United States Army taught thousands of Latin Americans… [The SOA manuals] recommended interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail and arresting the relatives of those being questioned.”

Isn’t it unfair to blame the SOA for the actions of a few “bad apples?”

You can find criminals of every ilk who graduated from Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, but no one advocates closing those institutions because of the crimes of some of their graduates. If Harvard, Yale, or Princeton taught their students combat skills that to be used against non-combatant civilians, we would justifiably call for their closure. The few “bad apples” argument is not very convincing, given the weight of the evidence about the involvement of SOA graduates in human rights abuses — two of three officers cited in the assassination of Archbishop Romero; three of five officers cited in the rape and murder of four U.S. churchwomen; ten of twelve cited for the El Mozote massacre of 900 civilians; over 100 of 246 cited for atrocities in Colombia. Furthermore, the full scope of atrocities committed by SOA graduates will likely never be known because members of Latin American militaries are generally above the law. It is rare that crimes by members of these militaries are investigated and rarer still when the names of those suspected are released.

Hasn’t the SOA been reformed to include human rights training?

The SOA has always claimed that it didn’t teach its students how to torture or how to commit other human rights abuses. Now after the truth has been revealed by the release of the training manuals, the SOA claims that it has changed. Despite proponents’ assertions that the School of the Americas has reformed, SOA continues as a combat training school that focuses on courses with titles such as “Combat Arms Officer,” Psychological Operations,” “Battle Staff Operations,” and “Commando Course.” Only one of 42 courses in the 1996 course catalogue — “Democratic Sustainment” — centers on issues of democracy and human rights. It is interesting to note that in 1997, only 13 students took this course, compared with 118 who took “Military Intelligence”. The “mandatory human rights component” of other courses comprises only a very small portion of the total course hours. Former SOA human rights instructor Charles Call has reported that human rights training is not taken seriously at the school and human rights training makes up an insignificant amount of students’ overall training.

But hasn’t the SOA has made an important contribution to democratization of the region?

No. The SOA was founded as a combat school focused on counterinsurgency techniques. Rather than contributing to the development of democracy in the region, the SOA actually taught methods that undermined and destroyed democratic values.

What can I do to help close the SOA?

Call/write/fax/email your elected representative and ask him/her to support HR 1810, Rep. McGovern’s bill to close the SOA/WHISC. Tell your friends, family, and everybody you know and meet to do the same. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and urge others to support closing the SOA. Organize a local educational event or action.


WikipediaWestern Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation

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