[Marxism] Uruguay and Argentina reported to repuidiate ties to "School of the Americas": A US insititution heads for revamping and (above all) renaming

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Apr 2 00:28:25 MST 2006

¡No Mas! No More!

[posted online on March 31, 2006]

In the past week, the defense ministers of both Uruguay and Argentina
have declared that their governments plan to cut ties with the US Army's
School of the Americas. The Montevideo newspaper La República quoted
Uruguay's defense minister explaining her country's position in an
article published Thursday, and Argentina's defense ministry has issued
a statement to The Nation confirming that the lone Argentine soldier
currently training at the SOA will be the country's last to enroll
there. These developments represent two of the strongest indications to
date that the people of Latin America have come to view the SOA as a
destabilizing force and a gateway to human rights atrocities. 

Since its founding in 1946, the SOA--now located at Fort Benning in
Georgia and renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security
Cooperation--has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers in
commando and psychological warfare, counterinsurgency techniques and
intelligence-gathering. The Pentagon has acknowledged the school's use
of field manuals advocating torture in the past, and UN commissions and
research organizations have linked SOA graduates to many of the region's
most heinous massacres, assassinations and torturous interrogations over
the years. Graduates from Uruguay and Argentina figure prominently into
this sordid history, from Uruguayan soldiers linked to kidnappings and
torture through Operation Condor to the notorious Argentine dictators
Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri.

Roy Bourgeois, the Catholic priest who founded SOA Watch in 1990,
catalyzed the developments in Uruguay and Argentina by appealing
directly to the two countries' defense ministers in face-to-face
meetings during a visit to the region. "We did not have to convince
them," said Bourgeois, speaking by phone from Buenos Aires. "The people
here are very educated about the SOA and US foreign policy, simply
because they've been on the receiving end." 

Joined by Salvadoran torture survivor Carlos Mauricio and human rights
activist Lisa Sullivan-Rodriguez, Bourgeois met with Azucena Berrutti,
Uruguay's defense minister, on March 24 in Montevideo. Berrutti
demonstrated deep knowledge of the SOA, according to Bourgeois and
Sullivan-Rodriguez, and assured her visitors that Uruguay, which has not
sent any soldiers to Fort Benning since President Tabaré Vázquez took
office last year, has no intentions of sending its citizens there in the
future. "From the beginning of the conversation, Minister Berrutti told
us that there was no need to explain the atrocities of the SOA, as [she
and the people of Uruguay] were fully aware of this reality, having
experienced firsthand the horrors of the tortures, detentions,
imprisonments and 'disappearances' caused by its graduates," wrote
Sullivan-Rodriguez in an e-mail message from Buenos Aires. On Wednesday,
five days after the Montevideo meeting, Berrutti stated publicly that
Uruguay will not send any more soldiers to the SOA, which La República

On Monday in Buenos Aires, Bourgeois and his allies, this time including
Hebe de Bonafini of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, encountered a
similar reaction from Nilda Garré, Argentina's defense minister. The
Buenos Aires meeting occurred just days after the thirtieth anniversary
of the coup that launched years of military dictatorships in Argentina,
and in an era in which the country has sent between 12 and 22 soldiers
to the SOA annually. In its statement to The Nation three days after the
meeting, the defense ministry declared that though the one soldier from
Argentina currently training at Fort Benning will remain there until
July, "In the future, there are no plans to send more personnel."

Bourgeois drew the blueprint for these victories in 2004, when he met
with Hugo Chávez in Caracas and presented his case against the SOA. As
the National Catholic Reporter noted in April of that year, Venezuela
announced its decision to stop sending soldiers to the SOA just six
weeks after Bourgeois's Caracas meeting. Since then, the Georgia-based
priest has made numerous direct appeals to government officials
throughout Latin America.

On March 20, before traveling to Uruguay and Argentina, Bourgeois met
with Evo Morales, Bolivia's newly elected president, in La Paz. Having
sent more than 500 soldiers to the school in the past decade alone,
Bolivia currently stands among the SOA's most reliable customers. Though
Morales steered clear of definitive statements during the meeting,
Bourgeois said the former coca farmer and longtime critic of US foreign
policy offered positive feedback. "It'll take some time, because he'll
have to meet with his advisors," Bourgeois said of Morales, "but I have
no doubt that Bolivia, like Uruguay and Argentina, is going to pull out
its troops."

Even without Bolivia, Bourgeois's direct appeal strategy has already
contributed to three critical success stories for SOA Watch and the
movement to close the institution. "We're thrilled Uruguay and Argentina
joined Venezuela as the second and third countries to agree that they
would stop sending troops to the school," said Christy Pardew,
communications coordinator for SOA Watch in Washington, DC. "These are
incredible victories for social movements in all of the Americas, from
mothers of the disappeared in Argentina to social groups in Uruguay to
activists here in the United States." 

Lesley Gill, a professor of anthropology at American University and the
author of The School of the Americas, said given the "symbolic
importance" of the SOA, the two governments' decisions to stop sending
soldiers speak to issues much larger than the institution itself. "This
is very important because of what happened in those countries under
military dictators," she said. "It shows they want to move away from the
legacy of the dirty wars, and in not closing the SOA the United States
has shown that it's not willing to do that."

As a political matter, Bourgeois's victories in Latin America will
almost certainly further invigorate the movement to close the
institution inside the United States, which in turn could spark action
in Washington. Though the House bill to close the SOA remains a long
shot in the current Congress, its sponsor, Democrat Jim McGovern of
Massachusetts, called the developments in Uruguay and Argentina "a
powerful statement" and expressed his hope for continued momentum on the
issue. McGovern said he plans "to work with some of the grassroots
organizations to decide whether we should put [the bill] up for a vote
this year or wait until next year, when hopefully we have a different

Despite the Democratic Party's mixed record on the SOA, changing
dynamics in Washington could, as McGovern implied, reshape the
legislative playing field on the issue, given that Democrats and the
Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders account for 114 of the House bill's
125 co-sponsors. With SOA Watch's efforts in the United States
generating more support for closure by the year--the annual protest at
Fort Benning in November 2005 drew 19,000 people and more than 30 of
them have been sentenced to federal prison terms for acts of civil
disobedience--the bill could well make headway in a newly aligned

Perhaps even more important than their legislative implications, the
developments in Uruguay and Argentina speak volumes about the changing
political landscape of Latin America. As Bourgeois, who in the 1970s was
forced to leave Bolivia, then under the dictatorship of SOA graduate
Hugo Banzer, said, "The fear that was alive in these countries through
years of repression has been overcome by hope." 

So regardless of whether Washington's power brokers continue to defend
the SOA and the history of US policy it represents, Bourgeois and his
legions of activists throughout the Americas are not likely to let the
issue slip away. Indeed, the SOA debate has not yet run its course.

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