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News ::
SOA Protest Report (english)
18 Nov 2002
Protesters at last weekend's SOA Watch event in Columbus, Georgia made connections between war at home and abroad.
Hypocrisy of "War on Terror" Confronted in Georgia

"Oscar Romero," a voice called out, and over ten thousand replied in
the style of a Catholic liturgical chant, raising crosses, hands, or
fists: "Presente (I am here)." For more than four hours, protesters
marched toward the gates of Fort Benning, in Columbus, Georgia, and
replied as name after name of the murdered dead was called out. From
Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, to hundreds of union organizers
in Colombia, to indigenous people of Mexico and Bolivia, mothers,
workers, from President Salvador Allende of Chile to six month old
babies, the victims of the world's most successful currently operating
terrorist training camp were solemnly remembered at a vigil on Sunday,
November 17. People from across the United States, representing
churches, unions, anarchist groups, colleges, and veterans'
organizations participated in three days of witness and organizing as
part of a movement called School of the Americas (SOA) Watch.

The SOA, recently renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security
Cooperation (WHISC) in response to criticism, is operated at taxpayer
expense by the US Army. Every year, thousands of soldiers from every
Latin American country except Cuba are trained at Ft. Benning in such
blandly-named skills as counter-insurgency, intelligence gathering,
anti-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and low-intensity conflict. The
protesters insisted that the names that better reflect reality are the
names of the people killed and tortured, and of the villages destroyed.
SOA training manuals obtained by SOA Watch single out union
organizers, protesters, and priests and nuns who teach "liberation
theology" as enemies.

Solidarity Forever

"Being a trade unionist in Colombia is having one foot in this world
and one foot in the other," says Javier Correia, the president of the
Colombian Beverage Workers union. He carries a gun, not for self
defense, but in order to commit suicide and avoid torture, should he be
captured. The members of his union are organizing at Coca-Cola
processing plants, and they have systematically been murdered by
right-wing death squads which are organized and led by Colombian
officers trained at the SOA. The United Steelworkers of America is
filing two suits in US court against Coca-Cola and Drummond Coal,
charging their complicity in the deaths of Colombian unionists. USWA
has joined the AFL-CIO and other unions in passing a resolution calling
for the school's closure. Mike Enos, a steelworker from Pittsburgh who
died this past July and frequently joined the SOA protests, willed that
his ashes would be thrown across the line onto Fort Benning so that he
could join in the civil disobedience one more time, as nearly 100
protesters faced a barbed-wire fence, $5000 bail, and up to six months
in prison by walking onto the base.

Colin, a Jobs with Justice organizer from Buffalo, NY, said "[The SOA]
is the enforcement arm of the globalization institutions - the WTO
(World Trade Organization), World Bank, and IMF (International Monetary
Fund). Without it they could easily crumble." The connection between
union busting abroad and the current Wal-Mart campaign Jobs with
Justice is organizing in Buffalo is "readily apparent," thought Colin,
"These institutions come in to privatize, to cut funding toward
workers, toward social services, and in privatizing everything, they're
cutting large numbers of jobs ... and they're cutting services, and
when [workers] don't have a job, they don't have services to fall on."
He expressed reluctance to comment on the AFL-CIO's long-standing
support for conservative trade unions in Latin America such as those
that supported the coup against president Hugo Chavez, saying "I have
my differences with the AFL-CIO ... I really shouldn't talk about
that." The generals leading the Venezuelan coup were SOA graduates.

God Bless America

SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois is a purple-heart decorated
Vietnam veteran, and there were many veterans protesting the school,
from the Korean war to the Iraq war. They carried signs that said
"Veterans For Peace" and "If you're not a veteran for peace, what are
you a veteran for?" Bob Barber, a Vietnam veteran from the Navy and
member of Veterans for Peace from North Carolina, said "It took me a
long time to realize it, but ... Vietnam was a great example of how the
government can be wrong. This school is an example, and the Iraqi war
is another." "War, in all aspects, has been glorified by the media ...
by the current administration, the bullying administration -- TV, and
movie theaters, and all that, to where soldiers really don't know what
they're getting themselves into. You're already starting to see areas
... from the Gulf war where people are coming back, shooting their
wives, killing themselves ... There's a lot there they just don't know,
same here at Ft. Benning," he said.

Air Force captain Dorothy Mackey, from Ohio, wore her peaked blue hat
and pins representing her various honors. "In my military career of
nine years, I was raped three times," she told me, "twice by military
doctors and once by a senior enlisted guy who I worked with for many
years. ... I witnessed five child molesters - four were released to
where they were molesting their stepdaughters and one, a minority, was
sent to prison. ... I was tag team assaulted in my last year of
service by the Inspector General, who is the military complaint system,
and his associates." The military prosecutors and the civilian defense
department refused to help her. She hired an attorney and took her
case to the Supreme Court. "The Justice Department represented my
perpetrators against me ... I found that there are five laws on the US
books that give military personell full immunity when they rape, maim,
or murder their own, their wives, US citizens, or civilians."

As well as teaching foreign armies, the US military is involved in
teaching kindergarten through 12th grade children in the "troops for
teachers" program. Mackey said that these soldiers who taught were not
subject to the same restrictions against assault and sexual violence
that would disqualify civilians from teaching. Of the connection to
the SOA, she said "It's all the same. I have talked to many men and
women around the world who have had their children killed by US
military members."

Mary Levesque, a high school student from Concord, NH who was with an
American Friends Service Committee youth delegation, said, "I think you
have to not take your life for granted. When you see people in your
community and in the world community who are living in such horrible
conditions, and you have so much, you just have to stop and say 'Hey, I
have to do something about this.'" Asked what their vision was, as
future activists, of how the system should be changed, "basically
socialist," one said, "it's not necessarily government-specific, but a
better standard of living, so that the rich don't have everything"

As I waited in the lobby of a nearby hotel for a ride home on Saturday
night, a beggar came in the door with a wild look on his face. "I'm a
clown," he said, "I'm a crazy clown, you see." He started to perform an
unbalanced shuffling dance. After he left, the hotel receptionist told
me how tired she was and how she couldn't wait to finish her eight hour
shift. I asked her if she was allowed any breaks and she looked
surprised and laughed, shaking her head. She pointed out the camera
mounted high on the wall. "My boss can watch me at any time, from his
bedroom. I think it's creepy," she told me.

My companions and I drove from the hotel along Victory Drive. The
median was punctuated by large American flags at regular intervals. We
passed boarded up shopping plazas, a Wal-Mart, cinderblock pawn shops
and strip joints. Billboards warned of the penalties for drunk driving
and domestic abuse, and reminded drivers to Vote Republican. On the
radio, an advertisement encouraged listeners to join the National
Guard. What or who was being guarded, and against what, was never
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