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Latin America Team Dispatch

The Miseducation of Latin America

What do the following Latin American atrocities have in common?

  • Six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her teenage daughter brutally slain.
  • Archbishop Oscar Romero assassinated.
  • Four American church women raped and murdered.
  • Hundreds of men, women, children, and infants viciously slaughtered.

Are you stumped? A 1993 United Nations report concluded that each of these horrific acts were carried out by graduates of the U.S. Army's School of the Americas (SOA) located in Fort Benning, Georgia. If you thought that our last report on the CIA's involvement in the Guatemalan civil war couldn't get any worse, think again. Today, we'll give you an inside look at the facility that produced some of Latin America's worst human rights abusers and yes, it is paid for by American taxpayers.

"What we discovered is a school of horrors, a school of assassins, operating in our backyard with U.S. taxpayer money." - Father Roy Bourgeois, head of the SOA Watch organization and currently serving a prison sentence for a November 1995 civil disobedience action against the SOA.

According to the School of the Americas itself, more than 56,000 Latin American soldiers and military personnel have attended the SOA since it opened its doors in 1946. When we Trekkers think of school, we think of social studies class, art class and cafeteria lunches. But at the School of the Americas, students learn subjects like counter-insurgency, infantry tactics, military intelligence, anti-narcotics operations and commando operations. The SOA has consistently been accused of teaching soldiers atrocious tactics to kill their own people.

In September 1996, the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that these accusations were, in fact, true. They also released seven SOA training manuals that outlined these abusive techniques. According to the Pentagon admission, these manuals implied that political informants could be controlled with fear, beatings, truth serum and death threats. One manual, entitled "Terrorism and the Urban Guerrilla," suggested that the duty of counter-intelligence agents should include identifying "targets for neutralizing." Despite the confirmation of these awful truths and despite international protest, the School of the Americas remains open and U.S. taxpayers continue to pay for its operation.

The most notorious Guatemalan graduates of SOA are responsible for torture, extrajudicial executions, assassinations, attempted violent coups and acts of genocide. General Hector Gramajo is considered the architect of the genocidal policies that essentially legalized military atrocities in Guatemala throughout the 1980s. In 1991, he was found guilty of numerous war crimes in an American courtroom - six weeks later he was the guest speaker at a prestigious SOA graduation ceremony! Guatemalan Colonel Julio Robert Alpirez was trained at the SOA most recently in 1990. Shortly after he returned to Guatemala, Alpirez ordered the murder of U.S. citizen Michael DeVine, who was living in Guatemala, and the 1992 torture and death of Efrain Bamaca, Guatemalan husband of U.S. lawyer Jennifer Harbury. The DeVine and Bamaca murders, in addition to other suspicious acts, helped prompt an investigation of the SOA by the Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB), a four-person board appointed by President Clinton in 1996. The IOB confirmed what those who oppose the SOA have always known - that the training materials used by the SOA condoned "executions of guerillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion and false imprisonment."

A couple of weeks ago, Abeja wrote about the REMHI project, which produced the extensive human rights report titled, Guatemala: Never Again. As Abeja described, just days after this report was released last year, the head of the REMHI project, Bishop Juan Gerardi was assassinated. His death increased international interest in the Guatemala's history of human rights abuses and the "Never Again" report confirmed that School of the Americas graduates were crucial planners and initiators of the brutal counter-insurgency strategies used during the civil war. SOA graduates made up the majority of the presidential cabinets in the 1980s under the dictatorships of General Romeo Lucas García and General Efraín Rios Montt.

If you are like us, you're probably still wondering if the U.S. government could possibly be responsible for establishing an assassin training school? It sounds ludicrous, especially when we remember that the SOA has been on American soil for the past 15 years. The School of the Americas was first established as the U.S. Army Caribbean Training Center in Panama in 1946 (it re-located to Georgia in 1984) under the guise of improving the structure of 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. The school not only changed its name, but also changed its focus to teaching Latin American armies how to defend against apparent communist threats. The U.S. government-supported school was determined to achieve this goal, even if it meant supporting a dictator or a military coup. The SOA directly undermined the values of democracy all over Latin America. And specifically in Guatemala, the school produced some of the most horrific masterminds of the 36-year civil war. If you act right now, there are ways that you can help close the School of the Americas and end its education of terror.

Click here to find out more about the upcoming vote in the U.S. Congress and how you can have your voice heard!

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