Throughout modern history, the United States has ruthlessly exploited its Latin American empire. While profits for multinational U.S. firms soared, and the hopeless debts and dependency of the United States' southern neighbors grew, resistance to oppressive imperial rule mounted. From peasant and indigenous uprisings to popular revolutionary movements, it seemed that widespread opposition would inevitably terminate U.S. imperialism's stranglehold over the region. Countering this hazard to history's greatest empire required brutal and indiscriminate military force -- it required the School of the Americas. Countless atrocities and massacres, numerous dictators, and hundreds of thousands of human rights abuses have been the products of the School. Its graduates are so murderous and its curriculum so barbaric that Congressman Esteban Torres has said, "The training that takes place in this country of military troops from another country, on how to seduce, torture, intimidate...is tantamount to what Nazis did."1
The School of the Americas is a United States Army training center for Latin American soldiers. Officially, the School claims to promote military professionalism, coordinate Latin American military forces, and teach soldiers about the United States.2 Throughout its over 50 years, the School has trained over 60,000 foreign soldiers, many of whom have returned to their home countries to commit some of the most vicious atrocities in Latin American history.3
THE REAL PURPOSE OF THE SCHOOL
The true purpose of the School of the Americas has been to preserve US domination of Latin America through the only available method, military repression. After World War II, George Kennan, an important architect of U.S. foreign policy, said, "We control about 50 percent of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population...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 national security...We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction."4 The Hoover Commission put it more bluntly, "Hitherto accepted norms of human conduct do not apply...If the United States is to survive, long-standing American concepts of fair play must be reconsidered...We must learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, sophisticated, more effective methods than those used against us."5
Realizing that the United States' rhetoric of freedom and democracy was incompatible with its imperialistic reality, the U.S. government began to strengthen its dictatorial puppet regimes and set out to suppress popular revolutionary movements in a systematic and ferocious manner.
The U.S. military never restricted itself to supporting nations that upheld even the slightest level of freedom or democracy. Quite the contrary, the School consistently produced soldiers and officers to bolster fascistic governments and death squads, sometimes even training men who would overthrow democratically elected governments. "There is hardly a country in our hemisphere that hasn't been touched by the crimes of School of the Americas graduates," said Congressman Joseph Kennedy.6
Although United States support for these ultra-rightist groups often enabled them to assume control of their country, the assistance hardly ended there. The fascistic governments formed by U.S. puppets were never popular, nor was the oppressive and exploitative model which the United States applied to its empire. To maintain the contradiction between growing U.S. profits and unendurable poverty for the Latin American majority, the School of the Americas took on an essential role in training the soldiers of well-established ultra-rightist governments. Father Ray Bourgeois, the founder of SOA Watch, a group dedicated to documenting the atrocities of SOA graduates and shutting down the School, most accurately described the situation, "The starting point of this issue is really not the School of the Assassins. The point is the reality in Latin America, one in which the majority of people struggle in poverty just to survive. For so long, Latin American militaries have been defending a socioeconomic system that keeps the rich rich and the poor poor."7
THE ARMY'S DEFENSE
The United States' military establishment has its own unique account of the objectives of the School of the Americas. As usual, the military's versions of history and reality are based on little honesty and less evidence. Typically, the military establishment advances five major arguments in defense of the School. They claim the School has created stability, that it exposes Latin American soldiers to U.S. values, promotes respect for human rights, fights drugs, and is responsible for the transition to democracy in Latin America. Unfortunately, none of these claims are valid.
The School of the Americas has done little to preserve stability in Latin America and has proved that stability and a highly professional military are not always desirable. Through death squads and the regular SOA-trained armies of fascistic dictators, the School of the Americas has admittedly achieved some stability, primarily by murdering any possible dissenter. However, the death have also undermined numerous civilian governments and continue to pose a threat to civilian rule. Panama's president described the School as the "biggest base for destabilization in Latin America."8 Besides the fact that any stability the School has brought is more than canceled out by instability it has also brought, the supposedly stable SOA-aided governments, by their repressive nature, have also proven to be tremendous motivation for revolution. "SOA played a critical role in the development and professionalization of the Salvadoran Armed Forces," says SOA-written propaganda.9 Yet this professionalization, as will be shown later, enabled the military of El Salvador to wage war on its own people.
Another argument the military establishment makes is that the School exposes students to the values of the U.S. Even without accurately examining just what those values are, it is clear that this argument is incorrect as well. As a critic of the School has noted, soldiers'experience in the U.S. "shows them the good life, not democracy. They go home thinking that if their army stays in power they can continue the perks they experience here."10
Perhaps the greatest lie of all about the School is that it teaches respect for human rights, democracy, and civilian control of government. U.S. Army Major Joseph Blair, who taught at the School of the Americas, has said, "In three years at the School, I never heard of such lofty goals as promoting freedom, democracy, or human rights."11 In 1989 the School integrated some form of human rights education into all of its classes.12 However, Blair reports that most soldiers regard the classes as a joke, and that the human rights class he attended was taught by "a Pinochet thug."13 Charles T. Call, who works at the Washington Office on Latin America, also visited the School recently. "Unfortunately, I found that these changes are not much more than a facelift. Several instructors, I found, are from countries with appalling human rights records," he concluded.14 Another obstacle to any human rights training at the School is the fact that its instructors have included founders of paramilitary death squads, a military dictator, leaders of massacres, murderers, and soldiers convicted of war crimes.15
The allegation that the School of the Americas is helping to fight the war on drugs is absurd. U.S. government complicity with drug importation to the United States by the Contras, over 4,000 of whom were SOA graduates,16 shows that if anything, the SOA is responsible for aiding, not stopping, international drug smugglers. Countries with drug problems whose soldiers are being trained at the SOA, such as Colombia and Mexico, are using these soldiers to make war on domestic revolutionary movements, not drug dealers. Fighting rich people, drug dealers or not, has never been the intention of the School of the Americas.
Finally, the military makes the claim that Latin America's democracies came about because of the School. If any relationship between the two exists, it is that democracy has come about in spite of the SOA. The U.S. government cannot refute the historical fact that SOA graduates have regularly overthrown elected civilian governments. Presently, Latin American democracy is producing results favorable to U.S. business and the rich elite in the region. But, if ever another Salvador Allende or Jacabo Arbenz threatens to democratically carry out the will of the people at the expense of multinational U.S. corporations, School of the Americas graduates will always be waiting. It is the graduates of the School of the Americas that pose the greatest threat to Latin American democracy.
WHY CLOSE THE SCHOOL?
Objections to the School of the Americas are highly legitimate and greater in number. Recent opposition has built over the acknowledgement that the School used manuals that taught and promoted torture. Participation by SOA graduates in almost every major human rights abuse in recent Latin American history, including countless hideous atrocities, provides another reason for closing the School. Last, some of the most murderous dictators Latin America has known have been graduates of the School.
THE TORTURE MANUALS
As the Pentagon confirmed in 1992, the SOA advocated the use of torture and disseminated manuals that taught methods of torturing victims.17 The manuals described organizations threatening to the government as any group that criticizes the government or military, celebrates national or religious festivals, engages in political protest, constructs new housing, or refuses to provide intelligence to government forces.18 Unions, student and youth groups, political parties, and community organizations were named as groups that should be infiltrated by secret police forces.19 To accomplish their goals, the manuals instructed militaries to use bounty payments for enemy dead, motivation though fear, beatings, false imprisonment, executions, and Sodiopenthanol to elicit information.20
ATROCITIES BY GRADUATES
School of the Americas graduates have been proven to be responsible for beatings, blackmail, extortion, torture, assassinations, rape, massacres, arbitrary executions, and genocide.
In El Salvador, 48 of 69 members of the military who the UN Truth Commission report cited for human rights abuses were SOA graduates.21 The Commission also found that 10 of 12 officers responsible for the El Mozote massacre of 900 villagers were graduates of the School.22 The solve survivor of the atrocity, who watched in hiding as her four children were bayoneted to death by government forces, said, "Please, don't give us any more of this military aid. It would be better to help the poor."23
According to several human rights groups, over 100 Colombian officers cited for abuses were SOA graduates.24 In 1985, SOA graduate General Rafael Samudio Molina led the massacre at the Colombian Palace of Justice, according to a report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.25 Three years later, he was inducted into the SOA Hall of Fame.
Guatemala has suffered from murder, torture, and other atrocities committed by SOA graduates as much as any Latin American nation. After 1954, when a US-sponsored coup overthrew the democratically elected government and replaced it with a military dictatorship, over 200,000 people were killed or disappeared.26 The paramilitary Civil Patrols death squads and Guatemala's terrifying military intelligence agency, G2, were also led by SOA graduates.27 Since the conclusion of the Civil War, a 1998 human rights report by the Guatemala Archdiocese Human Rights Office and a 1999 report by the Guatemala Truth Commission linked SOA graduates to genocide against civilians.28
Nicaraguan dictator Anastacio Somoza, never a popular man, used the School's services to train over 4,000 members of his National Guard, soldiers who later became the US-supported Contra army.29 After the triumph of the popular Sandinista revolution, the Contras continued the fighting, kidnapping, raping, mutilating, and murdering countless civilians, while also bombing the hospitals the new government had created.30
The 1992 murder of nine students and their professor at La Cantuta University in Peru involved at least six officers trained at the School of the Americas.31 Two lieutenants cited for the 1985 Accomarca massacre of 69 peasants also graduated from the School.32
In Honduras, at least 19 officers of the feared Battalion 3-16 death squads were graduates of the School.33 Four of five of the officers who formed Battalion 3-16 were also graduates.34
Chilean General Ernesto Baeza Michaelsen, another SOA graduate, led the CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew democratically elected President Salvador Allende and installed ultra-rightist dictator Augusto Pinochet.35
More prominent murders committed by SOA graduates include the assassination of Archbishop Romero and the murders of two union leaders in El Salvador.36 Other incidents include the murders of two US citizens by SOA graduates in Guatemala, and the execution of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter, by 26 Salvadoran officers, 19 of whom were SOA graduates.
These atrocities are only the beginning of a long list of crimes committed by graduates of the School of the Americas. Evidence against the School's graduates destroys the U.S. military's argument that the School has only produced a few bad apples. Charles T. Call, who investigated the School, said, "Even more distressing, I found that the United States continues to invite soldiers accused of gross human rights violations to the school."37 The military establishment also defends itself with the argument that it is not responsible for the fact that its graduates commit atrocities. Of course, if the School's students really did start out as horribly as they ended up, one wonders why the U.S. army is training them.
SCHOOL OF DICTATORS
"The U.S. Army School of the Americas...is a school that has run more dictators than any other school in the history of the world," said Congressman Joseph Kennedy.38 In total, the School has produced at least twelve Latin American dictators.
Probably the most famous of the dictators educated at the School of the Americas was Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Noriega ruled as military dictator from 1983 to 1989, when he was overthrown by a US invasion and sentenced to 40 years in prison for drug smuggling. Before Noriega, SOA graduate General Omar Torrijos had used the National Guard to overthrow Panama's elected government in 1968, ruling oppressively until 1981.39
In Ecuador, SOA graduate Major General Guillermo Rodriguez overthrew the elected government and became the military dictator.40
In Peru, Major General Juan Velasco, another graduate of the School, did the same thing.41
Lieutenant General Roberto Viola, also a graduate, led a military government in Argentina in 1981. He was succeeded by a fellow graduate, Lieutenant General Leopoldo Galtieri. During this period, the two men were responsible for Argentina's "Dirty Little War" that killed 30,000 people in an often barbaric manner.42
Bolivian General and SOA graduate Hugo Banzer Suarez led a bloody coup in 1971. Despite murdering labor leaders and opposition politicians and sheltering a Nazi war criminal, he was honored as a member of the SOA Hall of Fame in 1988.43 Later, the Bolivian military appointed SOA graduate Major General Guido Vildoso to serve as military dictator.44
In 1975, Brigadier General Juan Melgar Castro, yet another SOA graduate, became the military dictator of Honduras. From 1980-1982 the dictatorial Honduran regime was headed by Policarpo Paz Garcia, who intensified repression and murder by Battalion 3-16.45
José Efraín Montt, a graduate of the School, served as dictator of Guatemala. During his rule, 2,600 peasants and Indians were massacred in a few months, according to an Amnesty International report.46
Most recently, the elected Aristide government of Haiti was overthrown by General Raoul Cédras, who attended the School, though the military establishment denies he is a graduate.47
SHUTTING DOWN THE SCHOOL
Unending violence, repression, and suffering in Latin America caused by graduates of the School of the Americas have raised concerns about the School. The School of the Americas Watch has struggled sincerely against the School, though Congress and the mainstream media's devotion to the cause is questionable
In 1998, Congressman Joseph Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) introduced a bill to shut down the School because of the heinous acts perpetrated by its graduates. Supporters of the School defeated the bill 212-201, but Congressman Moakley is trying to close the School again in 1999. Unfortunately, the solution proposed by these politicians does not even begin to deal with any of the problems the School of the Americas creates or symbolizes. "Closing the United States Army School of the Americas would not prevent the United States from providing appropriate training for military personnel of Latin American armed forces," says the 1999 bill. The current legislation to close the School of the Americas is well meaning, but alone it is useless, hypocritical, and self-contradictory.
Mainstream media attention has finally been granted to the School in a series of editorials across newspapers nationwide. The New York Times editorialized that "the school does little to advance American interests and should be closed down."48 The Times' remarks miss the point. That millions of people have suffered human rights abuses should be enough to convince one that "American interests" are not worth advancing. Unfortunately, the point is not made, and this is the fundamental barrier to ending the repression the School represents.
The School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) is a non-profit organization that has been working to close the School, with its leaders often landing in jail as a result. The group has documented that at least 1 in 100 graduates has returned to his home country "not to promote democracy, but to rape, kill, torture, and participate in massacres."49
In 1999, the SOAW will hold its 10th annual protest rally at Fort Benning.50 At the protest in 1998, 7,000 people attended and 2,319 peacefully trespassed onto the School's property.51 A total of nearly 1,000,000 signatures on petitions demanded that the School of the Americas be closed.52
With its Latin American empire threatened, the United States made a conscious choice: "Hitherto accepted norms of human conduct do not apply." A decision between the legitimate desires of the people of Latin America and the wealth of the United States was inevitable, but choosing the latter at such tremendous cost was not. Preserving Latin America's abusive socioeconomic structure probably could not have been accomplished without such institutions as the School of the Americas. These establishments have prolonged the suffering created by the enormous inequality that continues to plague the region, and threaten today what few improvements have been achieved. Closing the School of the Americas is not enough. The School, and the entire barbaric foreign policy agenda of which it is part, must be destroyed.
1 Pace, David. "Critics Claim New Evidence Links Army School to Rights Abuses." Associated Press. July 23, 1998.
3 Brown, Brian. "School for Scandal." Commonweal Foundation. January 18, 1998, p. 10.
4 Klare, Michael T., and Kornbluh, Peter. Low Intensity Warfare: Counterinsurgency, Proinsurgency, and Antiterrorism in the Eighties. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988. P. 48.
5 "The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis." A program with Bill Moyers. Produced by Alvin H. Perlmutter, Inc., and Public Affairs Television, in association with WNET and WETA. 1987.
6 Pace, David. "Critics Claim New Evidence Links Army School to Rights Abuses." Associated Press. July 23, 1998.
7 Salter, Stephanie. "'Simple Issue' Keeps Rev. Bourgeois Protesting School of Americas." Minneapolis Star Tribune February 3, 1999, p. 17A.
8 Panetta, Linda. "School of Americas." www.stockton.edu/~biology/Platypus/assasin.htm (March 1999)
9 Leuer, Joseph C. "School of the Americas and U.S. Foreign Policy Attainment in Latin America." An information paper by the School of the Americas. January, 1996.
10 "Running a 'School for Dictators'." Newsweek. August 9, 1993
11 Blair, Joseph. "SOA Isn't Teaching Democracy." Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. July 20, 1993.
12 Grimmett, Richard F., and Sullivan, Mark P. "CRS Report for Congress." Congressional Research Service. May 19, 1994.
13 Brown, Brian. "School for Scandal." Commonweal Foundation. January 18, 1998, p. 10.
14 Call, Charles T. "Academy of Torture." Miami Herald. August 9, 1993.
15 "SOA Instructors, Speakers &Hall of Famers: And These Are the Role Models?" Latin American Working Group. www.igc.org/lawg/LisaMilitaryNames.html. (March, 1999)
16 "School of the Americas Alumni." The Nonviolent Action Community of Cascadia. www.nonviolence.org/nacc/su96-1.htm#4. (March, 1999)
17 Salter, Stephanie. "'Simple Issue' Keeps Rev. Bourgeois Protesting School of Americas." Minneapolis Star Tribune. February 3, 1999, p. 17A.
18 Panetta, Linda. "School of Americas."
www.stockton.edu/~biology/Platypus/assasin.htm. (March 1999)
20 Ernst, Shawna. "School of the Americas." Human Rights Internet. www.hri.ca/doccentre/soa/ernst.shtml. (March, 1999)
21 Grimmett, Richard F., and Sullivan, Mark P. "CRS Report for Congress." Congressional Research Service. May 19, 1994.
23 Ernst, Shawna. "School of the Americas." Human Rights Internet. www.hri.ca/doccentre/soa/ernst.shtml. (March, 1999)
24 Grimmett, Richard F., and Sullivan, Mark P. "CRS Report for Congress." Congressional Research Service. May 19, 1994.
25 Ernst, Shawna. "School of the Americas." Human Rights Internet. www.hri.ca/doccentre/soa/ernst.shtml. (March, 1999)
26 Panetta, Linda. "School of Americas." www.stockton.edu/~biology/Platypus/assasin.htm. (March 1999)
29 "School of the Americas Alumni." The Nonviolent Action Community of Cascadia. www.nonviolence.org/nacc/su96-1.htm#4. (March, 1999)
30 Panetta, Linda. "School of Americas." www.stockton.edu/~biology/Platypus/assasin.htm. (March 1999)
31 Grimmett, Richard F., and Sullivan, Mark P. "CRS Report for Congress." Congressional Research Service. May 19, 1994.
32 "School of the Americas Alumni." The Nonviolent Action Community of Cascadia. www.nonviolence.org/nacc/su96-1.htm#4. (March, 1999)
33 Brown, Brian. "School for Scandal." Commonweal Foundation. January 18, 1998, p. 10.
34 "U.S. Army's School of the Americas' Advanced Studies in Torture." Revolutionary Worker. December 15, 1996.
35 Weiner, Tim. "F.B.I. Helped Chile Search for Leftists, Files Show." The New York Times. February 10, 1999.
36 Brown, Brian. "School for Scandal." Commonweal Foundation. January 18, 1998, p. 10.
37 Call, Charles T. "Academy of Torture." Miami Herald. August 9, 1993.
38 Nelson-Pallmeyer, Jack. School of Assassins. New York: Orbis Books, 1997.
42 "School of the Americas Alumni." The Nonviolent Action Community of Cascadia. www.nonviolence.org/nacc/su96-1.htm#4. (March, 1999)
43 "School of the Americas Alumni." The Nonviolent Action Community of Cascadia. www.nonviolence.org/nacc/su96-1.htm#4. (March, 1999)
44 Grimmett, Richard F., and Sullivan, Mark P. "CRS Report for Congress." Congressional Research Service. May 19, 1994.
46 "U.S. Army's School of the Americas' Advanced Studies in Torture." Revolutionary Worker December 15, 1996.
47 Nelson-Pallmeyer, Jack. School of Assassins. New York: Orbis Books, 1997.
48 "School of the Dictators." New York Times. September 28, 1996.
49 Salter, Stephanie. "'Simple Issue' Keeps Rev. Bourgeois Protesting School of Americas." Minneapolis Star Tribune. February 3, 1999, p. 17A.
50 Salter, Stephanie. "'Simple Issue' Keeps Rev. Bourgeois Protesting School of Americas." Minneapolis Star Tribune. February 3, 1999, p. 17A.
52 Ayling, Sharon. "'School of Assassins' Protestors Sentenced." Workers World. February 19, 1998.
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