The School of the Americas
World War II was the “good war”. After that conflict, most Americans believed that US intentions in the world were noble — the US was the punisher of aggression and a warrior for freedom. This image was for generations of Americans the measure by which they judged their country in world affairs. The war in Vietnam ended the illusion that America was always on the “right side”. Today, America’s image as a defender of democracy and justice has been further eroded by the School of the Americas (SOA), which trains Latin American and Caribbean military officers and soldiers to subvert democracy and kill hope in their own countries.
School of the Americas: School of Assassins, USA (Recently sanitized its name and is now operating as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) [print_link]
Founded by the United States in 1946, the SOA was initially located in Panama, but in 1984 it was kicked out under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty and moved to the army base at Fort Benning, Georgia. Then-President of Panama Jorge Illueca called it “the biggest base for de-stabilization in Latin America,” and a major Panamanian newspaper dubbed it ” The School of Assassins.” PHOTO: Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a Catholic priest, has been the SOA’s main opponent. With little or no support from the Vatican and the higher echelons of the Church, Bourgeois has created a network of information casting light on one of the shadiest US military operations.
Today, SOA instructors and students are recruited from the cream of the Latin American military establishment. The School trains 700-2,000 soldiers a year, and since its inception in 1946, more than 60,000 military personnel have graduated from the SOA.
If the SOA concentrated its training on protecting country borders from foreign aggression or safeguarding citizens from invasion by outside enemies, it would be considered an exemplary institution, worth the cost of American tax dollars and US prestige. But, the SOA has very different goals. Its curriculum includes courses in psychological warfare, counterinsurgency, interrogation techniques, and infantry and commando tactics. Presented with the most sophisticated and up-to-date techniques by the US Army’s best instructors, these courses teach military officers and soldiers of Third World countries to subvert the truth, to muzzle union leaders, activist clergy, and journalists, and to make war on their own people. It prepares them to subdue the voices of dissent and to make protesters submit. It instructs them in techniques of marginalizing the poor, the hungry, and the dispossessed. It tells them how to stamp out freedom and terrorize their own citizens. It trains them to destroy the hope of democracy.
The School of the Americas (SOA) has been given other names — “School for Dictators”, “School of Assassins”, and “Nursery of Death Squads”. And, countries with the worst human rights records send the most soldiers to the School.
Countries / Graduates (since 1946)
Argentina / 931
Bolivia / 4,049
Brazil / 355
Chile / 2,405
Colombia / 8,679
Costa Rica / 2,376
Dominican Republic / 2,330
Ecuador / 2,356
El Salvador / 6,776
Guatemala / 1,676
Honduras / 3,691
Nicaragua / 4,693
Panama / 4,235
Paraguay / 1,084
Peru / 3,997
Uruguay / 931
Venezuela / 3,250
When they return to their home countries, graduates of the SOA hold a rather unique and peculiar view of their countrymen. They look upon priests, social workers, journalists, and liberal intellectuals, not as assets to their societies, but as dangerous subversives, working to undermine the system that keeps these soldiers, army officers, and their sponsors in power.
Graduates of the SOA have been among the most repressive tyrants in Latin America, and their actions have been some of the most cruel and violent. In El Salvador, in 1989, a Salvadoran army patrol executed six Jesuit priests as they lay face-down on the ground at Central America University. According to the United Nation’s Truth Commission Report on El Salvador in 1993, 19 of the 27 officers who took part in the executions were trained at the SOA.
In 1990, in El Salvador, populist Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated. Three-quarters of the Salvadoran officers implicated in the killing were trained at the SOA. Roberto D’Aubuison, the late leader of El Salvador’s Death Squad, was implicated in the plot to assassinate Archbishop Romero. He also participated in numerous murders, including a massacre in the village of El Mazote, where more than 900 men, women, and children were killed. He graduated from SOA as well.
The U.N. Truth Commission’s statistics reveal the extent of the School’s murderous role in El Salvador .
Romero assassination 3 officers cited — 2 were SOA graduates
Murder of US nuns 5 officers cited — 3 were SOA graduates
Union leader murders 3 officers cited — 3 were SOA graduates
El Junquillo massacre 3 officers cited — 2 were SOA graduates
El Mazote massacre 12 officers cited — 10 were SOA graduates
Dutch journalist murders 1 officer cited — he was an SOA graduate
Las Hojas massacre 6 officers cited — 3 were SOA graduates
San Sebastian massacre 7 officers cited — 6 were SOA graduates
Jesuit massacre 26 officers cited — 19 were SOA graduates
In other Latin American countries, graduates of the SOA have been equally prominent enemies of human rights. Former dictators Omar Torrijos of Panama, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, all overthrew constitutionally elected governments in their countries. Leopoldo Galtieri, the former head of the Argentina junta defeated in the Falklands War, was responsible for thousands of “disappeared” citizens who supported freedom and democracy in Argentina, and paid the ultimate price with their lives. He was an SOA graduate.
In Honduras, General Humberto Ragalado Hernandez, was trained at the SOA at the same time that he was linked to Columbian drug cartels, and the highest ranking officers in the Honduran Death Squad were trained at SOA as well.
In Peru, the most senior officers convicted of the February 1994 murder of nine university students and a professor, were graduates of the SOA. In Columbia, a 1992 human rights tribunal cited 246 officers for crimes against the people of Columbia. 105 of the officers were trained at the SOA. In Panama, ex-dictator Manuel Noriega, formerly on the CIA payroll, graduated from the SOA. He is now in a US prison, convicted of trafficking in drugs.
In Guatemala, a country of 10 million, the indigenous Mayan population of 6 million have endured the greatest suffering in Latin America. During more than 30 years of civil war, tens-of-thousands have been slaughtered, with the total killed estimated to exceed 200,000. Most of the ranking generals involved in the numerous coups and acts of terror and murder during this period were trained at the SOA.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, in Guatemala, thousands of political activists and opponents of government policies were assassinated. General Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas, Chief of Army Intelligence at the time, was cited by the UN as the individual responsible for most of those murders. He graduated from the SOA. One of the most vicious tyrants in recent Guatemalan history is Jose Efrain Rios Montt. General, dictator, and a former president from 1982-83, Rios Montt was proud of his political philosophy of “beans for the obedient; bullets for the rest”. He was also a graduate of the SOA. PHOTO: Archbishop Romero of El Salvador. Murdered while officiating mass by a death squad under the command of Roberto D’Aubuisson, a rightwing officer with longstanding ties with the US army and CIA.
The impact of SOA graduates on Latin American freedom has been devastating. Armed with sophisticated training, modern weapons, and up-to-date techniques of control and surveillance, graduates of the SOA have terrorized their own countrymen for a generation.
In the name of its citizens and using American taxpayer dollars, the United States, the most-democratic of countries, has for decades been training some of the most anti-democratic leaders in the world. Administrations that have decried terrorism abroad, have encouraged terrorists right here at home — at the SOA.
Our country, for generations, a beacon of liberty and democracy to the world, should play no part in subverting democracy and killing hope in other countries. Americans who condemn world terror should condemn just as strongly America’s training of Third World terrorists. It is time for all of us to demand that the School of the Americas be closed.
What you can do
Call, fax, or write the President, and your Senators and Representative. Ask them to end funding for the SOA and stop training terrorists and murderers in America.
Ask them to support House of Representatives Bill — HR 2652 — introduced by Representative Joseph Kennedy (D-MA). This bill would close the School of the Americas and establish in its place an Academy for Democracy and Civil-Military Relations, to identify the proper role of the military in a democratic society and bring about civilian control over military matters in Latin America.
Father Roy Bourgeois founded SOA Watch to inform the American public about ” the School of Assassins” and to close it down. But, he cannot do it alone. He needs the support of all Americans who abhor the training of terrorists and murderers in this country. Support SOA Watch and Father Roy Bourgeois at:
PO Box 3330
Columbus, GA 31903