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Raices en Tampa goes to SOA

By Alekos Zambrano

Columbus, GA – Over 1000 people attended the annual School of the Americas protest, at Fort Benning the weekend of Nov. 22. Every year thousands meet here to denounce the decades of U.S. military intervention, aid and overall presence in Latin America.

The School of the Americas opened its doors in 1946 with the purpose of training Latin American military personal in anti-communist counter-insurgency training. This amounted to lessons in torture, extra-judicial killings, death squads and in general the skills involved in going to war against the masses of workers and farmers.

Throughout the 1980s the SOA trained hundreds of Latin American personnel including some of the continent’s most notoriously repressive, notably Argentina’s military regime, Colombia’s death squad-linked military and even the founders of the Zetas drug cartel in Mexico. In 2000, SOA was forced change its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. It receives its $14 million budget from the federal government. More recently their trainees have had a hand in the failed coup attempts in Venezuela.

A group of nine activists from Tampa, Florida went to the SOA protest, as representatives of the immigrant rights group, Raices in Tampa. They were among few immigrant rights groups that attended the protest and they made the connection between imperialism and the migration from Central and South American to the U.S.

Having trained police, military, government and narco elements alike in Mexico and Colombia, the SOA is a good target for immigrants rights groups. “It was a great experience for me because I got to meet a lot of dedicated individuals like myself who are willing to go anywhere to defend the oppressed,” said Oscar Hernandez, local organizer with Raices in Tampa.

Individuals were present from all over the world, including the Latin American countries most affected by SOA’s doctrine of state-sponsored instability. Raices in Tampa attended a workshop given by representatives of Colombia’s popular movement Marcha Patriotica. Here connections were made between the U.S. prison system and its plans to export this prison system to Latin America and Africa. The majority of prison personnel trained at SOA are Mexican and Colombian.

“As a Honduran is very hard to see how my country is used by the U.S, how they are training my people to kill each other. I'm hopeful that one day this will stop. I was glad of being part of SOA protest and see so many people that shared my emotions,” said Alicia Gazga, also with Raices in Tampa.

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