Thousands Say:: “Shut Down the School of Assassins!”
Columbus, GA - Ten thousand people descended on Fort Benning, Georgia, Nov. 18-19 to shut down the School of the Americas (S.O.A.). Also known as the School of Assassins, the S.O.A. has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counter-insurgency so they can repress the people in their homelands.
The U.S. government funds and runs the School of the Americas. Protesters called on the government to shut it down. At this year's protest, about 3400 people put their bodies on the line by illegally entering the military base. Some were arrested and others were just taken off the base. Thousands who chose not to risk arrest cheered from outside Fort Benning's gates.
The action was a powerful and emotional process lasting hours, as waves of protesters crossed onto the base. The names of Latin Americans who were murdered by soldiers trained at the S.O.A. were sung out in a sorrowful but powerful voice. Thousands of demonstrators carried crosses bearing the names of murdered Latin Americans. With each name sung out, the people responded with a cry of “¡presente!” meaning that those who lost their lives would not be forgotten.
A Growing Movement
The yearly anti-S.O.A. protests have grown dramatically, and the spirit of the protest has been shifting too. Linda Jones, from the Minnesota Anti-War Committee, said, “This is my second year at the S.O.A. protest, but there was even a difference between last year and this year. And I think a big part of it is due to the new anti-globalization movement, after this year's protests in Seattle, D.C., Prague, and at the [Republican and Democrat] conventions. People understand that in gathering to shut down the S.O.A. they're also protesting the I.M.F., World Bank, everything, to create a strong movement against U.S. foreign policy in general. People are coming up with new, creative ideas to strengthen the movement.”
On the first day of the protest, about 200 demonstrators had a giant-puppet show, playing the roles of the S.O.A. and Latin American dictators, as well as the Latin American people and revolutionaries fighting back. The second day, the 200 puppeteers charged into the military base, engaging in a high-risk protest that inspired many rally participants.
School of the Americas Exists to Protect The Rich
Many of the puppeteers' signs read, “Resist S.O.A.: Uproot the Global System it Protects.” These signs describe the role that the S.O.A. plays in training the Latin American military forces which uphold capitalist domination, and repress anyone who organizes for change. U.S. corporations have long seen Latin America as their backyard.
The School of the Americas is known for its instruction in how to commit torture, execution and blackmail. These tactics have been used against thousands of Latin American citizens, activists, and revolutionaries fighting for a better society.
The S.O.A. and Colombia
The School of the Americas role in repression of the people is clearly seen in Colombia, the focus of this year's S.O.A. protest. Colombia has 10,000 S.O.A. graduates, the most of any country. It also has the worst human rights record in the hemisphere.
Clinton recently sent $1.3 billion to the Colombian military, which is using the money and high-tech equipment in their civil war against the liberation movements led by the F.A.R.C. (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the E.L.N. (National Liberation Army).
Anh Pham of the Minnesota Anti-War Committee said, “The focus on Colombia this year was really important. It was a powerful protest when I came in 1998, and with the focus on Colombia this year I felt like I had to come back and protest to stop more murderers from being trained and sent back to Colombia.”
Colombia Action Network Meets, Strengthens Network
After the first day's protest, 75 people attended a meeting of the Colombia Action Network (C.A.N.), which organizes against military aid to Colombia. Colombia Action Network committees from New York, Chicago and Minneapolis reported on their organizing, while groups from Charleston, SC, Duluth, MN, and many other cities participated. The meeting created a structure to work together after the S.O.A. protest.
The Colombia Action Network will hold a day of actions and a founding conference in the spring of 2001.
This coming year, the movement against U.S. intervention in Colombia will continue to grow along with the movement to shut down the School of Assassins.