Georgia Protest:: Shut Down School of the Assassins
Columbus, GA - Nearly 22,000 activists from around the country, gathered Nov. 17 through 20 to protest the School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Georgia. The School of the America’s special U.S. military program has trained military personnel to use methods of torture and killing throughout Latin America for over 59 years. SOA Watch, an organization dedicated to shutting down this program of terrorism, hosted the demonstration.
The School of the Assassins, as it is frequently called, has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics, according to the SOA Watch. These troops are then sent back to their country to target union members, educators and social justice organizers. The School of the Americas was ‘closed’ in 2001 only to be renamed – but the school continues to be open and has not changed its tactics of violence and oppression.
Many Latin American solidarity organizations attended this year’s demonstration, such as the Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera. Committee members and supporters held a large banner in the middle of the street and passed out fliers condemning the U.S. justice system for kidnapping Colombian revolutionary Ricardo Palmera – an act that defies Colombian sovereignty.
This was my third time participating in the protest and, after spending two weeks in Colombia this summer, the experience was especially powerful,” says Katrina Plotz, from the Colombia Action Network. “Colombia has sent more soldiers to the SOA than any other country, and the U.S. is currently sponsoring a war against the Colombian people,” Plotz said. “I left with a renewed sense of hope that the SOA will be shut down, and a renewed commitment to stand in solidarity with the people of Latin America.”
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was also present in the large turnout of young people attending the protest. On Saturday, over 90 student organizers from 20 different campuses nationwide met for a discussion of what SDS is about, building a student movement, and how to coordinate a nationwide action.
“This was a landmark event in the history of the newly reformed SDS,” says Chapin Gray, a student organizer from SDS in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “We decided it would be a great opportunity to network with each other. We came to a unanimous decision to have March 20, the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War, as a day for students to have national coordinated anti-war demonstrations under Students for a Democratic Society. It’s a very important step in unifying SDS across the nation.”
One of the keynote speakers after the vigil was Kati Ketz, from the UNC-Asheville Socialist Unity League of SDS.
“It’s so important to build a strong, coordinated student movement in this age of imperialism,” says Ketz. She went on to explain how Colombia’s President Uribe has violently repressed student activists, yet they continue to fight back against an unjust government. “We students should take inspiration from our Colombian brothers and sisters and take all this energy we have brought here back to our campuses and get organized!”
Recently, countries such as Venezuela, Uruguay and Argentina have stated that they will no longer accept graduates from the SOA. Father Roy Bourgeois, SOA Watch’s founder, sees this as a great accomplishment and hopes that this year’s U.S. Congress will finally shut down the School of the Americas.