Posted by Chandra Ward, FORT BENNING, COLUMBIA, GA --November 16-18 marked 22 years of organized protest against the School of the Americas (SOA) based at Fort Benning. This “school", which trains Latin American soldiers in covert military operations, has existed since the 1940’s, and is allegedly responsible for the rape, murder, kidnapping and other atrocious attacks against thousands of Latin American citizens. For example, according to the SOA Watch website, in 1989 the murders of six Jesuit priests and a teen at the Central American University in San Salvador were carried out by soldiers, most of whom were graduates of the SOA. The victims were labeled as subversive due to their questioning of, and opposition to, the government’s socio-economic structure. This event was the catalyst for organized resistance against SOA. Since that time, many have traveled across both state and national borders to Fort Benning's gates to tell their stories and stand in solidarity with others for peace.
SOA graduates return to their Latin American countries to serve as part of the State Police. Carrying out the will of repressive regimes, the skills taught at the SOA are used against union organizers, human rights leaders, members of clergy, and anyone else who is seen as threat to the interests of those in power. The U.S spends billions of dollars in their efforts to promote democracy in foreign countries, yet ironically, we train soldiers on our own soil to return home and commit undemocratic atrocities. Among other things, the violence carried out by graduates can be linked to protecting U.S multi-national corporate interests, such as those of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. The SOA protest movement is truly multicultural and international. Annual protest attendees have included notable names like actor Martin Sheen and politician Dennis Kucinich. There are a lot of hippies, veterans, and college students from both secular and progressive Christian colleges (yes, they do exist), as well as radicals and progressives from every walk of life. Over the three day annual convergence there is a march, a rally, a vigil, and many workshops held by the organizations that participate in the event.
This year marked my second time attending the SOA protests, despite the fact that I have lived in Georgia most of my life. Ironically, I didn’t hear about the SOA until I moved to Texas.
Chandra Ward is the Assistant Editor of Social Shutter and a Doctoral student in Sociology at Georgia State University. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.