Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
On Second Street
Slippin' & Slidin'
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
The Columbus, Georgia police estimated that on November 21, 1999 there were nearly 10,000 at the front gate of Fort Benning protesting the School of the Americas which is located on the base. SOA Watch believes the correct number is 12,000.
The protest is held yearly on the anniversary of the murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her 16-year-old daughter in El Salvador by SOA-trained assassins. Father Roy L. Bourgeois, a Vietnam veteran and Jesuit priest, founded the SOA Watch organization. The yearly demonstration has become so large that this year the citys tourism bureau helped arrange hotel accommodations. Ten years ago there were only ten protestors.
In 1998, 2,319 protestors committed civil disobedience at Ft. Benning by defying the law against holding protests on military bases. This year approximately 4,408 crossed onto the base, in a mock funeral procession, risking arrest. As they crossed, the names of SOA victims, including the 1,000 villagers of El Mozote, El Salvador, were sung a capella. The crowd responded after each name by calling out, Presente, signifying that the dead were present in spirit. Blood (red paint)-splattered coffins were carried by pallbearers dressed in black shrouds also splattered with blood. When the funeral procession got to the head of the line, the pallbearers dropped to the ground to be dragged and carried off to waiting buses by security personnel. The remaining protestors, well trained in the art of civil disobedience, engaged in a carefully choreographed dance with the authorities each endeavoring to be more polite and kind than the other. The military told the protesters that they would not be prosecuted and could remain on the roadway until they wished to voluntarily board buses to be taken off the base. More than a few passed out from the heat, lack of water and food, and stress. The vast majority finally succumbed to the stand off by boarding the awaiting buses. The authorities arrested 65, 23 of whom are repeat offenders, thus likely to be prosecuted. The military in the past has prosecuted protestors many of whom were elderly priests and nuns. Those who were convicted served 6 months in federal penitentiaries and were fined $3,000, the maximum penalty under law. Secretary of the Army, Lewis Caldera, announced plans to make significant changes to the schools curriculum in hopes of muting the growing opposition, especially in Congress, which nearly voted to close the school this past fall. Reverend Bourgeois said that we were not there to transform the school, we were there to close the school.
The protest is really a debate about the nature of U.S. involvement in Central and South America. The United States is an active partner with repressive governing elites who are backed by their respective militaries. Labor union organizers, human rights advocates, teachers, and religious leaders have been massacred regularly over the years by those who were trained at the School of the Americas, known as the School of Assassins, with weapons provided by the United States.
Recently, President Clinton apologized to Guatemala for U.S. participation in the 44-year-long genocidal campaign against the poor and indigenous that took place after the U.S. provoked a 1954 military coup against the democratically elected government. That governments sin was to have expropriated unused lands owned by The United Fruit Company so that the poor would be able to grow food to feed themselves. Clinton promised it would never occur again even though it was occurring, as he spoke, in Mexico and Columbia and, again, with massive U.S. assistance including military training at the SOA.
Major Jaime F. Linet, an instructor at the SOA, believes SOA training encourages democracy and minimizes the possibility of U.S. military intervention in those countries. Linet boasts that those trained at the SOA return home to maintain stability. Major Linet went on to state that by training these foreign soldiers the U.S. will not need to return to the interventionist policies of Teddy Roosevelt.
If the southern elites are going to continue the unjust disparity between themselves and the masses of poor, the productivity of their countries must be geared to serve the economic interests of North America. For example, the best land must be used to grow flowers for the U.S. floral market, coffee, and bananas for the U.S. table, and beef for McDonalds instead of being used to grow food for the hungry indigenous populations. As more and more poor are dispossessed by force from their land, their only alternative is to work for extremely low wages, as in sweat shops, serving the export market. As mentioned previously, if the poor try to better their miserable lot, SOA-trained soldiers appear to quell the unrest with murder, torture, and terror. Until the SOA Watch protests, the U.S. Army used manuals that taught torture, summary execution, extortion, and false imprisonment.
American army lawyer, Major Antonio Raimondo, is proud of the fact that human rights is taught at the school including a study of the American massacre at My Lai during the Vietnam war. Obviously excluded from the training, however, is that the American invasion of Vietnam was illegal under international law and resulted in three and one half million Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans being killed. What will therefore be gleaned by the student soldiers is that it is a human rights violation for soldiers to use rifles at point blank range to shoot women, children, and other civilians but it is satisfactory to kill them at long range by artillery or by 500 pound bombs dropped from jets. The emphasis of the lesson plan is on technique not illegal killing.
U.S. State Department Policy Planning Study 23 written by George Keenan in 1948, two years after the founding of the school, declares that the U.S. has control of about 50 percent of the worlds wealth but only 6.3 percent of the worlds population. Keenan says U.S. policy must maintain this disparity and to do so we must dispense with concern for human rights, the raising of living standards, and democracy. This policy study was top secret when written and has not been abandoned or replaced.
It is ironic and sad that American tax dollars, about 20 million per year, are being used to train foreign soldiers who will use what they learn to help keep American workers in their place. This is why U.S. labor unions, including UE and the AFL-CIO, are now calling for the school to be closed.
Many local Pittsburghers attended the demonstration including Anne Feeney, folk singer and board member of The Thomas Merton Center, who sang her new song, If You Have Been To Jail For Justice Then Youre A Friend of Mine. Anne shared the stage with her old colleague Pete Seeger and others who sang to close the school down. Father Roy Bourgeois promised that we will keep coming back in greater numbers until the school is shut down. Please join the movement; be at Ft. Benning in November 2000. Z