By Alex Liao
Ever since the Monroe Doctrine, the United States has had to carefully watch its relationship with Latin America – and for good reason. The latest issues – drug trafficking, right-wing anti-American leaders, and border violence have drawn attention towards American policy with its Southern neighbors. Yet, one aspect that is frequently overlooked, not least by the media and certainly by ordinary Americans, is the existence of the School of the Americas (SOA).
First, some background: Located in Fort Benning, Georgia, the School of the Americas was established following the Cuban revolution by the U.S. Southern Command. The intent, at the time, was to strengthen counterinsurgency training and to extend those intellectual resources to the continent. Notwithstanding, this “counterinsurgency” curriculum has been bastardized into an amalgam of lessons on how to commit human rights violations. As the Department of Defense and the Pentagon have admitted, the SOA curriculum advocates for torture, executions, and other forms of human rights abuses. Hence, by condoning these atrocious practices, the SOA has perpetuated their existence in South America.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the alumni of SOA include numerous dictators and mass murderers from our neighbors down South. Manuel Noriega, Roberto D’Aubuisson, Hugo Banzer – individuals who comparatively few have spoken of because of their grave human rights violations. Moreover, as the SOA Watch has noted, Colombian paramilitary leaders received training at the School of the Americas. These paramilitary squads have been linked to the deaths of many human rights workers as well as trade unionists. Argentina, Boliva, Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Venezuela, have all sent military personnel to train at the SOA. In other words, the United States is training death squad leaders through military funding.
Robert D’Aubisson planned the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador during its civil war. Hugo Banzer and Manuel Noriega have served prison sentences for drug trafficking. Another graduate, General Policarpo Paz Garcia, was a corrupt dictator in Honduras for some time. Of course, these may simply be a coincidence. Yet, the United States cannot condone this violence. At minimum, review of funding towards the SOA must be considered.
Nonetheless, the military-industrial complex threatens to defeat the initiative to end the SOA. To avoid public attention, the Pentagon renamed the SOA to WHINSEC – the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Instead of taking decisive action, the government has simply swept away the issue, foreclosing political dialogue. Even President Obama, who epitomized the human rights ethic in his 2008 campaign, has dropped the ball on this issue. While American drug policy dictates the spending of millions in Mexico, focus has not been given to those who continue to suffer in South America.
WHINSEC’s most ardent supporters cite the benefits for narcotics policing and leadership. However, the current curriculum is not sufficient. Those who attend are only mandated to receive eight hours of instruction in “human rights, the rule of law, due process…leadership development…[and] disaster relief.” The rest of the time, they are free to receive specialized counter-insurgency and infantry training courses. Thus, more insight and public knowledge must be devoted to this issue. Indeed, in 2007, the McGovern/Lewis Amendment narrowly failed to end funding for WHINSEC by six votes. With a budget crisis plaguing the nation, perhaps a review of the $14 million spent on this facility is in order.