Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Annual Protest at the School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation

Erwin reminds us that today is the day of the annual protest against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), formerly known as the School of the Americas. The name-change happened back in 2001, when the Bush administration realized the School's name had been associated with some of the worst crimes against humanity in the 20th century in the Americas. Rather than closing the school down or providing a real analysis of possible changes in U.S. policy in the hemisphere, the government opted to simply change the name to the WHISC.

Among the school's more infamous graduates, there is murderous Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, former friend-to-America Manuel Noriega, and Lieutenant Byron Carvajal, a Colombian facing 60 years in prison for murdering ten counternarcotics police in Colombia, as well as many other distinguished men who were involved in torture and murder throughout Latin America. Obviously, if you've been running a center that trained soldiers who raped, tortured, and murdered civilians everywhere from Chile and Argentina up to El Salvador and Guatemala, you would hope a complete shut-down would happen, rather than a simple name-change, but that would be too humane. As a result, the protests continue on an annual basis.

Father Roy Bourgeois, the founder of the group School of Americas Watch (and major protagonist in Leslie Gill's excellent book that looks at the history, ideology, and results of the SOA) has an article up at HuffPo that outlines the recent activities of graduates from the SOA (including one of the leaders in the Honduran coup this year), as well as outlining a quick history of the SOA and the theme of the protests this year (which focus on the 20th anniversary of the murder by armed forces of 6 Jesuits, their cook, and his daughter in El Salvador).

Without a doubt, the School of the Americas is one of the darkest parts of American foreign policy in the 20th century, and the fact that it continues to exist under a lengthy euphemism does nothing to take away from the ugliness of the facts. It's worth learning a little more about the SOA if you haven't already, and contacting your congressperson to ask them why the U.S. continues to support an institution notorious for its training of torturers, rapists, and murderers.