SOA Protesters Gather in Washington, DC; 55 Arrested at the Pentagon

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A Protest against the School of the Americas (SOA) held in Washington, DC May 1-4 drew thousands of demonstrators and resulted in the arrest of 55 protesters at the Pentagon on May 3. Organized by SOA Watch, a non-profit organization dedicated to closing the SOA, the event, titled "Nunca Mas," included a rally at the White House, a vigil on the steps of the Capitol, and highlighted new evidence linking SOA graduates to mass killings and tortures in Guatemala, Columbia, and Chile.

The SOA is a United States Army combat training school located in Fort Benning, GA. Founded in 1946 to "help Latin American governments promote stable democracies," and funded by U.S. taxpayers, the school costs close to $20 million a year to operate, and trains Latin American military personnel on combat techniques. In 53 years, the SOA has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers, many of whom have participated in the overthrow of democratic governments and the establishment of brutal military dictatorships. Graduates of the SOA has taken part in such atrocities as Guatemala's "scorched earth campaign," which resulted in the deaths and disappearances of over 200,000 Guatemalan peasants, the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero of Ecuador, and the torture and disappearance of guerrilla leader Efrain Bamaca. After the uprisings began in Chiapas in 1994, according to an SOA Watch fact sheet, "Mexico became the largest SOA client [and] now account[s] for one-third of all soldiers trained there."

Advocates of the school claim that the SOA promotes democracy and human rights by including mandatory human rights courses in the curriculum. Of the eights days to 47 weeks a student is at the school, only four hours are dedicated to human rights education.

Congressman Joe Moakley (D-MA) is sponsoring bill #732 in the House of Representatives that will close the SOA forever. Several members of Congress have signed on to the bill, which is expected to be voted on in September.

Heather Dean, of SOA Watch, described the May protests as "successful," and believes the school will close soon. "Each year in Congress the vote is a little bit closer," she said, "This year, we stand a pretty good chance of winning the vote."

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