Have you heard of the School of the Americas? What kind of a school is it anyway? The School of the Americas is one of the dirty little secrets America has had going since the dark days of the Cold War. On the surface, the school exists to promote American democratic values to Latin American countries in our hemisphere. What really goes on is the kind of military training for soldiers in Latin America that have been responsible for such brutal regimes of terror as Pinochet's Chile and the death squads of El Salvador.
The School of the Americas (SOA) is a military training school run by the United States that was first opened in Panama in 1946. The main goal or mission set by the school was to teach democratic values and provide military education to the soldiers throughout Latin America. The courses range from psychological warfare, counterinsurgency, to interrogation techniques and more. Although the School of the America supporters will say that the school's purpose is to spread democracy, the real purpose of the school was to ensure Latin American countries did not go to the Communist side. In 1984 the school had to move out of Panama on terms of the Panama Canal treaty. The school then was stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia, where it continued operation until 2000. In 2001, Congress attempted to close SOA but succeeded only in rebranding the school as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). To this day, the school still operates with the same purpose - to train operatives in Latin America in the techniques to torture and kill its own people. The Cold War is over, so the end result is the school continues to help keep corrupt dictators in power.
The history of the School of the Americas is one that has its roots in the Cold War. Latin American countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, and Argentina were run by brutal dictatorships, but as long as they were anti-communist they had the support of America. Many high ranking officers from these countries were graduates of the School of the Americas and went on to brutalize innocent people in their own country. The most famous cases of SOA graduates came from El Salvador. On March 24, 1980 Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated after giving a sermon calling on the Salvadoran soldiers to stop their repression. The murderer was later found to be a graduate of the School of the Americas. During the 1980s, Salvadoran death squads brutalized the poor peasant population in the name of fighting Communism, which culminated in the killing of 6 Jesuit priests in 1989. Again, the killers were found to be graduates of the School of the Americas. Amazingly it was discovered that before Romero's murder, there was a lottery among Salvadoran officers to determine who would gain the right to be the killer of Archbishop Romero. These were the democratic values taught at the School of the Americas.
In Nicaragua, National Guard troops of the Somoza family became graduates of the School of the Americas. These graduates later became the Contras, who were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Nicaraguan peasants after the Sandinistas came to power in 1979. Ronald Reagan called these graduates the moral equivalents of our founding fathers (see the Aid to the Contras section). Again, we can see the teachings of the School of the Americas at work.
Why wasn't there any resistance to an American school funded by our tax dollars training groups of assassins? This is one of the government's darkest secrets, but the secret did eventually get out. Roy Bourgeois, a priest, found out about the relationship the School of the Americas had to the bloodshed and injustice in Latin America. In his efforts to close the school he created the School of the Americas Watch. Stationed just outside Fort Benning, SOA Watch carried out 40 day fasts multiple times. Also Bourgeois and a few others trespassed into the school and put music playing in the barracks of the students of the last sermon of Archbishop Romero. For this they were arrested. Also near Fort Benning this group reenacted the killing of 6 Jesuit priests committed by graduates in El Salvador. Similarly, they were arrested again. It is such a great injustice that Bourgeois and those standing up for the closing of the school were arrested while the graduates who committed human rights atrocities suffered nothing.
The effort to close to school got as big as the Kennedy Amendment. In 1994, Massachusetts Congressman Joseph Kennedy introduced an amendment which would eliminate funding for the School of the Americas. Kennedy and others argued that America should not be associated with a school that was producing graduates who committed these atrocities, and others who were going on to become brutal dictators in Latin America. Opposition to the amendment came from those that argued that the school did not teach students to torture and kill, but rather the students already were indoctrinated in violence before they came to the school. Of course, the Congressman from Georgia Sanford Bishop (a Democrat by the way) argued for keeping SOA to keep the jobs in his district. No surprise there. The amendment failed 217 to 175. As noted before, the school was been renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001, where it still operates today.