The School of Coups

Issue 

In April and May, SOA Watch and Witness for Peace sponsored a 40-day fast in Washington to call attention to the School of the Americas and to mobilise support for closing it down.

The US Army School of the Americas was established in Panama in 1946, ostensibly to promote stability in Latin America. But by the 1960s, the school had spawned so many tyrants, dictators and their henchmen that it was known in Latin American military circles as the "Escuela de Golpes", or "School of Coups".

The school moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1984, after being forced out of Panama under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. At that time the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa dubbed it "the School for Assassins", and then President Jorge Illueca called it "the biggest base for destabilisation in Latin America".

This year, nearly 2000 soldiers from Latin America and the Caribbean will train at the School of the Americas, where military brutality is not merely sanctioned, but rewarded.

For decades, countries in Latin America with the worst human rights records have consistently been primary clients of the School of the Americas: Bolivia under Banzer, Nicaragua under the Somozas, El Salvador throughout its brutal civil war — all were primary clients of the SOA in their heydays of military abuse.

Soldiers at the SOA are trained in "low intensity conflict" (LIC), a cynical and relatively new strategy for maintaining US military influence without using (or losing) large numbers of US troops. Instead, soldiers from Latin America and the Caribbean are trained in "dirty little war" techniques by US personnel.

Low intensity conflict is designed to preserve the status quo in nations where vast impoverished majorities have no political representation. LIC denounces those who speak out against political corruption or military brutality as subversives and enemies of the state. Thus, landless farmers, university students, health care workers, religious personnel and labour leaders are all potential targets of LIC, and of soldiers trained at the School of the Americas.

Here is the record of some SOA graduates, as revealed in the United Nations Truth Commission report in El Salvador.

Romero assassination: March 24, 1980: Archbishop Oscar Romero, beloved champion of the poor, is assassinated while celebrating mass at a chapel in San Salvador. Three officers are cited; two are SOA graduates.

Murder of churchwomen: December 2, 1980: Three US nuns and a Catholic lay worker are forced out of their van just outside San Salvador by members of the Salvadoran National Guard, who rape and kill them. Five officers are cited; three are SOA graduates.

Sheraton Hotel murders: January 3, 1981: Three labour union leaders are assassinated at the Hotel Sheraton in San Salvador by members of the Salvadoran National Guard. Three officers are cited; two are SOA graduates.

El Junquillo massacre: March 12, 1981: Salvadoran soldiers massacre the citizens of El Junquillo. Women are raped before they are murdered, as are children under 12. Three officers are cited; two are SOA graduates.

El Mozote massacre: December, 1981: Hundreds of unarmed civilians in the area around El Mozote in Morazon province are massacred, their corpses mutilated, burnt or left to rot on the ground. Twelve officers are cited; 10 are SOA graduates.

Las Hojas massacre: February 22, 1983: Soldiers of the Jaguar Battalion murder 16 civilians at Las Hojas in the province of Sonsonate, and burn their corpses. Six officers are cited; three are SOA graduates.

San Sebastian massacre: September 21, 1988: Members of the Jiboa Battalion capture 10 civilians in the San Sebastian area. The civilians are interrogated and then killed. Seven officers are cited; six are SOA graduates.

Jesuit massacre: November 16, 1989: Six unarmed Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter are massacred at the priests' residence at the University of Central America in San Salvador. Twenty-seven officers are cited; 19 are SOA graduates.

[Reprinted from DMZ, newsletter of the Clarence Fitch Chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (New York-New Jersey).]