Thousands of demonstrators marched outside Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, on Nov. 18 in the 12th annual protest against the US Army’s School of the America (SOA), a training school for Latin American soldiers that was officially closed last December and reopened by the Defense Department as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC).
Thousands of demonstrators marched outside Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, on Nov. 18 in the 12th annual protest against the US Army’s School of the America (SOA), a training school for Latin American soldiers that was officially closed last December and reopened by the Defense Department as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) [see Update #573].
Police estimated that 6,000-7,000 protesters walked past the base in a symbolic funeral march for the victims of human rights abuses by graduates of the school.
Some marchers stuck crosses through a newly erected chainlink fence, and about 40 people were arrested after they slipped into the base through an opening in the fence.
The annual protest, organized by SOA Watch, commemorates the anniversary of the massacre of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her 15-year old daughter in El Salvador on Nov. 16, 1989; 19 of
the 26 suspected killers were SOA graduates.
The size of the protests increased through 1999, when 10,000 people participated; police estimated that 6,500 protested in 2000, about the same as this year [see Update #564].
Many had expected participation to fall as a result of patriotic feeling connected to the current
"war against terrorism," but organizers said the protest was more important now than ever.
SOA Watch founder Rev. Roy Bourgeois
described the military school as "the terrorist training camp right here in our own backyard."
The military apparently attempted to intimidate the protesters by putting the 10-foot high fence across the entrance, keeping the demonstrators from risking arrest by marching directly into the
base as they had in previous years.
The Columbus city government sought an injunction to keep Bourgeois and other SOA Watch
organizers from participating.
Federal Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth denied the injunction on Nov. 16. "It was a question of
First Amendment rights, and you can’t play with that. I am sworn to uphold the US Constitution; I think I did that today," said Faircloth, who handed down unusually harsh sentences to 26
demonstrators in May for their part in last year’s SOA protest [see Update #594].
Military police arrested six activists on Nov. 17, the day before the main protest; all but one had been arrested in previous years and had received letters banning them from Fort Benning.
Two were arrested as they attempted to attend a public teach-in at the base, and four were arrested when they took a wrong turn to a checkpoint outside the base. All were released the same day. [CNN 11/18/01 from AP; SOA Watch press release and updates 11/17/01, 11/18/01; Colombia Labor Monitor 11/14/01 from EFE]
Author: NICARAGUA SOLIDARITY NETWORK OF GREATER NEW YORK
News Service: Weekly News Update on the Americas #616, Nov 18, 2001