Wikileaks Prompts New School of the Americas Debate
A student from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC, formerly SOA) moves to secure a target during a joint field training exercise. Photo courtesy U.S. Navy
A few years ago I wrote and produced an audio piece on the School of the Americas, a rather controversial military training camp located at Ft. Benning in Georgia. The school trains and prepares soldier and police forces from countries all over the Americas. Many of these soldiers have historically gone on to commit major human rights violations and have led massacres in their home countries.
Now “closed,” reopened and renamed WHINSEC, the school came back into the news recently thanks to Wikileaks.
Just a little over a week ago, Wikileaks produced diplomatic cables outlining strategies and bullying tactics that the U.S. government has been using to convince Costa Rica into staying involved with the school.
You can view the two cables here and here.
Costa Rica’s decision followed similar statements by the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Venezuela. It was a choice made by then-President Óscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Arias’ notoriety made his decision even more damaging for the school’s public relations than those of the other countries wanting out.
Arias made the choice after a 2007 meeting with peace activists and Quaker groups who promoted closing the school. According to the cables, this news shocked the Pentagon and became a serious problem that needed to be addressed immediately.
The cables show how the Pentagon launched a campaign to pressure Arias into changing his decision. He gave in, but only with the guarantee that his involvement in the reversal remain a secret (it didn’t).
Over the years, I have been keeping up with School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), an activist group trying to close the school permanently. They have organized some fairly large-scale protests, and were a part of the “problematic” meeting with Arias back in 2007. On April 4-11, 2011, they will be holding a week of action in Washington, DC, to demand the school be closed.
Seeing their work continue and then seeing these cables made me consider revisiting the audio piece from a few years ago. Many things have changed since earlier this decade when the project began, including a stronger effort on the part of the school to include human rights training. I started some editing work on it this week, and was excited to find the project in better shape than I remembered.
Don’t be surprised if you hear more about it while I add new and updated research to the original. The stories involved are very much related to marginalized people groups and to the refugee crises that have occurred in Latin and South America over the last half century.