Sunday, November 19, 2006

USA murderous School of Assassins must close.

CHILE: Cutting Classes at the School of the Americas

Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, Nov 17 (IPS) - Chilean activists are going to scream blue murder
to get socialist President Michelle Bachelet's administration to stop
sending military personnel to the School of the Americas in the United
States, notorious for teaching torture techniques, among other specialist

About 40 civil society organisations will ask Bachelet to stop sending
Chilean military personnel to the Western Hemisphere Institute for
Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the U.S. Army School of the
Americas, where a hundred members of the armed forces have been trained
this year.

"In 59 years, the School of the Americas has trained more than 61,000
Latin American soldiers (3,000 of them Chileans) in combat techniques,
commando tactics, military intelligence and torture techniques. The
expertise acquired by its graduates has left an indelible trail of blood
and suffering in their own countries."

The above is a translation of a paragraph from the open letter to
President Bachelet, signed by 37 social organisations and about a hundred
citizens, "respectfully demanding" an end to Chilean participation at

The controversial School of the Americas (SOA) was established in Panama
in 1946 and relocated to the U.S. state of Georgia in 1984. It was renamed
WHINSEC in 2001.

The Institute continues to operate at Fort Benning, the site of the former
SOA, with the same instructors and techniques that were applied by the
bloody Latin American dictatorships during the 1970s and 1980s, say

"Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped,
murdered and 'disappeared' by officers trained at that military academy,"
the letter continues. It will be handed over to the president on Nov. 20.

Among the signatories are Amnesty International - Chile, the Association
of Relatives of the Detained Disappeared, and the Peruvian Political
Refugees Committee, as well as about a hundred Chilean and foreign
citizens, including renowned U.S. linguist and activist Noam Chomsky.

The interest of local activists was revitalised in August by the visit of
a delegation from the U.S. non-governmental School of the Americas Watch
(SOAW), led by its founder Roy Bourgeois, a Catholic Maryknoll priest.

SOAW members met with the minister of Defence, Vivianne Blanlot, who
promised to "suggest" that the army cancel the sending of participants to
the controversial military academy, but not to "impose" a decision on them.

SOAW said that it has already convinced the governments of Venezuela,
Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina to stop sending officers,
non-commissioned officers and soldiers to Fort Benning.

On Monday Nov. 13, an information and protest campaign began in Chile's
capital with a film show of "Open Secret" ("Secreto a Voces"), a
documentary portraying the debate between those who support and oppose
WHINSEC, and interviews with Chomsky and Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.

On Saturday there will be a protest march through the streets of the
capital, ending with a political cultural event at Londres 38, the address
of a former torture centre during the military dictatorship of Augusto
Pinochet (1973-1990).

The issue is also on the agenda of the 2nd Chilean Social Forum, to be
held Nov. 25-26, as a panel discussion on closing down the School of the
Americas, described by the organisers as "the school for torturers".

"Amnesty International and other organisations like SOAW have been
watching the School of the Americas for two or three decades, and there is
evidence that a significant number of military personnel who attended that
institution are implicated in serious human rights violations," Sergio
Laurenti, the executive director of the Chilean chapter of Amnesty, told

Chile is no exception. Among its SOA graduates are Manuel Contreras, the
head of the National Intelligence Directorate (DINA) -- the dictatorship's
secret police -- from 1974 to 1977. Contreras served seven years in prison
for the assassination of former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier,
who was killed by a carbomb in Washington.

Another graduate was Humberto Gordon, the late former director of the
National Intelligence Centre, which replaced DINA.

Other notorious alumni include retired majors Álvaro Corbalán Castilla,
convicted of several human rights crimes, and Carlos Herrera Jiménez, who
murdered trade unionist Tucapel Jiménez in 1982.

Even the present commander-in-chief of the army, Oscar Izurieta Ferrer,
appointed by former president Ricardo Lagos (2000-2006), underwent
training at Fort Benning.

"There is a correlation between the School of the Americas and military
personnel implicated in coups d'état, systematic violations of human
rights, torture, and key positions in dictatorial regimes," Laurenti said.

Although he clarified that not everyone who trained at SOA were
automatically "pro-coup," as it "depends on each individual's morality,"
he said there is definitely evidence of a connection.

He also said that the presence of U.S. trainers and advisers in armed
conflicts all over the world was no coincidence. "Military cooperation is
a tool of the political interests of the United States," Laurenti said.

Although the campaign has been well received and widely publicised in
Chile, the organisers are not certain that Bachelet will respond

The secretary of the Ethical Commission Against Torture, Patricio Quevedo,
was inclined to think that the president will be sensitive to the request,
since she and her family were victims of the Pinochet dictatorship, but
Laurenti was more sceptical.

"Chile has been very cautious in its relations with the United States, and
if the long delay in ratifying the International Criminal Court (because
of pressure from Washington) is taken as a precedent, it's highly unlikely
that effective measures will be taken against the School of the Americas,"
said the director of Amnesty International Chile.

Social activism will continue, led by the national chapter of SOAW, until
the government suspends training for its military personnel at Fort
Benning, the activists say.

"The public generally isn't aware that Chile still sends about a hundred
army and police officers to the School of the Americas" every year,
Quevedo told IPS.

Laurenti stressed the need to raise awareness that the position adopted on
the School of the Americas is directly related to the kind of society and
democracy that the country wants to build. (END/2006)

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posted by u2r2h at 2:46 PM


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