by Rev. Don Coleman
On the weekend of November 19-21, 2010 over 5,000 gathered at the gate of Fort Benning demonstrating against the School of Americas (SOA) or, as it is renamed, the Western Hemispheric Institute of National Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). Hundreds of thousands of people from Central and South America have been brutally tortured and killed by their own governments trained by U.S. military at Fort Benning.
Speeches and singing and the drama of large puppets made the event festive in the midst of the serious business of working to close the School which, because of its mission, is still called “the School of the Assassins.” For twenty years folks have come from all over the country, and now from Central and South America, mobilizing to stop these barbarous activities. Actually, a former military officer was refused a visa because he intended to speak at the rally.
Participants are disappointed that President Obama has not taken a more active role in investigating the activities of the School. And now with the new Congress closing down the SOA will not happen soon. But our calling is to be faithful and to continue to lift up the names of those slaughtered through U.S. military training.
Thirty people were arrested. Four of them were arrested for climbing over the fence, topped with barb wire that had been erected at the entrance of the base. They are charged with trespassing. Those engaged in this self-conscious act of civil disobedience include: Louis Vitale, OFM. (crossed the line for the fourth time) and David Omondi (of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker) who pleaded ‘no contest’ and were immediately convicted in the federal court. They were sentenced to six months in prison by U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles. Nancy Smith and Chris Spicer, the other two who climbed the fence, pleaded ‘not guilty’ and will go to trial January 5, 2011.
Seven others were willing to risk arrest by demonstrating and closing the main street near the base leading to the city of Columbus. Nineteen others were arrested by being caught up in the city police’s sweep that included a local barber who stepped from his shop to watch what was going on. All these folks had to pay exaggerated bail and large fines and spent at least on night in jail.
Whether intending arrest or accidentally being caught up in the police action, demonstrators still stood by the call for justice and for the closing of the School.
So why does the U.S. military train military personnel of other countries to torture and kill teachers, priests and nuns, and labor organizers? Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of
School of the Americas Watch, puts it this way:
For the past several decades, the US has allied with dictators in Latin America who helped the regimes small, elite group of wealthy landowners….We get involved militarily with these countries because they (are) rich in natural resources, with coffee in Colombia, bananas in Central America, copper in Chile, petroleum in Venezuela and tin in Bolivia. With their militaries, the US joined with them to exploit those natural resources and to pay workers $1 a day….We are like the new conquistadors.