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Thousands demand closing of ‘School of Assassins’

Published Dec 6, 2009 9:25 PM

Rebel Diaz performs at SOA protest.
Photos: Linda Panetta

Twenty years ago, six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 15-year-old daughter were viciously murdered in El Salvador by military forces trained at the School of the Americas, located at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga. They are just a few of the many tens of thousands of victims killed, tortured, beaten and “disappeared” in countries from Argentina to Chile to Colombia to Honduras, in military coups and massacres carried out by the graduates of this U.S. training school.

The annual School of the Americas protest has grown from a handful of seasoned activists to thousands, with each year the percentage of young people becoming greater and greater. The program for the Nov. 20-22 action included workshops, films, concerts, a rally with speakers and music, the famous puppetista parade, civil disobedience and the Sunday “presente” memorial—as the names of those killed by SOA-trained soldiers are solemnly intoned.

Speakers included peasant activists from Colombia, U.S. military veterans, torture survivors from several countries, farm workers from Immokalee, Fla., and labor, student and religious leaders. The presence of Bertha Oliva from Honduras was especially significant. Her message conveyed the strong spirit of the opposition to the military coup that has united Hondurans from all sectors of society.

Among the cultural performers were Rebel Diaz and the Indigo Girls, as well as dozens of singers, musicians and spoken word artists from across the U.S. and Latin America. The announcement that Father Roy Bourgeois and the SOA Watch had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize brought a cheer from the audience.

As in years past, there was planned civil disobedience. Four people were arrested for entering onto the base property. They face months of imprisonment for their actions.

For more information on the campaign to shut down the SOA, go to www.soaw.org.