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Actions held calling for the closure of “School of the Americas”

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DAVID DOUGHERTY, (VOICE-OVER): Between 1976 and 1983, as many as 30,000 people were murdered or disappeared in Argentina’s Dirty War against alleged domestic subversives. Countless others have fallen under similar circumstances in a number of other countries. Exact figures are difficult to ascertain because of the nature of the massacres and disappearances, where people would be kidnapped, tortured for extended periods of time, murdered, and their bodies disposed of in ways that ensured they could never be identified. The story of violent state repression at the hands of right-wing military dictatorships [inaudible] and logistically backed by the United States is all too familiar to most countries in Latin America. Often it was not even necessary for a target to be labeled a subversive or insurgent by the state. Labor organizers, peasants, reform-oriented members of the church, students and professors, even democratically elected presidents, and a multitude of others are all present in the ranks of the fallen. Today, while the list of victims continues to grow, so too does the organized dissent against the US military policies that many think contribute to human rights abuses in the region. Actions were held over the weekend in Washington, DC, to call for an end to United States militarization around the world. On Sunday, April 10, hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of downtown Washington before gathering in front of the White House, where 27 people were arrested as part of a symbolic die-in action. Street theater and artistic expression were integral elements of the march, which included a number of intricate puppets and performances. Demonstrators called for the immediate closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as School of the Americas. The School of the Americas was a United States military training institute for Latin American police and military that was established in Panama in 1946 and later moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1984 before being renamed in 2001. Referred to in Latin America as the school of the assassins, more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers have been trained in areas such as military operations and counterinsurgency tactics. Many consider the school to be a force for United States interventionist and destabilization efforts in the region. Hundreds of graduates have been implicated in such human rights atrocities as massacres, forced disappearances, political assassinations, torture, and direct involvement in the planning and execution of military coups. The march was organized by the School of the Americas Watch, a grassroots movement whose aim is to permanently shut down the School of the Americas and influence United States foreign policy in Latin America through solidarity work. Nico Udu-gama, an organizer with SOA Watch, was among the 27 arrested on Sunday.

NICO UDU-GAMA: Well, the School of the Americas Watch movement has long used direct action to call to attention the crimes of the US government in the militarization of the Americas. Over 300 different people have been arrested for different direct action scenarios over the past 20-some years. This Sunday, April 10, 27 people were arrested at the White House dramatizing a die-in at the steps of the White House in front of the White House, to call attention to the increased militarization of the Americas under the Obama administration. Now, it’s important to note that this small [incomprehensible] we call this a small time of being uncomfortable, us activists in the United States being uncomfortable. Having to spend some time in prison is nothing compared to what’s happening, the massacres and the torture being committed in our name across the Americas. Under the Obama administration we can see that not much has changed. It’s no different, whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat in office. US corporations and the military-industrial complex has a lot to gain through the militarization of the continent. In 2009, there was a coup against the democratically elected government in Honduras. In 2002, there was an attempted coup against the government in Venezuela. So this movement to close the School of the Americas is still as relevant today as ever before, because some of those graduates are still committing massacres and tortures around the Americas and because of those graduates who led those coups in those countries.

DOUGHERTY: As the budget battle continues in the United States over cuts to social spending in areas such as education and health, there has been no suggestion that officials are planning on cutting the School of the Americas or WHINSEC program. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.

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