Students Join Protest of School of the Americas

From November 18 to 20, thirteen Colgate students attended the largest protest to date against the School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia. SOA, commonly referred to as the “School of Assassins,” is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. It has educated more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers on warfare techniques such as sniper training, military intelligence and counterinsurgency techniques.

However, according to the School of the Americas Watch, the SOA has “left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned.” Critics believe that the school teaches their students practices that they later use on their own people.

SOA began in Panama in 1946 but was asked to shut down in 1984 because of the Panama Canal Treaty and former Panamanian President Jorge Illueca. Illueca said that the SOA was destabilizing Latin America. The School then moved to the United States and since 2001 has been renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for

Security Cooperation.”

While in Georgia, Colgate students attended workshops, a rally, and marched in a vigil. Every year, thousands of people gather outside the compounds of the SOA to protest what they believe is inhumane.

The organization against the SOA claims that hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped and assassinated by those trained at the School. The victims have been educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders,and others who volunteer in honor of the oppressed.

Sophomore Liz Whitehurst, who attended the protest last year, chose once again to travel with her peers from Students for Social Justice because her previous experience affected her so profoundly.

“It is so inspiring and powerful,” Whitehurst said. “It is a unique opportunity to actually do something for human rights and social justce instead of just reading about it or talking about it.”

While at the event on Friday, some students attended a workshop on strategic organizing, while others watched a movie about the role of propaganda in war. Saturday was a communal effort devoted to the rally. The protest incorporated many different people including nuns, socialists, veterans, feminists, libertarians and teachers.

“You can connect with everyone because of your common goal,” Whitehurst said. “The diversity of the group is exciting because it shows that you are not alone; all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds care about this issue.”

A large stage with public speakers and music lasted all day, and people walked freely to different booths representing organizations such as Veterans for Peace, Code Pink and Coalition of Immokalee Workers.

Colgate students volunteered with the School of the Americas Watch by handing out postcards to be sent to congressional representatives, promoting them to close the school in Georgia.

“I’m glad we were part of that project because convincing Congress people is what will ultimately get the school closed,” Whitehurst said.