The Common Good
July-August 1999

Dismantling the SOA

by Andrew Schleicher | July-August 1999

Nearly 4,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., in May to tell President Clinton and
Congress that the U.S. training of Latin American death squads must stop.

Nearly 4,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., in May to tell President Clinton and Congress that the U.S. training of Latin American death squads must stop. "As we point the finger at Yugoslav leader Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, the United States must wash the blood from its own hands by shutting down the School of the Americas," said Father Roy Bourgeois, co-director of SOA Watch, which seeks to close the Columbus, Georgia-based U.S. military facility. "We can set the example by ending this murderous chapter in our history."

"The Colombian Army is the cradle of the School of the Americas," said Cecilia Zarate-Laun, co-founder and program director of the Colombia Support Network, a grassroots organization working for peace in Colombia and solidarity between Colombians and North Americans. The so-called war on drugs in Latin America, Zarate-Laun explained, is actually a war against peasants. Supposed drug-war money is spent only to increase military presence in regions with peasant political opposition, she said, and not to stop drug trafficking and traders.

The next day, Monday, May 3, Pentagon staffers were greeted by as many as 1,700 protesters waiting outside their doors. The activists sang and walked around the Pentagon. When they reached the parade grounds, figures representing Clinton, arms dealers, a corporate "fat cat," and the Pentagon danced around a giant skull representing what the protesters called the SOA "death machine." At the edges of the field, demonstrators held signs containing "evidence" against the SOA, such as "State Terrorism in Colombia," "Instrument of torture," and others. While presenting this evidence in a service of remembrance, the "death machine" was dismantled and buried.

Prevented from entering the Pentagon, many created "marks of death" on the sidewalk by outlining the shapes of bodies with red paint. Sixty people were arrested, most of them charged with defacing property.

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