This past weekend I road-tripped with my housemates, the Sojourners interns, from Washington, D.C., to the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia. Being a West-Coaster, we drove through states I'd never seen. I saw the forests of the Carolinas and the cotton fields of Georgia, beauties of my country previously unknown to me. And our destination was a protest to close the School of the Americas, a blemish of my country also unknown to me before this year. There comes a point in life when the pretty façade of history and so-called reality breaks down -- when the underbelly of a country's foreign policy is unveiled and found, at times, to place national economic and political gain above basic human rights.
The SOA (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001) is a U.S. Army combat-training facility for Latin American soldiers connected to numerous human rights atrocities. The school moved to Georgia from its home in Panama in 1984 when the government deemed it a destabilizing presence in Latin America and a Panamanian newspaper referred to it as the "School of the Assassins." Nineteen of the 26 soldiers involved in the 1981 El Mozote massacre of more than 1,000 Salvadoran villagers were trained at the SOA. Twelve soldiers carried out the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter at a university in San Salvador; 10 learned their trade at the SOA. In 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador had implored the military to stop murdering its own people. "If they kill me," he said, "I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people." The next day he was assassinated. Two of the three responsible were SOA graduates.
The vigil and protest to close the school began 18 years ago with just 13 people, days after the murder of the Jesuit priests