|History of the SOA Watch Movement|
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On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her teenage daughter were massacred in El Salvador. A US Congressional Task Force reported that those reponsible were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
In 1990 SOA Watch began in a tiny apartment outside the main gate of Fort Benning by Father Roy Bourgeois. While starting with a small group of people of faith, SOA Watch quickly drew upon the knowledge and experience of many in the U.S. who had worked with the people of Latin America in the 1970?s and 80?s. Since then, evidence of atrocious human rights abuses that have been committed against the people of Latin America have come back to point to those trained at the SOA. This evidence abounds.
Today, the SOA Watch movement is a large, diverse, grassroots movement, rooted in solidarity with the people of Latin America. The goal of SOA Watch is to close the SOA/WHINSEC and to change U.S. foreign policy in Latin America by educating the public, lobbying Congress and participating in creative, nonviolent resistance. The Pentagon has responded to the growing movement and Congress? near closure of the SOA with a PR campaign to give the SOA a new image. In an attempt to disassociate the school with its horrific past, the SOA was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in January 2001.
We are grateful to our sisters and brothers of Latin America for their inspiration and invitation to accompany them in their struggle for peace and justice. We also acknowledge the hard work and many sacrifices made by the following organizations, groups, and individuals in the SOA Watch Movement:
There is much work to be done. We invite you to be a part of the SOA Watch movement.
SOA and SOA Watch Timeline
Early 1800s onwards: numerous US land grabs and interventions in Latin America & Caribbean.
1946: SOA predecessor opens in Panama.
1970s: Somoza?s Nicaraguan National Guard trains at the SOA.
1980s: Civil War of El Salvador. Salvadoran military?including the Atlacatl Battalion?train at the SOA.
1983: Fr. Roy Bourgeois, impersonating an officer, enters Ft. Benning, climbs tree next to the Salvadoran barracks, and after dark loudly plays the tape of Archbishop Oscar Romero?s last homily. Sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.
1984: Booted out of Panama, the SOA ?School of Coups? moves to Ft. Benning, GA.
1989: On Nov. 16 the Atlacatl Battalion perpetrates the Jesuit massacre at University of Central America in San Salvador.
1990: Roy moves into tiny apartment across the street from Ft. Benning?s main entrance and founds SOA Watch.
Roy, Kathy Kelly, and eight others do a 35-day water-only fast at Benning?s main gate.
1993: Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) introduces anti-SOA bill?we lose by 87 votes.
1994: On Jan. 1, in response to NAFTA, the Zapatistas rise up in Mexico; the number of Mexican soldiers sent to the SOA increases sharply.
Roy and ten others do a 40-day juice-only fast on the steps of the Capitol in DC.
Joe Kennedy introduces second bill to close SOA?we lose by 42 votes.
1995: Beginning of strategy to do direct actions at Benning?s main entrance every November on or just after November 16.
On November 16 some of the ?SOA 13? simulate Jesuit massacre at the gate; octogenarian Judge J. Robert Elliott gives each a sentence ranging from two to six months in federal prison for ?trespass.?
1996: Carol Richardson opens SOA Watch office in DC to do legislative work.
Pentagon forced to release SOA training manuals; numerous passages encourage torture, extortion, and ?neutralizing? and in general are permeated with contempt for law and democracy.
1997: Six hundred briefly detained for ?crossing the line.? Twenty-six are sentenced to the maximum penalty of six months in prison and a 3,000 dollar fine.
Orbis Books publishes Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer?s School of Assassins (revised edition 2001).
1998: Over 2,000 cross the line?with 8,000 supporters present; one of the largest civil disobedience actions in the US since the Viet Nam War.
1999: Over 4,000 cross the line?with 6,000 supporters present. The following year ten of these serve three months each in federal prison.
2000: Several thousand cross the line?with thousands of supporters present. 26 ?second timers? are prosecuted. One gets probation; 25 get sentenced to federal prison, most for six months.
SOA Watchers take part in A16, the anti-World Bank mobilization; many spend five nights in the DC jail doing jail solidarity.
?Gandhian Wave? civil disobedience actions begin occuring periodically as SOA Watchers do direct actions at the SOA or at the main gate apart from the annual November vigil action.
In December the SOA ?closes,? i.e. takes a holiday break.
2001: In January the SOA re-opens under a new alias: the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC. Within months, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduces HR 1810 calling for the closure of WHISC.
2002: In an historic ruling, Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth acknowledges the right to assemble as endowed by the First Amendment and grants SOA Watch protestors the right to continue gathering at the gates of Fort Benning each November.
43 face trial in July for civil resistance at the gates of Fort Benning.
2003: Representative Jim McGovern and 49 other Representatives introduce HR 1258.
In January and February, 86 people arrested in November of 2002 face trial in front of Magistrate Faircloth.
In November, 10,000 gather at the gates of Fort Benning.
2004: 27 activists go on trial before Magistrate Faircloth in January for civil disboedience actions in November 2003. All are found guilty and 23 are sentenced to prison.
After meeting with a delegation that included Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announces that Venezuela will no longer send troops to train at the SOA/ WHINSEC.
In October, the 11th Circuit Court rules that the city of Columbus may not search each protestor as they enter the SOA Watch vigil site, noting that the searches performed at the 2002 and 2003 vigils violated the First and Fourth Amendments.
The largest and most diverse group gathers at the gates of Fort Benning ? more than 16,000 people! Fifteen people are arrested for actions on the base; one is not charges.
2005: In January, fourteen people face trial before Judge Faircloth. Eleven are sentenced to federal prison.
In March, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduces HR 1217 with more than 75 bi-partisan co-sponsors to investigate and suspend operations at the SOA/ WHINSEC. Over 19,000 people come to the gates of Ft. Benning in November to protest the SOA.
2006: In February 37 members of our movement go to trial and 35 receive prison. After a historic SOA Watch delegation, Uruguay and Argentina decide to stop sending troops to train at the SOA. In March we have 128 co-sponsors on HR 1217. Organizers prepare for an upcoming vote.
SOA Watch activists around the country prepare to travel to Ft. Benning to call for the closure of the SOA/ WHINSEC, November 17-19!
*thanks to Ed Kinane for compiling this information
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