|Thousands begin to occupy gates of Fort Benning to demand closure of the School of the Americas|
for immediate release
November 19, 2011, 1 PM
Thousands begin to occupy gates of Fort Benning to demand closure of the School of the Americas
FORT BENNING, GEORGIA – Music fills the air and the atmosphere crackles with excitement as people from around the U.S. and across the Americas pour onto Fort Benning Road, the main entrance to the military base and the home of the US Army School of the Americas, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
Thousands have traveled to Columbus, Georgia this week to take part in the largest ongoing anti-militarization gathering in the country. Here they'll demand an end to the US militarization of Latin America and for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.
“We're here this weekend because inequality and oppression continue, and the School of the Americas plays a role in that,” said Jimena Paz, a leader in the Honduran resistance movement. “In my country SOA graduates continue to repress social movements who stand up against a coup led by graduates of this school right here in Fort Benning.”
Earlier this year, 69 members of Congress asked President Obama to shut down the school by Executive Order, and last month Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced legislation to suspend operations at the school and investigate human rights abuses in Latin America.
“It is from numerous acts of courage that human history has been shaped,” said actor and director Martin Sheen, who will address the crowds this weekend and has publicly called for the closure of the School of the Americas for over a decade. “Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not we are all responsible for each other and the world.”
Joining Martin Sheen on stage this weekend will be Georgia NAACP State President Edward DuBose, speakers from the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, torture survivors and human rights activists from Latin America and many others. See a complete schedule of events.
This weekend's convergence will include plenaries, workshops, concerts, a massive rally and a peaceful vigil to transform Fort Benning from a place that trains assassins into a place of memory and nonviolent resistance, using images of martyrs, crosses, stars and flowers to create a memorial for the victims of SOA violence on the main gate fence. One participant plans to carry her protest onto the grounds of the military base, risking arrest and up to six months in federal prison.
The SOA/WHINSEC is a US taxpayer-funded military training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia. The school made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place. None of the school's famous alumni reached power by way of the voting booth, as reported in Time Magazine's October 2011 “Is It Time to Shutter the Americas' 'Coup Academy?'”
SOA Watch is a nonviolent grassroots movement that works to close the School of the Americas and change U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America. For more information, visit SOAW.org.
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