SOA Watch began in 1990 to denounce the 1989 School of the Americas (SOA) graduate-led massacre at the University of Central America (UCA) in El Salvador. The SOA, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001, is a US military training school based in 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 admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the facility has ever taken place.
Over the past 27 years, SOA Watch has grown to become the largest grassroots Latin America solidarity organization in the United States. In 2016 SOA Watch moved to Nogales Arizona/Sonora to call attention to militarized US foreign policy as a principal root cause of migration, as well as the devastating impact US security and immigration policy has on refugees, asylum seekers and immigrant families all over the continent.
SOA Watch is a nonviolent grassroots movement working to close the SOA / WHINSEC and similar centers that train state actors such as military, law enforcement and border patrol. We strive to expose, denounce, and end US militarization, oppressive US policies and other forms of state violence in the Americas. We act in solidarity with organizations and movements working for justice and peace throughout the Americas.
In 1990 Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch and Maryknoll priest, and other activists held a vigil at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia. The vigil was celebrated on the first anniversary of the UCA massacre – in which Elba Ramos, her 16-year-old daughter Celina Ramos, and 6 Jesuit priests – Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín Baró, Segundo Montes, Amando López, Juan Ramón Moreno and Joaquín López y López – were murdered in El Salvador on November 16, 1989.
A Congressional task force investigation reported that those responsible were trained at the School of the Americas (SOA) in Ft. Benning, Georgia. The SOA is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers and police. Established in 1946 at the Panama Canal Zone, the SOA was later moved to its current location. In 2001 it was renamed as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation (WHINSEC). Since it was founded, over 80,000 Latin American military and police officers have received training in the SOA / WHINSEC. Among the list of graduates are some of the worst violators of human rights in the continent, including nearly a dozen Latin American dictators.