SOA Country Sheets
These Country Sheets are brief meditations on the violence supported by the SOA and perpetrated by its graduates that were created in approximately 2003. Originally they were part of the organizing packet for the Close it Down Fast, an international fast in which more than 1000 individuals, groups and organizations participated. Currently Nicaragua is missing from this series. Nicaragua discontinued training at the SOA in 1978 when the Sandinistas came to power. It was not until 2001 when the SOA was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institue for Security Cooperation that Nicaragua resumed its training at the school. Thousands of Somoza’s National Guard trained in Panama. Many from this repressive security force went on to form the backbone of the Contras and wage a war against their own people.
Argentina – Bolivia – Brazil – Chile – Colombia – El Salvador – Guatemala – Haiti – Honduras – Mexico – Paraguay & Uruguay – Peru –
“What was the objective behind the torture and the disappearance? Where did the perpetrators of torture and genocide come from? Where did it all come from? It came from the world’s so-called leader in democracy, the United States. The United States trained more than 80,000 personnel in the School of the Americas and [other] military academies.” —Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize winner who was imprisoned and tortured for 14 months in Argentina
From 1976 to 1983, Argentina suffered a period know as the Dirty War, a time characterized by military coups, torture and disappearances. Two of the most notorious dictators, Roberto Viola (March – December 1981) and Leopoldo Galtieri (December 1981 – June 1982) were SOA graduates.
A civilian court sentenced Viola to 17 years for his crimes in 1985, but he was released after serving only 4 years as a result of military pressure. Galtieri was acquitted in the trials on charges of committing crimes against the Argentine people, but convicted later in 1986 on charges of incompetence. He was set free after serving only a small portion of his sentence, again as a result of military pressure.
According to Argentina Nunca Mas, “a young woman testified that after she had been held blindfolded and tortured for months, she and others in her group were allowed to clean themselves, in preparation for a visit to the detention center by General Galtieri… Galtieri asked if she knew who he was, and if she understood his absolute power over her. ‘If I say you live, you live, and if I say you die, you die. As it happens, you have the same Christian name as my daughter, and so you live.’”
Following the war, the National Commission of the Disappeared began to collect testimony about the atrocities that had occurred. Unfortunately, the complete text of the testimonies has been archived by the Argentine government and is not available to the public. However, a list gleaned from the testimonies names seven SOA graduates, including the head of a clandestine detention center.
“In Bolivia and thoughout Latin America many in the military are deeply involved in drug trafficking – How else could they afford to live in mansions with servants, drive their expensive cars and take their vacations in the U.S. and Europe.” – Luis Espinal, S.J., a Catholic priest of the Jesuit order who taught at the University of La Paz. In 1979 while investigating the involvement of Bolivia’s military dictatorship in drug trafficking, he was kidnapped, tortured and his body thrown on the side of the road near La Paz. 200,000 people attended his funeral.
On July 17, 1980, Gen. Garcia Meza Tejada carried out Bolivia’s most notorious and bloody military coup by directly assaulting the National Palace and forcing the president to resign. His right-hand man was SOA graduate Luis Arce Gomez, who was in charge of assembling a paramilitary force to overthrow the government. Arce Gomez later became Minister of the Interior, and another SOA graduate, Alberto Saenz Klinsky, was also a member of the cabinet. Seven other SOA graduates were implicated in the coup, six of whom were convicted for crimes ranging from issuing unconstitutional decrees to armed insurrection and murder. Arce Gomez was convicted in 1989 in Miami for drug trafficking and given a 30-year sentence.
Another strong supporter of Garcia Meza’s coup was SOA graduate Gen. Hugo Banzer, who himself had acted as dictator from 1971 to 1978. He was notorious for the “Banzer Plan” to silence outspoken members of the church. That plan became a blueprint for repression throughout Latin America. Banzer was also known for sheltering Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, “The Butcher of Lyon,” and for his links to drug trafficking groups. In 1988, Banzer was chosen for the SOA Hall of Fame.
Many other SOA graduates from Bolivia have been linked to drug and even arms trafficking. In a series of cases in the late 80’s and early 90’s, six SOA graduates were brought to trial for their links to drug rings within the military. In a separate case, a top SOA graduate was dismissed from his position as head of the Special Security Forces of the Ministry of the Interior after he was accused of covering up drug trafficking.
Last year the Bolivian government sold the public water system of Cochabamba to a private corporation, resulting in skyrocketing water rates for the people of Bolivia. As thousands took to the streets, Bolivian president, former military dictator and SOA graduate Hugo Banzer sent out the armed forces to attack civilians. In April 2000, after four days of anti-privatization protests, Banzer declared a “state of siege”, sending soldiers into the street with live bullets.
Army Captain Robinson Iriarte de La Fuente, an SOA graduate, was captured on film shooting live rounds into an unarmed crowd. A seventeen-year-old boy, Victor Hugo Daza, was shot and killed with a bullet through the face. Video of the shooting, posted by PBS, can be seen here: http://www.pbs.org/now/science/bolivia.html. At least seven others were killed that day, and the number of injuries resulting from military violence totaled over 100.
“The mark of the School of the Americas is engraved in the minds and bodies and in the histories of the families of the tortured, killed, and disappeared.” –From a letter by the Brazilian human rights group Tortura Nunca Mais, calling for the closure of the SOA, signed by 142 Brazilian human rights groups, women’s organizations, lawyers associations, religious groups, unions, and political parties
In 1997, the Brazilian human rights group Tortura Nunca Mais reviewed its documentation of human rights abuses, including documents from the Brazil Never Again project as well as pertinent court records. They determined that 20 SOA graduates and 2 SOA instructors were linked to repression and human rights abuses, including false imprisonment and torture by methods such as electric shock, suffocation, and injection with “truth serum”.
Brazil has one of the most active anti-SOA campaigns in Latin America. Members of Tortura Nunca Mais, as well as other religious and political groups, have organized a series of protests and media events to call on the Brazilian government to stop sending students to the SOA.
“Under a gritty, gray sky, in the heart of the downtown shopping district, only blocks away from the site of Pinochet’s bloody 1973 coup, I walked alongside a demonstration organized by the Families of the Detained-Disappeared. The protesters, mostly women, carried pictures of loved ones on placards with the words, “Where are they?” As they marched, they shouted their support for the Spanish judge who is trying to bring Pinochet to justice. They also demanded an end to impunity.”— Fr. Stephen DeMott, Maryknoll Missionary
The 1973 coup and its bloody aftermath were largely the work of SOA graduates. The Spanish lawyers who presented the charges that resulted in Pinochet’s 1998 arrest also requested the indictment of 30 other high-ranking officials of the Chilean dictatorship. Ten of those are SOA graduates. Although Pinochet himself was not an SOA graduate, his influence is clearly held in high esteem. In 1991, visitors could view a note from Pinochet, and a ceremonial sword donated by him, on display in the office of the SOA commandant.
Among the SOA graduates cited in the Spanish court case are the former heads of the CNI and DINA secret police, the officers who tortured and murdered a U.N. official, and those who participated in the assault on the residence of president Salvador Allende. One of those responsible for the death of the U.N. official was an SOA instructor in 1987. Other SOA graduates have been cited for operating the Villa Grimaldi, Tres Alamos and Cuatro Alamos concentration camps for political prisoners.
Another SOA graduate, Armando Fernandez Larios, participated in the notorious assassination of former Chilean Defense Minister Pratts who was killed in a car bomb in Argentina. He was also indicted in 1979 by a U.S. grand jury for his involvement in the car-bombing that killed former foreign minister Orlando Letelier and U.S. citizen Ronni Moffit in Washington DC in 1976.
“I saw this group of soldiers, shooting their rifles, approaching from ahead, and as they passed in front of me, they began to beat me with the butts of their weapons and tips of their boots. I held tight to my camera, still running, until the blow from a rifle butt broke the camera gear…I recall that a solider with a gas mask on picked me up and a colleague from another news program came up to me. I gave him the tape and told him, ‘save the material, my friend.’ That night everyone saw those images while I recovered in a hospital with a perforated liver and my testicles destroyed by the blows. One year later I was seeking political asylum in the United States due to threats.”—Colombian journalist Richard Velez describing his treatment by troops under the command of an SOA graduate.
Colombia has sent more troops to train at the SOA than any other Latin American country, with chilling results. The 1993 human rights report State Terrorism in Colombia cites 247 Colombian officers for human rights violations. Fully one half of those cited were SOA graduates. Some were even featured as SOA guest speakers or instructors or included in the “Hall of Fame” after their involvement in such crimes. For example, Gen. Farouk Yanine Diaz was a guest speaker at the school in 1990 and 1991 after his involvement in the 1988 Uraba massacre of 20 banana workers, the assassination of the mayor of Sabana de Torres, and the massacre of 19 businessmen. According to a U.S. State Department Report, he was also accused of “establishing and expanding paramilitary death squads, as well as ordering dozens of disappearances, and the killing of judges and court personnel sent to investigate previous crimes.”
SOA graduates have been linked to some of Colombia’s most heinous massacres, including the 1988 massacre in Segovia in which 43 people were killed, the Trujillo chainsaw massacres, which took place between 1988 and 1991, and the 1993 Riofrio massacre. In one instance, the Colombian legislature asserts that a military officer was sent to the SOA to avoid having to answer questions about the Fusagauga massacre of a peasant family.
Supporters of the SOA have claimed that these abuses are a thing of the past. However, the 1998 U.S. State Department Report reports that the 20th military brigade was disbanded for its involvement in human rights abuses, including the targeted killing of civilians. The commander of that brigade was SOA graduate Paucelino Latorre Gamboa. The report also links SOA graduates to an illegal raid on the offices of a non-governmental human rights group, and implicates an SOA graduate for his complicity in a 1997 massacre. Clearly the abuses are not a thing of the past.
SOA Graduates Cited for Recent Human Rights Atrocities and Paramilitary Ties
-SOA Graduate Army Major César Alonso Maldonado Vidales along with Captain Jorge Ernesto Rojas Galindo were detained, according to Human Rights Watch, “in relation to the December 2000 attack on trade unionist Wilson Borja.” Maj. Maldonado, assigned to army intelligence at Bogotá’s Thirteenth Brigade, had cell phone records that linked him to one of the assassins. A witness and former soldier also verified his relation to the attack and “named high-ranking officers who he claims approved it,” among them, was SOA Graduate, General Jorge Enrique Mora, who is currently the commander of the Colombian Army.
“On April 23, Colombia’s Attorney General, Luis Osorio, abruptly fired the human rights prosecutor handling the case. The prosecutor named as a replacement ordered Major Maldonado freed. Captain Rojas is currently charged with conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder, but the fate of the entire investigation is now in doubt.”
According to the 2000 State Department Report on Human Rights in Colombia, SOA graduates Major David Hernandez Rojas and Captain Diego Fino Rodriguez are being prosecuted in civilian courts for the March 1999 murders of Antiqua peace commissioner Alex Lopera and two others. Both men are members of the Colombian Military’s 4th Brigade, which has been extensively linked to paramilitary groups.
SOA graduate Colonel Jorge Plazas Acevedo is being tried by the Prosecutor General of Colombia for the 1998 kidnapping and murder of Jewish business leader Benjamin Khoudari. Plazas is the former chief of intelligence for the Colombian Military’s 13th Brigade.
The State Department reports that Colonel Jesus Maria Clavijo, a graduate of the SOA, is currently under investigation for collusion with paramilitary forces in 160 social cleansing murders from 1995-1998. In addition to the information provided by the State Department Report, a 2001 Reuters article reports that Clavijo has been accused of ties to a paramilitary death squad responsible for the massacre of at least 100 people in 1996 and 1997. Clavijo is currently in prison awaiting his trial.
Finally, the report states that SOA graduate Commander Mauricio Llorente Chavez was indicted by the Prosecutor General for complicity in a massacre that took place in Tibu, July 1999.
“The Ties that Bind”, a report issued by Human Rights Watch in February 2000, cited at least seven SOA graduates for involvement with paramilitary groups. SOA graduate Brigadier General Jaime Ernesto Canal Alban, commander of the 3rd Brigade, was involved in helping to establish a paramilitary group known as the “Calima Front”. Canal’s brigade was found to have supplied the front with weapons and intelligence. In 1999, the Calima Front seized and executed community leader Noralba Gaviria Piedrahita. The following month, authorities discovered the mutilated and dismembered bodies of seven men near Tulu, also killed by members of the Calima Front. The front has been found responsible for 2,000 forced disappearances and at least 40 executions since 1999. In addition to his involvement with the Calima Front, Canal was in command of soldiers who entered a home and killed five civilians during the birthday party of a 15-year-old child in 1998.
The report cited General Carlos Ospina Ovalle, graduate of the SOA and former commander of the 4th Brigade, for “extensive evidence of pervasive ties” to paramilitary groups involved in human rights abuses throughout 1999. Ospina was the commander of the 4th Brigade in 1998 when troops massacred at least 11 people and burned down 47 homes in El Aro.
Major Alvaro Cortes Morillo and Major Jesus Maria Clavijo, both SOA grads, were linked to paramilitary groups in 1999 through extensive cell phone and beeper communications as well as regular meetings on military bases.
General Mario Montoya Uribe, an SOA graduate with a history of ties to paramilitary violence, commands the Joint Task Force South, which includes the 24th Brigade. The 24th Brigade is ineligible for U.S. military aid due to its complicity in paramilitary violence. A leading Colombian newspaper identifies General Montoya as “the military official responsible for Plan Colombia”.
A December 2000 AP article brought attention to the death of SOA-trained Lieutenant Carlos Acosta, who was killed for “disobedience” after escaping prison to join a Colombian death squad. According to the article, Acosta had taken a month-long infantry course at the SOA in which he learned to fire M-16 assault rifles and M-60 machine guns, and was trained in battlefield tactics. Acosta was a member of the Colombian military’s 5th brigade, which has one of the worst human rights records as well as ties to paramilitary groups. Acosta was arrested when in 1994 he and his men intercepted a group of federal prosecutors, tied them up, shot them, and dumped their bodies into a river. According to Acosta’s brother, “He [Acosta] used to say that a soldier in Colombia has to fight not only guerrillas, but also the human rights groups and prosecutors”.
–According to Human Rights Watch, SOA Graduate Army Captain Juan Carlos Fernández López and Colonel Víctor Matamoros were indicted “for collaboration with and the formation of illegal paramilitary groups in 1997” and also between May and September of 1999 for “connection with a series of paramilitary massacres in and around La Gabarra, Norte de Santander.” More than 145 people were killed by the paramilitaries. “In May 2002, the Human Rights Unit prosecutor in charge of the case was fired, leaving the fate of the case in question.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed grief over the firing of key prosecutors, saying that it puts into question “the independence and autonomy of prosecutors working on investigations related to human rights violations, particularly when paramilitary groups and state agents are implicated.”
“The soldiers from the Atlacatl Battalion came at seven in the morning. They said they had orders to kill everyone. Nobody was to remain alive. They locked the women in the houses and the men in the church. There were 1,100 of us in all. The children were with the women. They kept us locked up all morning. At ten o’clock the soldiers began to kill the men who were in the church. First they machine-gunned them and then they slit their throats.
“By two o’clock the soldiers had finished killing the men and they came for the women. They left the children locked up. They separated me from my eight-month old daughter and my oldest son. They took us away to kill us. As we came to the place where they were going to kill us, I was able to slip away and hide under a small bush, covering myself with the branches. I watched the soldiers line up twenty women and machine-gun them. Then they brought another group. Another rain of bullets. Then another group. And another.
“They killed four of my children: my nine-year-old, my six-year-old, my three-year-old, and my eight-month-old daughter. My husband was killed, too. I spent seven days and nights alone in the hills with nothing to eat or drink. I couldn’t find anyone else; the soldiers had killed everyone. God allowed me to live so that I can testify how the Army killed the men and women and burned their bodies. I didn’t see them kill the children, but I heard the children’s screams.” –Testimony of Rufina Amaya, the sole witness to the El Mozote massacre in El Salavdor in which at least nine SOA graduates were implicated
In 1993, the United Nations Truth Commission Report on El Salvador cited the officers responsible for the worst atrocities committed during that country’s brutal civil war. Over two-thirds of those named were trained at the School of the Americas.
Their crimes include:
–Assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero (1980)
–Murder of four U.S. Churchwomen (1980)
–El Mozote Massacre (1980)—more than 900 killed
–Sheraton Hotel Murders of labor leaders (1981)
–Lake Suchitlan Massacre (1983)—117 killed
–Las Hojas Massacre (1983)—16 killed
–Los Llanitos Massacre (1984)—68 killed
–San Sebastian Massacre (1988)—10 killed
–University of Central America Massacre (1989)—8 killed
We are survivors of this policy of genocide practiced by Guatemalan officials who were trained and indoctrinated at the SOA to carry out the cowardly extermination of their own sisters and brothers. We lived through this sad history in our own flesh during the 1980’s during the most recent bitter holocaust survived by the Guatemalan indigenous Mayans. That is why we share in your struggle. We urge you to continue your efforts…–Statement from members of a Guatemalan returned refugee community
Two major human rights reports have recently implicated the SOA for its role in training human rights abusers. The 1998 Recovery of Historical Memory Report by the Archdioceses of Guatemala is a chilling catalog of the mechanisms of violence and its impact on Guatemalan society. Among the findings of that report were that SOA graduates were responsible for the assassination of anthropologist Myrna Mack, the cover-up of the murder of U.S. citizen Michael Devine, and the torture and murder of Efrain Bamaca, husband of U.S. citizen Jennifer Harbury.
The report also states that SOA graduate Benedicto Lucas Garcia masterminded the creation of vigilante groups known as PACs that were responsible for some of the most horrific violations of the war. Furthermore, three SOA graduates were top officials in the notorious D-2 intelligence agency, which the report characterizes as having played “a central role in the conduct of military operations, in massacres, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, and torture.” It is also known that SOA graduates held key cabinet positions under the brutal dictatorships of Lucas Garcia, Rios Montt, and Mejia Victores.
The Guatemalan Truth Commission Report, released in 1999, was written by the independent Historical Clarification Commission, which was established as part of the peace accords. Although the report could not name names of those responsible for specific crimes, it does single out the SOA. “Some Guatemalan officers and junior officers attended basic and advanced courses in Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the School of the Americas of the U.S. Army Southern Command. Moreover, in training some officers, manuals from the U.S. schools were used. The Historical Clarification Commission had access to some of these, which were written in Spanish. For example, the manual, ‘Terrorism and the Urban Guerilla’ says that ‘another function of counterintelligence agents is to recommend counterintelligence targets to be neutralized…examples of these targets are government officials and political leaders…’”
In January, 2000 an SOA grad, Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada was arrested in Guatemala for the 1998 assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi. According to a declassified US Defense Intelligence Agency biographic sketch, Lima Estrada took Military Police training at the US Army School of the Americas now located at Ft. Benning, GA. Lima Estrada went on to head the infamous D-2 Military Intelligence agency at the height of the genocide campaign in Guatemala’s civil war.
In June 2001, SOA graduate and former head of Guatemala’s notorious D-2 Intelligence Unit, Col. Byron Lima Estrada, along with his army captain son, former presidential bodyguard and a priest were convicted of the bludgeoning
death of Bishop Gerardi. Human Rights Watch heralded this as “the first time a Guatemalan court ruled that army officers cannot get away with murder”.
Two days prior to his murder, Gerardi had released the REMHI report on wartime human rights abuses concluding that the army was responsible for the majority of the civil war’s 200,000 dead.Lima Estrada headed the infamous D-2 intelligence Agency that was heavily cited in Gerardi’s report. The night before the trial began, the home of the presiding judge, Iris Yasmin Barrios, was attacked with grenades. The attack occurred despire the presence of police guards stationed at her house.
The year 2000 brought genocide cases against two former Guatemalan dictators trained at the SOA. In March, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Nobel Peace Prize winner, filed suit in a Spanish court against SOA graduate General Efrain Rios Montt, who took power through a coup and governed Guatemala at the height of a counter-insurgency campaign that wiped hundreds of Mayan villages off the map, left thousands dead and forced hundreds of thousands into refuge or exile. The case also cites SOA graduates General Angel Anibal Guevara Rodriguez, the Minister of Defense and Colonel German Chupina Barahona, Director of the National Police.
In a parallel case, a group of Mayan survivors is suing former dictator Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia as well as former Army Chief of Staff Benedicto Lucas Garcia and former Defense Minister Luis Rene Mendoza, all graduates of the SOA. According to a recently declassified CIA document, Benedicto Lucas Garcia was key in strategizing the scorched earth policy that aimed to annihilate the civilian Mayan population. The plaintiffs are suing the former chiefs for ordering the rape, torture and massacre of their families and fellow community members. Their association represents eight communities that lost 800 people to massacres during the Lucas Garcia regime from 1981 to 1982.
In addition, On March 21, 2001, Guatemala’s highest court ordered General Rios Montt and five other lawmakers to resign from their congressional posts in order to face impeachment charges. The six were involved in a corruption scandal in which they are accused of altering a law passed by the legislature in June of 2000, which placed a 20% tax on alcoholic beverages. Mysteriously, the legislation was passed into law as a tax of only 10%. It is expected that Rios Montt will ignore the order to resign his congressional post.
“In the eyes of most people throughout the world, my home country is perceived as a place of repressive regimes, coupes d’etat, poverty and despair. Indeed, Haiti has suffered through colonization by Spain and France, US occupation, dictatorship supported by the wealthy, and periods of cruel repression” — Marie M. B. Racine, Ph. D., a Haitian woman herself, lives in Washington, DC where she is an an active member of the solidarity community for the peoples of the Caribbean and Central America.
Haiti has sent relatively few officers to train at the SOA, primarily because SOA courses are offered in Spanish. Less than 50 Haitian officers have attended the SOA since it was founded, but their presence has been felt. In 1987, SOA graduate Gambetta Hyppolite ordered his soldiers to fire on the Provincial Electoral Bureau in Gonaives as part of a larger Army campaign to stop the democratic elections. In 1988, SOA graduate Franck Romain masterminded the St. Jean Bosco massacre in which 12 prisoners were killed while attending mass and at least 77 were wounded.
Haitian soldiers and officers have also trained at many other U.S. facilities. For example General Raul Cedras, Defense Minister, and Michel Francois, Port au Prince Police Chief are often believed to be SOA graduates. In fact, however, they graduated from the U.S. Army Infantry School, which is also located at Ft. Benning.
“(…) the order was to take everyone: parents, grandparents, kids, wives, everyone. It was very rare that anyone survived after being taken by my battalion. At first the children were abandoned in the park or the marketplace. But then General Alvarez Martinez said ‘These seeds will eventually bear fruit’. So we had to eliminate the children as well.” — SOA graduate who once was a member of a secret death squad in Honduras, Battalion 3-16. Gen. Alvarez Martinez was trained at the SOA. Four of the five ranking Honduran officers who organized death squads as part of Battalion 3-16 also are graduates.
At least 19 key members of Honduran Battalion 3-16 graduated from the SOA. U.S. and Argentine advisors helped establish that death squad battalion around 1980. It operated in secrecy for years, until former members came forward to reveal its clandestine campaign of kidnappings, torture and disappearance. Members of the Battalion trained at the SOA on two, three, and even four separate occasions.
Generals Gustavo Alvarez Martinez and Daniel Bali Castillo took a Joint Operations course at the SOA in 1978, just prior to establishing Battalion 3-16. General Luis Alonso Discua, first commander of the Battalion, took three courses at the SOA. General Juan Lopez Grijalva, second in command of the battalion throughout the early 80s, took three SOA courses. He was also a guest speaker at the SOA in 1991 and 1992, long after an Americas Watch report detailed his involvement with the death squad. General Humberto Regalado Hernandez took four courses at the SOA. As commander of the Honduran Armed Forces in the late 80s, he shielded the Battalion from investigations. He was inducted into the SOA Hall of Fame in 1988.
In one 1982 incident, Battalion members kidnapped six university students. They were taken to the house of SOA graduate Amilcar Zelaya, which several witnesses state was a clandestine prison where many were tortured and killed. There, they were beaten, had rubber hoods placed over their heads until they nearly suffocated, and they were threatened with death. They were released when the father of two students, a government official, pushed for their release. Charges were brought against ten military officials, four of whom were SOA graduates.
On October 22, 2003 The Brownsville Herald wrote, “The Zetas, hired assassins for the Gulf (Drug) Cartel, feature 31 ex-soldiers once part of an elite division of the Mexican army — the Special Air Mobile Force Group. At least one-third of this battalion’s deserters were trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., according to documents from the Mexican secretary of defense… According to the Mexican attorney general’s office, the Zetas were implicated in dozens of shootouts along the Texas-Mexico border. They’re also suspected in the kidnapping and the execution of several police officers in Matamoros and the rescue of four members of the Gulf Cartel.”
“The School of the Americas is part of a larger project to protect and defend U.S. corporate interests in Mexico at the expense of workers and indigenous peoples. The movement to close the School of the Americas is an important expression of solidarity with the Mexican people.” —Eduardo Diaz, Mexican labor leader
Consistently the countries with the worst human rights records have sent the most students to the SOA during the peaks of repression. Given that history, it is no coincidence that Mexico is now among the top clients of the SOA. In the first 49 years of the School, Mexico sent very few students—766 total—to be trained at the SOA. That number escalated sharply in 1996 and rose to 333 students in 1997, 1,177 in 1998 and close to 700 in 1999. Proponents of the SOA claim that this training is necessary because of Mexico’s increased involvement in the “war on drugs.” However, that is just a smokescreen. The truth is that in 1997, only 10% of Mexican students took counter-narcotics courses. No Mexican soldier were slated for the counter-drug operations course in 1999. However, 40 were projected to take military intelligence training.
The sudden rise in Mexican graduates corresponds to the growing movement for economic justice in Mexico. The voices of and for the poor—represented by leaders like Bishop Ruiz from Chiapas—threaten the powerful and wealthy. Thus, it is not surprising that SOA graduates have come out against the Church. One SOA graduate, General Jose Ruben Rivas Pena, wrote an analysis of the conflict in Chiapas in which he stated: “The Vatican is the indirect cause of the conflict in Chiapas with its contaminated thread of liberation theology.” This rhetoric is frighteningly similar to that used in El Salvador prior to the assassination of Archbishop Romero by SOA graduates in 1980.
Those trained at the SOA are trained to silence the voices that speak out for justice. At least 18 top military officials who have played a key role in the civilian-targeted warfare in Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca are SOA graduates. One of them, Juan Lopez Oritz, commanded the troops that committed a 1994 massacre in Ocosingo in which soldiers tied prisoners’ hands behind their backs before shooting them in the back of the head.
“The same folder, in a section labeled ‘instruction at the School of the Americas,’ contains a manual teaching ‘interrogators’ how to keep electric shock victims alive and responsive. The manual recommends dousing the victims’ heads and bodies with salt water, and includes a sketch showing how this ‘treatment’ should be carried out.”—journalist Stella Calloni, describing the contents of the Paraguayan “Horror Archives”
In 1992, a former Paraguayan political prisoner, Martin Almada went to a Paraguayan police station accompanied by a judge in search of his police files. What he found instead were thousands of documents detailing the kidnapping, torture, and murder of hundreds of Latin American political prisoners during the 1970’s. The documents also contained details of Operation Condor, a secret agreement among the Argentine, Bolivian, Brazilian, Chilean, Paraguayan, and Uruguayan security forces. This conspiracy allowed the governments to track down and murder their political enemies beyond their own national borders. The documents that Almada uncovered became known as the “Horror Archives.”
Given that the CIA actively supported Operation Condor, it is not surprising that a file containing School of the Americas training manuals was discovered among the “Horror Archives.” The folder was labeled confidential and held an interrogation manual from Ft. Gulick (formerly the site of the School of the Americas), as well as the materials described above. It is also unsurprising that Paraguayan SOA graduates, such as Alejandro Fretes Davalos, were active participants in Operation Condor. Furthermore, the Uruguay Nunca Mas Report names at least four Uruguayan SOA graduates who participated in the kidnapping, interrogation and torture of Uruguayans living in Brazil as part of Operation Condor.
Currently Paraguay and Uraguay are not sending any troops to WHINSEC.
“In the early hours of Saturday, July 18, 1992, eyewitnesses say that about 30 hooded soldiers burst into the male student dormitory at La Cantuta and forced the 60 students inside into the hallways with threats and blows. The students were forced to lie face down on the floor. One of the armed men went through the group with a list in hand, ordering that certain students be pulled out. Apparently the list had been prepared by military intelligence officers who had infiltrated the university as students.”—Human Rights Watch Report, describing the “disappearance” of nine university students and a professor
Six of the Peruvian military officers linked to the horrific Cantuta disappearances are SOA graduates, including three who were actually convicted. One of those linked to the crime is SOA graduate Vladimiro Lenin Montesinos Torres, who runs the “Colina” death squad, which is part of the Peru’s National Intelligence Service (SIN). Four Peruvian officers also claim that Montesinos took an active part in torturing them after they plotted a 1992 coup attempt.
SOA graduates have also committed many other atrocities in Peru, including the 1985 Accomarca Massacre of 69 peasants, the Cayera Massacre of 31 people, the Lurigancho Massacre of 120 prison inmates, and a 1993 massacre in which nine prisoners were forced into an abandoned mine that was blown up with dynamite.
More recently, SOA graduates have been linked to drug trafficking. A Congressional Working Group on Chemical Substances, led by Peruvian Congressman Julio Castro, recommended the investigation of accusations linking at least 14 SOA graduates to drug trafficking.
SOA honors graduate General Nicolas Hermoza Rios is currently serving time in a Peruvian prison, after pleading guilty to taking $14 million in arms deal gains. Hermoza is also under fire for allegedly taking protection money from Peruvian drug lords, whom the Peruvian military, along with military aid from the U.S., claimed to be fighting. In 1993, a witness who had worked with Demetrio “El Vaticano” Chavez, Peru’s most notorious drug trafficker, claimed that Hermoza had been receiving between $50,000 and $100,000 in protection money per month. The witness stated that “Montesinos is the one who is making the most from ‘El Vaticano’”.