By Chicago Committee to Free the Cuban Five
Thousands of religious, trade union, and human rights supporters participated in a vigil and rally outside the gates of the School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Georgia on November 21st to demand that it be closed. 26 were arrested, two of whom were sentenced to 6 months in prison and up to a $5000 fine for the crime of trespassing. (see www.soaw.org)
The "school" has trained more than 64,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency, military intelligence and interrogation techniques. Luis Posada Carriles, the notorious terrorist and mastermind of the 1976 downing of Cubana airline flight 455, trained at this School of Assassins in 1961.
Graduates of the SOA have been linked to human rights violations and suppression of popular movements throughout the Americas, most recently in Honduras where they led the coup against President Manuel Zelaya. The notorious Salvadoran death-squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson graduated from the "school." Eleven dictators have attended: men such as Argentine junta leader, Leopoldo Galtieri, infamously responsible for the "disappeared" and Guatemala's Efraín Ríos Montt, whose scorched earth campaign against indigenous villages, was classified as "genocide" by a UN-sponsored commission. Colombia has sent more officers to US training schools than any other Latin American country and, today, has the worst human rights record in the region.
This year marked the 21th anniversary of the massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter in El Salvador in 1989. Those responsible for the killing were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas. Since then, the non-violent, grassroots group called SOA Watch has organized annual protests at the gates of Fort Benning. The SOA Watch movement has stood in solidarity with the people of Latin America to change oppressive U.S. foreign policy.
This year we distributed 2300 leaflets to the 8000 participants, "Faith Leaders Speak out on the Cuban 5." These are 5 Cubans who have been railroaded to prison and locked up for 2 life terms and 99 years for the "crime" of uncovering U.S. based terrorism against their island.
Tom Whitney collected 250 signatures on the latest petition inspired the recent Amnesty International statement on the Cuban 5 case. http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR51/093/2010/en
In contrast to years past, a high proportion of those attending were aware of the Cuban 5 case, and we encountered a number of attendees who had been to Cuba.
We had a 2 hour workshop at the School of Americas protest this year about life in Cuba today and the case of the Cuban 5. There were over 40 in attendance. We had a presentation and discussion about the effects of the U.S.blockade on Cuba, their egalitarian social system, the reasons for the economic changes taking place, and the case of the Cuban 5.