2005 Vigil

2005 Vigil At the School of the Americas


Comments by Andrine

On Friday, November 18th, I went with three other women to Ft. Benning in Columbus, GA, to a 3-day peaceful protest of the School of the Americas.


What is the School of the Americas? To best answer that question, I have copied below 3 paragraphs from the SOA Watch website, http://soaw.org/, where you can see and read much more about the protest, the school, etc.

“The School of the Americas (SOA), in 2001 renamed the ‘Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,’ is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

“Initially established in Panama in 1946, it was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the ‘biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.’ The SOA, frequently dubbed the ‘School of Assassins,’ has left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned.

Over its 59 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, ‘disappeared,’ massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins.”

As most of you know, I have attended numerous peace rallies and anti-war protests during the Viet Nam war and since before the current war in Iraq.  Although this was not the largest protest I have attended, there were about 20,000 people there.  There were so many simultaneous events that it was impossible to go to all of them, but I heard speakers from Latin America describe the torture and death in their countries because of the SOA and I listened to US human rights workers describe their experiences in Latin American countries.”

One of the most impressive events for me was the Catholic Mass on Saturday night.  It was under a huge tent, which accomodated only about half of the 3,000 or so people at the Mass, which lasted over an hour and a half.  The Jesuit priest’s sermon was inspiring and the music was absolutely beautiful–some in Latin and some in English.  A young woman sang “Shepherd Me, O God,” which has been one of my favorites since my brother sang it at our mom’s funeral 2 years ago, and she sang it almost as wonderfully as he did.  There were 128 people distributing communion.

The culmination of the weekend for us was the funeral procession on Sunday.  Again there were wonderful speeches and songs followed by a ceremony calling out the names of the people who have died because of the SOA.  Led by Father Bourgeois and mourners bearing mock coffins, we processed and carried wooden crosses bearing the names, ages and countries of people who died, and, after each name was read, we all raised our crosses and sang, “Presente”  (“Here/Present”).

After the procession, some of us accompanied the people who had decided to “cross the line” in acts of civil disobedience up to the fence.  Two priests held up a section of the fence to Ft. Benning and the people crawled under to an area where soldiers were waiting to arrest them.  These brave people were willing to spend up to 6 months in jail for their convictions–I wish that I had that courage.  I saw one elderly woman carrying a white rose (as did many, if not all, of them), who was fighting back tears–she was determined, but must have been scared.  I saw another younger handicapped woman kiss her husband “Good-bye.”

I was deeply impressed by the number of Catholic priests, brothers, sisters and students at the vigil.  They came from Catholic high schools and colleges all over the US.  That’s not really surprising, though, since many religious have been murdered in Latin America, e.g., “On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her teenage daughter were massacred in El Salvador. A U.S. Congressional Task Force reported that those responsible were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) at Ft. Benning, Georgia.”

Comments by Leslie
This year, for the third time, I traveled with Andrine, Patty and Betty to Fort Benning, GA. I had traveled there for the first time three years ago. At that time, seven of us from Howard Co. made this journey to accompany Betsy Lamb who had decided to “cross the line”. This was a moving experience then and it was still a moving experience this time. Three years ago, there were 11,000 of us. This time there were 20,000!!

Comments by Leslie
This year, for the third time, I traveled with Andrine, Patty and Betty to Fort Benning, GA. I had traveled there for the first time three years ago. At that time, seven of us from Howard Co. made this journey to accompany Betsy Lamb who had decided to “cross the line”. This was a moving experience then and it was still a moving experience this time. Three years ago, there were 11,000 of us. This time there were 20,000!!

April 23-25, 2006 in Washington, DC: Mark your calendar for the days of action to close this school.

Comments by Betty
This was my first trip to the SOA protest. For years I have known about the School of Americas and its practice of teaching Latin American police and military techniques for torture and suppression of indigenous movements of people. The trip was an important way for me to stand up against US torture practices around the world.

I was humbled to pay respect as probably a thousand names of those who were killed by graduates of the SOA were read (we were told this was only a small portion). I felt on a much deeper level the enormous impact these deaths must have had on the countless communities of Latin America where they occurred. I was also impressed at the large numbers of US peace and religious organizations and individuals who work in support of the people and development processes in these communities.

I intend to participate in the April events in Washington DC being planned by SOA Watch in its continuing work to close the School of the Americas.

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