Thousands now converging at the main gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, to call on the Obama administration to end the U.S. militarization of the Americas, and to close the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC)... and the protest is being livestreamed.
Denis McDonough, Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama, met with a delegation from the SOA Watch movement in Washington DC on November 13, 2012:
McDonough admitted he has in the past been a supporter of SOA-WHINSEC but wanted to hear more from the movement. Family members and even former teachers have talked to him about closing the school.Quite a few of my Minneapolis -area friends missed my fundraiser/birthday party event last night to ride down to join these protests, and I was tempted to cancel it and ride along. Please investigate this issue and do what you can to correct the U.S. stand on human rights, in cluding closing SOA/WHINSEC. Thanks!
Representative McGovern told him the US underestimates how much of a bad symbol the school is in Latin America. On a recent visit to rural Colombia, grassroots people challenged the US commitment to human rights because of the continued operation of the school. The school is a symbol of all that is wrong with US policy in Latin America.
McDonough did not know and was concerned when McGovern told him the Department of Defense was stonewalling and not releasing the names of the students attending SOA-WHINSEC for the last several years.
Adrianna Portillo-Barrow told McDonough how troops in Guatemala, directed by SOA graduates, executed six members of her family including her 9 and 10 year old daughters. Hundreds of thousands disappeared at the direction of SOA grads. In Latin America, she said, the SOA-WHINSEC is a symbol of horror, pain and suffering and there is deep resentment that it remains open and unaccountable.
Father Roy, Sister Lucey, Father Currie and Bill Quigley highlighted for McDonough:
A powerful letter from the UAW calling for the school to be closed;
A multi-page list of religious, labor and human rights organizations supporting the movement;
That 6 countries have pulled their soldiers out of the school;
That 140 catholic bishops in Latin America and even more in the US call for its closure;
69 members of Congress have asked the President to close SOA-WHINSEC; and
Four of the generals responsible for the 2009 coup in Honduras were SOA grads.
"SOA-WHINSEC admits they have a few bad apples," noted Quigley. "But this is not just a few bad apples, this is a bad orchard that needs to be dug up by its roots."
Father Roy told how the movement to close the SOA-WHINSEC started 22 years ago after the massacre of 14-year old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba and six Jesuit priests in El Salvador. "Closing it would send such a wonderful message to our sisters and brothers in Latin America and to the hundreds of thousands seeking its closure in the US."
President Obama was quite moved when he visited the cathedral in San Salvador where Bishop Romero was assassinated, said McDonough. The justice legacy of Bishop Romero has great personal significance for the President.