US military base attracts thousands of protesters this weekend, one arrest
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US military base attracts thousands of protesters this weekend, one arrest

Columbus : GA : USA | Nov 18, 2012 at 10:16 AM PST
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SOA Protest video

North America's largest annual anti-militarization gathering occurs this weekend in Columbus, Ga., in an event drawing thousands to protest a US military school that trains Latin American military leaders in torture techniques.

One protester, Nashua Chantal, crossed onto the military base Sunday and was arrested. The base is home to the US Army School of the Americas, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC) in 2001, a training facility that has produced some of Latin America's most notorious killers and continues to be implicated in human rights abuses today.

On Sunday afternoon, Chantal was in custody of military police. He will be arraigned in federal court and faces up to six months in federal prison for civil disobedience.

The civil disobedience occurred following a massive die-in and funeral procession commemorating those killed as a result of US militarism. Protesters transformed the fence at the facility’s main gate into a memorial for victims of the graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC [PHOTO].

The US opened the school in 1946 to train forces in Latin America. Its name changed in 2001, partially in response to growing public opposition to the facility.

Graduates of this US taxpayer-funded military school remain key players in human rights abuses throughout Latin America. In 1996 the Pentagon released training manuals advocating torture, extortion and execution that were used for instruction at the school. However, to date no independent investigation of the training facility has been conducted.

Saturday's events began with a rally of thousands at the gates of the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC), now named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Action later moved to the Convention Center in downtown Columbus, where hundreds participated in workshops, live music and strategy sessions designed to promote peace.

Speakers from Latin America shared stories of oppression and torture perpetrated by graduates of the school:

  • Francia Marquez, an Afro-Colombian leader from a gold-mining community in Colombia, related her community’s struggle to resist powerful forces seeking to gain control their land and its resources.
  • Martin Almada, a Paraguayan educator, disclosed his experience as a political prisoner under the regime of Alfredo Stroessner. His wife died of a heart attack after being forced to listen via telephone to her husband’s cries as he was tortured.
  • Jesuit priest Ismael Moreno (known as "Father Melo"), Honduran radio host and contributor to Envio magazine, recounted his radio station’s occupation following the 2009 SOA-led military coup that removed former President Manuel Zelaya from power. Moreno himself received death threats.

Protesters say they will return every year until the school closes. This year marks the 22nd year of the annual protest.

Video footage of Saturday's rally at the gates of Fort Benning is available for viewing on the SOA Watch website.

UPDATE (11/19/2012): Vatican issues cannonical dismissal of U.S. priest Fr. Roy Bourgeois, SOA Watch leader, for supporting women’s ordination.

Sources:

SOAW press release: http://soaw.org/news/news-alerts/4001-saturday-events-included-massive-rally-workshops-and-concerts

Event Livestream: http://www.livestream.com/mobilebroadcastnews

WRBL News: http://www2.wrbl.com/news/2012/nov/17/soa-protest-22nd-year-ar-4990911/

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Protesters mob fence of SOA
Protesters transform the fence surrounding the SOA/WHINSEC facility into a memorial for victims of the school's graduates who have perpetrated rape, torture, disappearances and murder in Latin America after receiving training. (image credit: Billie Greenwood, screenshot of event live-streaming, 11/18/2012)
Billie Greenwood is based in Davenport, Iowa, United States of America, and is an Anchor for Allvoices.
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