They came from across the United States and the Americas, to participate in the largest act of civil disobedience in the U.S. since the Vietnam War. From a record crowd of 12,000 protesters, over four thousand people crossed the lines and risked arrest yesterday at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia–a place many call the school of the assassins. Students, journalists, activists, members of religious communities, professionals and others, both young and old, joined survivors of human rights abuses from across the Americas in the loudest call to date for the closing of the Army-run school, a training ground for some of this Hemisphere’s most notorious human rights violators.
From high-level military officials in Augusto Pinochet’s repressive regime in Chile; to members of El Salvador’s notorious death squads, to Argentine generals responsible for tens of thousands of murders and disappearances, to Guatemalan army officers accused of unspeakable atrocities–they all have one thing in common: they were trained at the School of the Americas.
This past November 16 was the 10th anniversary of the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador by School of the Americas graduates. To commemorate the victims and protest their killing, all 28 Jesuit universities across the United States sent delegations to the protest.
The protesters carried coffins and crosses bearing the names of victims of repression in Latin America, and some poured blood over themselves. Sixty-three of the protesters, considered “high risk” because they had already been arrested before at the school, were taken in and charged with criminal trespassing.
Today, we hear from some of the people who were there–from those who survived brutal regimes led by dictators and assassins who were trained at the School of the Americas, to the man who started the movement to close down the school nine years ago, to actor Martin Sheen, one of the first to cross the line, to a spokesperson for the School of the Americas, to journalist Allan Nairn, who helps us make the connections between the school, its graduates, and the violence that both sowed across the Hemisphere.
- Allan Nairn, journalist and human rights activist.
- Rich McDowell, spokesperson for the School of the Americas.
- Father Roy Bourgeois, head of the School of the Americas Watch. Started the movement nine years ago.
- Rufina Amaya, survivor and only witness of the massacre at El Mozote, El Salvador, which took place on December 12-13, 1981. According to the United Nations Truth Commission, the massacre, which resulted in the killing of over 1,000 children, women and men, was ordered and conducted by graduates of the School of the Americas, and covered up by El Salvador’s Defense Minister, who himself was trained at the School of the Americas.
- Adriana Portillo-Bartow, who lost six family members, including her father and two daughters. They were disappeared by the Guatemalan military under the orders of graduates of the School of the Americas.
- Martin Sheen(Formerly known as Ramon Estevez), actor and longtime peace activist.