Tuesday, November 20, 2007

School of the Americas

McAllen coalition protests the School of the Americas

Rio Grande Gardian
November 14, 2007
By Michele Angél

Sister Moira Kenny

AUSTIN, November 14 - A delegation from McAllen will travel in caravan Thursday evening to join thousands of other protesters at the gates of the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.

Now officially named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Strategic and Economic Coordination, or WHINSEC, the school is believed to teach torture and terrorism to Latin American regimes that control armies.

Led by the Holy Spirit Peace and Justice Christian group, a coalition will leave from McAllen, for the first time, to attend the annual vigil and demonstration to close the school. Organizer for the trip, Benny Arsele said that usually South Texans join groups in Austin and leave from there.

Sister Moira Kenny will join the group to attend the non-violent direct action campaign for the 10th year. She has been arrested twice for crossing the line that on another day does not exist.

"We pay taxes, why shouldn't we be able to go on there? Every other day of the year, people can drive right up to it," said Kenny.

Kenny served six months, with another line-crosser, for trespassing. "We were the only two in the jail serving time for a misdemeanor offense," she said.

In 2002, about 90 people crossed the line together and were arrested. Students had their charge dropped and about 60 or so went to jail, Kenny reported.

The Catholic nun was willing to go to jail to raise awareness about closing the school and to honor the memory of four United States church women who were raped and assassinated on December 2, 1980, by graduates of the SOA.

The role of the U.S. in shoring up the Salvadoran governments before and during the civil War there became controversial after a National Guard death squad raped and murdered the women, according to Joao Da Silva, communications coordinator for SOA Watch.

Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel were American nuns, and Jean Donovan was a young laywoman doing a Catholic relief mission to provide food, shelter, transportation, medical care, and burial to the poor.

This spring, in defiance of Pentagon pressure, 203 Members of Congress voted for the McGovern/Lewis amendment to cut funding for the school. The amendment lost by six votes. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, was the lone South Texas vote to cut funding.

Congressman Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso, voted not to cut funding. Reyes could not be reached for comment at press time.

Other Texas congressmen who voted against de-funding the school, included Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, and Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, did not vote on the amendment.

Kenny said that their efforts to raise awareness are working. Several countries, including the Bolivian and Costa Rican governments have recently announced that they would cease all training at the school.

"These Latin American countries are not being invaded now from foreign countries," Kenny said of the countries that send their troops there and questioned why countries train at Fort Benning.

"It is being used against their own people. It's a war on the poor," said Kenny. "Why are our U.S. tax dollars being used for this?" The activist would like to see Congress close the school and stop the funding, so she continues to make the trip.

Arsele said that will also be garnering national and international visibility on the issues of building a border fence. The group will attend some of the presentations and speakers at the convention center and demonstration.

"We will be taking materials from the No Border campaign to other peace and justice-minded people at the event," said Arsele. In 2006 about 22,000 people were reported to attend. Most recent years have seen close to that amount, according to the School of the Americas Watch, or SOAW.

Kenny said that she wants to tell everybody in the country, "We don't want a border wall. Our politicians, business leaders, environmentalists, and immigration rights advocates are all on the same side of this issue."

Called the "Convergence of Hope and Resistance," organizers have been gathering at the gates of Fort Benning since 1990.

The dates of the demonstration, November 17-18th, coincide with the anniversary of the 1980 murders of six Jesuit priests, who were pulled out of their homes in the night. Jesuits have been advocating the closure of the school and educating around the world on issues of non-violence.

Some of the coordinated activities include mass, a prisoner reunion, a Veterans for Peace gathering, nonviolence training, legislative training, and benefit concert, and puppet theatre.

Teach-in and panel topics include issues like movement building, the struggle for civil liberties, violence against women, children of war, restoring indigenous values, terrorism, neoliberalism, water privatization, counter recruitment in high schools, labor rights, migration, free trade, U.S. foreign policy, race, class, and criminal justice.

Presenters include the Committee in solidarity with the People of El Salvador, or CISPES, Amnesty International USA, the American Friends Service Committee, Witnesses for Peace, Pax Christi, the Latin America Solidarity Coalition, 1,000 Grandmothers, Pace e Bene, and others.

Groups from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Bolivia, Venezuela, Oaxaca and others will be represented.

Perhaps the most dramatic event will be the memorial service and solemn funeral procession on Sunday, when a list of names of murdered victims of graduates of the SOA, will be read. The names will also be posted on crosses carried by thousands of demonstrators. The reading takes several hours.

Solidarity vigils will be held simultaneously world-wide.
For more information on the upcoming event, see

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