Wednesday, November 15

Wanted: 1000 Grandmas This Weekend to Stop American Terrorism Abroad

To the prisons we'll invite them
The most violent men will weep
When 1000 women hold them strong
And pray their souls to keep.
—Holly Near, “A Thousand Grandmothers”


One Northern California peace activist is asking 999 other grandmothers to join her this weekend (17-19 November) to sing Near’s song and help her close the State Department’s “School of the Assassins.”

On February 21-22, 2005, eight members of the San Jose de Apartado Peace Community in Urabá, Colombia were brutally massacred by soldiers of the Columbian military. Witnesses identified the killers as members of the 17th Brigade, a unit commanded by Héctor Jaime Fandiño Rincón.

Promoted to Brigadier General in 2004, Fandinzo is a 1976 graduate of the U.S. State Department’s notorious School of the Americas at Fort Benning outside Columbus, Georgia. According to myriad international peace activists and reports, SOA contributes to widespread torture and terrorism in Colombia and across Latin America.

Behind only Israel and Egypt, Colombia, wracked by civil strife and war, receives the third-largest annual US military aid outlay, roughly $3.3 billion. By October 2005, eight hundred US troops were deployed in Columbia, ostensibly only in advisory roles.

"[US policy in Latin America is designed to] maintain the Iberoamerican countries in a condition of direct dependence upon the international political decisions most beneficial to the United States, both at the hemisphere and world levels. Thus they preach to us of democracy while everywhere they support dictatorships," explained US-backed El Salavadoran President Jose Napoleon Duarte in a 1969 speech.

Before the Reagan-Bush White House began listening more closely and ousted him for a more repressive-minded president, Duarte faulted US policies for the rampant poverty, hunger and election fraud evident across Latin America, which he claims fosters populist protests and anti-government guerrilla fighters. Opponents of those policies subsequently have been brutally repressed by over 60,000 military officers like General Fandinzo who SOA trained in torture, interrogation and military tactical community interdiction, a clinical euphemism for indiscriminate murder.

But a link between SOA and the “war on terrorism” also recently emerged. In 2004, Miles Schulman, a Canadian physician who has monitored torture among refugees internationally for peace organizations, reported in the Toronto Globe and Mail that torture techniques identified by the International Red Cross at Abu Ghraib and US prisons in Afghanistan resembled those depicted in declassified SOA torture manuals.

[Related article: Dana Priest, "U.S. Instructed Latins on Executions, Torture; Manuals Used 1982-91, Pentagon Reveals," Washington Post, 21 September 1996, A-1.—Moose]

Grannies Coming with Attitude

Colombians in the peace community murdered in Urabá included Luis Eduardo Guerra, community founder; his common-law wife and their 11-year old son; another couple and their two children, age 1 and 6. In conjunction with the murders, Fandinzo’s troops forced all but five of the 100 families residing in the peace community to leave their homes and land.

“Today we are here in San José de Apartadó; tomorrow the majority of people here could be displaced because of a massacre," Guerra said in an interview 37 days before his brutal death.

In November 2002, Guerra traveled to Fort Benning “to give a first hand testimony about the brutal impact that SOA training and US foreign policy have on the dire situation in Colombia.” In December 2000, in response to growing international opposition to SOA, the State Department hired a PR firm to help mitigate its “image problem.” One of its modest recommendations included changing the school’s name to the Orwellian-sounding Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

The cosmetic change worked; resistance subsided. Moreover, Nicaragua, which stopped sending candidates to SOA in 1978, renewed its partnership.

But if one veteran peace advocacy and activist organization has its way, the State Department after this weekend will have to make more substantive changes—like shutting down SOA/WHINSEC.

In 1990, Maryknoll priest Father Roy Bourgeois began holding small peace vigils each November in an apartment near Fort Benning to commemorate the anniversary of the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests and a housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador, murders a Congressional probe determined SOA graduates committed.

Father Bourgeois’s small vigil eventually evolved into the School of the Americas Watch, an organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. with a staff of seven full-time employees. In August, SOAW opened their first offices in Latin America.

In 2005, SOWA had 19,000 participants around the world to gather outside the Benning Road gates into Fort Benning and they hoping for an even bigger presence this weekend.

Among those attending the first time will be a group of grandmothers organized by Cathy Webster, 61, a peace activist and grandmother from Chico, California. Webster said she got her inspiration for 1000 Grandmothers during the memorial service last November for Helen Kinnee, a life-long Chico peace worker.

“One of our young peace activists sang Holly Near's song, ‘A Thousand Grandmothers’. I was so inspired by this song, and by the arrest that same month of another local grandmother, Dorothy Parker, at School of the Americas, that an idea came to me: What if 1,000 grandmothers across America and the world were to take this song as their rallying cry, and march onto the grounds of the School of the Americas in November.”

“Onto the grounds” is code for civil disobedience—criminal trespass on federal property—an offense since 9/11 occasioning several months in federal prison, even for first-time offenders.

Webster says she received “hundreds” of responses from women around the US and organizers in 21 states have signed up to attend at her website (www.1000grandmothers.net). She also anticipates other grandmothers who had planned to attend anyway will join her after arriving at Fort Benning.

“This school is responsible for training militaries that then use the techniques they learned against their civilian populations,” says Nancy Jakubiak, a Louisville, Kentucky grandmother and veteran SOA protester who is joining Webster’s group this year. “We can make a very powerful statement as older women,” she said. “Maybe if people see grandmothers they’ll realize there’s something to this. We’re not wild-eyed radicals, we’re just your neighbors and friends,” Jakubiak said.

According to SOA Watch, “simultaneous demonstrations will take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Manta, Ecuador; Santiago, Chile; Bogota, Colombia; Fort Huachuca, Arizona; and in Davis, California! Thousands of people will be raising their voices, calling for a world free of militarism and the SOA/WHINSEC.”

For those unable to show up at any of these locations, the National Catholic Reporter is offering net surfers live online coverage and testimonials from veteran vigil participants at Fort Benning like Nancy Jakubiak that include their experiences and why they go back year after year.

Since 1993, a succession of US House measures for closing SOA failed to garner sufficient support. With Democrats in control when the 110th Congress convenes in January, this may be the year funding is terminated for the facility.

SOAW Contact Info:

SOA Watch
PO Box 4566
Washington, DC 20017

Phone: (202) 234 3440
Fax: (202) 636-4505
Email: info(at)soaw.org

Also check “Local Groups” by state via online interactive menu in right margin here. Watch this 15-sec SOAW-Austin, TX promo at YouTube.com.

Postscript: Two SOA Alums Prominent in 32nd US-backed Haitian Coup d’etat (1991)

As Haiti’s first elected president in 137 years, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, known among poor Haitians (85% of the populace) for whom he served as the “rebel-priest,” won the presidential palace in Port-o-Prince in 1991 after promising voters he would improve their lives if given the opportunity; they believed him, and Aristide defeated former World Bank employee Marc Bazin, the US-backed candidate who received only 15% of the vote. Ignoring strong US opposition to his “populist policies,” Aristide kept his promise to voters and moved to improve living conditions in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest society. Seven months later, Washington ended his bottom-up democracy to install a top-down police state favored by Americans and Haitian proxies with business interests on the island.

That’s the view of Haitian election history embraced by Latin American historians, sociologists and journalists. Their American counterparts, however, make the comical allegation that the Bush Sr. White House had to remove Aristide from office for human rights violations—a claim tantamount to Hitler arguing he lost World War II because of his “kindler, gentler” disposition.

Moreover, Heinz Dieterich a German journalist working for the Spanish-speaking online investigative news publication Rebelion.org, implicated the U.S. State Department, AFL-CIO and National Endowment for Democracy (NED)—supported by Republicans and Democrats alike—for unsuccessfully conspiring to destabilize Aristide’s election campaign.

But Dieterich claims the US’s post-election coup succeeded in large part from meritorious service by two SOA graduates who not only led the coup but were instrumental in a highly effective post-coup terrorist purge of Aristide supporters.

Faced with the defeat of Bazin and the "danger" of popular democracy, Washington organized a coup d'etat that would put an end to the priest's experiment in the island. At the head of the coup was the narco-general and CIA collaborator, Raul Cedras, who was trained at the notorious School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.

His right-hand man was Col. Michel-Joseph Francois, also trained at Fort Benning. Together with Emmanuel Constant, another CIA agent, they controlled two key organizations for the destruction of Aristide's democratic government: the National Intelligence Service (SIN) and the death squads, known as FRAPH. Both organizations have been established and maintained by the CIA.

In the first two weeks of the coup, more than a thousand people lost their lives in a state terrorist campaign that systematically destroyed popular and democratic organizations that had supported Aristide. When the terror ended, Cedras and Francois had assassinated more than four thousand Haitians.

SOA Watch, however, determined that Cedras and Francois are graduates of Fort Benning’s US Army Infantry instead of SOA. Here is SOAW’s Haiti ”Country Sheet,” which suspiciously reads as if was written with Dietrich’s allegations of the pair in mind.

"In the eyes of most people throughout the world, my home country is perceived as a place of repressive regimes, coupes d’etat, poverty and despair. Indeed, Haiti has suffered through colonization by Spain and France, US occupation, dictatorship supported by the wealthy, and periods of cruel repression" -- Marie M. B. Racine, Ph. D., a Haitian woman herself, lives in Washington, DC where she is an an active member of the solidarity community for the peoples of the Caribbean and Central America.

Haiti has sent relatively few officers to train at the SOA, primarily because SOA courses are offered in Spanish [rather than French]. Less than 50 Haitian officers have attended the SOA since it was founded, but their presence has been felt. In 1987, SOA graduate Gambetta Hyppolite ordered his soldiers to fire on the Provincial Electoral Bureau in Gonaives as part of a larger Army campaign to stop the democratic elections. In 1988, SOA graduate Franck Romain masterminded the St. Jean Bosco massacre in which 12 prisoners were killed while attending mass and at least 77 were wounded.

Haitian soldiers and officers have also trained at many other U.S. facilities. For example General Raul Cedras, Defense Minister, and Michel Francois, Port au Prince Police Chief are often believed to be SOA graduates. In fact, however, they graduated from the U.S. Army Infantry School, which is also located at Ft. Benning.




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