Call for Closing
Terrorist School —
Protests Recall Victims
Of Latin American Military
|Workers and students who traveled
from western Pennsylvania with a message.
More than 10,000 Americans, among them UE members from
Districts Six and 11, took part in peaceful protests Nov. 17-18 against
terrorism sponsored by the U.S. government.
The U.S. Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga.
trains Latin American troops here in commando tactics, military intelligence
and psychological operations. The graduates have targeted labor organizers and
religious leaders, students and teachers, peasants and workers. SOA graduates
have been linked to assassination, torture, rape and intimidation.
For the eleventh consecutive year, concerned citizens gathered
outside Ft. Benning’s gates to remember the victims and to call for the
school’s closure. The vigils are organized by SOA Watch, founded by Rev. Roy
'NEW NAME, SAME SHAME'
On Jan. 17, 2001, the facility was renamed the Western
Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation. Opponents say, "a new
name, same shame." The 66th UE Convention called
for the school’s closure and endorsed the November demonstration and a
spring protest in Washington (see: UE Policy- School of The
Americas - The Ultimate Unionbuster).
"With confusion and fear gripping the nation after the
Sept. 11 events, some thought the annual demonstration should not take
place," says Local 690 Vice Pres. John Thompson. "Fortunately
the demonstration went forward. It was an important event in terms of the
struggle to end state-sponsored terrorism and to exercise our democratic
rights of assembly and speech."
The city government of Columbus, Ga. attempted to prohibitthe
protests from taking place outside the base; the Saturday event was removed to
a ballfield. However, based on the impressive 10-year record of nonviolent
protest, a federal judge ruled the city could not ban the solemn funeral
procession on Sunday.
The Western Pennsylvania Coalition to Close the SOA, organized
at the initiative of UE District Six, sent a busload of students, union
members, church people, and members of peace organizations to Georgia.
WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA EFFORTS
Thompson, who is District Six political action co-chair, says
the union and coalition have succeeded in convincing four of the six members
of the Congressional delegation from western Pennsylvania to co-sponsor HR
1810, legislation to close the school. "That’s a big victory for
us," he says. Efforts will continue to convince Representatives Melissa
Hart and John Murtha to sign onto the bill.
In addition, the coalition will work to explain the connection
between the army school and the bloody civil war in Colombia, where union
members are targets of death squads linked to the military. "We’re
going to organize people to go to Washington for the annual SOA Watch spring
protest, April 19-22, which this year is focusing on Colombia," Thompson
UE News - 2/02