WASHINGTON - March 28 - This week two South American countries sent a strong message of support for human rights and military accountability by ceasing all military training of their troops at the controversial U.S. Army’s School of the Americas. Nilda Garré, the Defense Minister of Argentina, and Azucena Berrutti, Uruguay’s Minister of Defense, decided this week to stop sending soldiers from their countries to train at the military school based at Fort Benning, Georgia and now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/ WHINSEC).
The critical decisions by the two countries followed meetings with Uruguayan & Argentinean human rights groups and the SOA Watch activists church worker Lisa Sullivan, torture survivor Carlos Mauricio and Maryknoll priest Reverend Roy Bourgeois.
“Everywhere we’ve traveled this month in South America, we’ve been amazed to realize that people are fully aware of the reality of the School of the Americas,” said Sullivan. “They have experienced firsthand the horrors of the tortures, detentions, imprisonments and ‘disappearances’ caused by its graduates.”
Argentina and Uruguay become the second and third countries to announce a cessation of training at the SOA/ WHINSEC. In January of 2004, Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela would no longer send troops to train at the school.
The decisions of the South American countries come at a critical time in the campaign to close the U.S. Army institution. Legislation introduced last year by Rep. McGovern (D-MA) that would suspend activities at the SOA/ WHINSEC and call for a review of foreign military training in Latin America will come to the floor for a vote as early as May. The bill currently has 126 bi-partisan co-sponsors.
The SOA/ WHINSEC made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this shocking admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place.
“To Latin Americans, the SOA/ WHINSEC represents nothing but the gravest violations,” said Reverend Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch. “No amount of reforms will repair those relationships. We must close this school if we want to show that the United States is serious about human rights.”