WASHINGTON - January 3 - Frank Hammer, brother of slain AFL-CIO representative Michael Hammer, is in Washington, D.C. today to mark the 25th anniversary of his brother's shooting death in the Central American country of El Salvador. On January 3, 1981, Michael Hammer was violently gunned down by Salvadoran soldiers trained at the notorious School of the Americas. To mark the occasion, Hammer, of Detroit, Michigan, will lay a wreath at his brother's gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery.
With the support of School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch), a DC-based non-profit organization, Hammer will meet with Congressional representatives in an effort to win support for the passage of HR 1217, "The Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2005." The bill calls for the suspension of operations at the School of the Americas, the U.S. Army training facility located at Ft. Benning, Georgia now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC).
Chartered by the U.S. Congress to "strengthen democracy" in Latin America, SOA/WHINSEC has been definitively linked to Mike Hammer's assassination.
On the night of January 3, 1981, Michael Hammer and his associate Mark Pearlman were meeting at the Sheraton Hotel in San Salvador with Rodolfo Viera, a Salvadoran involved in agrarian land reform, when all three were gunned down by two Salvadoran National Guardsmen. Hammer and Pearlman were staff members of the American Institute of Free Labor Development (AIFLD), an AFL-CIO affiliate representing the interests of the federation in Central and Latin America.
According to a special report by the National Labor Committee (1985), two wealthy Salvadoran businessmen and large landowners - Ricardo Sol Meza and Hans Christ - were hosting a dinner party at the hotel that same evening.
With them was Major Mario Denis Moran, head of the intelligence section of the Salvadoran National Guard and a military classmate of Roberto D'Aubuisson, then leader of the right wing ARENA party; Lieutenant Isidoro Lopez Sibrian, Major Moran's second-in-command; and Captain Eduardo Ernesto Alfonso Avila, also a D'Aubuisson associate.
It is believed that Hans Christ, the businessman, first spotted and recognized the labor advisors. About thirty minutes later, Capt. Avila and Lt. Lopez Sibrian walked to the front of the hotel where two bodyguards were waiting. The officers gave these two National Guardsmen Ingram submachine guns equipped with silencers. Lt. Lopez Sibrian then ordered the killings and Has Christ led the Guardsmen through the hotel and physically pointed out the victims. The Guardsmen stepped through the door of the dining room and machine-gunned Hammer, Pearlman and Viera to death.
The two Salvadoran Guardsmen who actually carried out the killing, Valle Acevedo and Gomez Gonzalez, eventually served short terms in prison for their crimes. Major Moran, Captain Avila, and Lt. Sibrian were never charged. According to the 1993 UN Truth Commission Report on El Salvador, the US Army trained all three at the School of the Americas (SOA).
The murder of Michael Hammer and the other two men occurred in the context of numerous government-inspired death squad atrocities, including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero (March 1980), the murder of four U.S. Churchwomen (November 1980) and the El Mozote Massacre (1980) where more than 900 villagers were killed.
Captain Avila was not only involved in the Sheraton murders; he also planned and ordered the assassination of Archbishop Romero. Lt. Sibrian engaged in kidnapping for profit, extracting $4 million in ransoms from wealthy Salvadorans, purportedly as part of an anti-government kidnapping ring. Major Moran was linked with the death squads in a list given to Vice President Bush by the human rights organization, Americas Watch.
Although the training facility's name was changed in January of 2001, the SOA/WHINSEC continues to this day to train armed personnel in Latin America primarily in combat techniques. The SOA/ WHINSEC, a combat training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Fort Benning, Georgia, 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.
"In this time when the US government is trying to lead a worldwide campaign against terrorism, it is incumbent that we start by cleaning up our own backyard," stated Frank Hammer. "To stop terrorism, we must stop exporting it ourselves."
To this end, Hammer joined SOA Watch in calling on Congress to pass HR 1217, introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA). The bill currently has 123 co-sponsors.