Although the Democratic Party's latest draft platform has received a mixed reception from progressives, human rights advocates on Tuesday called attention to one long-awaited demand that made it into the manifesto: Closing the controversial military training facility known as the School of the Americas.
The measure, introduced by committee member Marcos Rubenstein—who was elected by Bernie Sanders delegates—calls for the closure of the school, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC) to support the progressive belief that "democracies and civilian governments in the Western Hemisphere...should never be involved in the political process."
The SOA/WHINSEC plank was accepted by both Sanders' and Hillary Clinton's campaigns in the first time that such a measure has been included in the Democratic party platform.
SOA Watch, a grassroots group that has organized around the closure of SOA/WHINSEC since 1990, noted Tuesday that "[w]hile the platform is nonbinding, grassroots activists, who have been concerned about the hawkish stands of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton towards Latin America, will push the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign to adhere to the platform's call."
The group's national organizer Hendrik Voss said, "In order to create real change, we can't rely on politicians to make it happen for us. We have to organize to build broad-based grassroots power, and hold those who are making decisions that affect our lives accountable."
SOA/WHINSEC has become a notorious symbol of U.S.-backed human rights abuses in Latin America. The taxpayer-funded school—which many opponents have nicknamed "School of the Assassins"—educated several dictators from the region, as well as their military officials, and included torture, extortion, and execution in its curriculum.
The new platform measure is particularly important as questions continue to rise over Clinton's role in the U.S.-led coup in Honduras in 2009, which led to increased militarization and human rights abuses, the group said.
Activists and peace groups regularly protest outside the SOA/WHINSEC facility in Fort Benning, Georgia. In November, SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois spoke at an annual vigil outside the school grounds stating, "Despite a shocking human rights abuse record, the School of the Americas continues to operate with US taxpayer money. Closing the SOA would send a strong human rights message to Latin America and the world."