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Links Between Free Trade Policies and the School of the Americas

The School of the Americas (SOA), renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers located in Ft. Benning, Georgia. Run by the U.S. Army since its beginning in 1946, it has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. The militaries have used these skills to wage war against their own people, targeting educators, labor leaders, religious workers, student leaders and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, "disappeared", massacred or forced to be refugees by soldiers trained at the SOA.

The mission of the SOA has always been to protect interests of multinational corporations and maintain the economic status quo for the rich and powerful both in the U.S. and in Latin America. Implementation of "Free Trade" policies, a.k.a. the economic repression of corporate globalization, could not be sustained without a repressive military structure. Time after time, anyone who stands in the way of the corporate agenda in Latin American countries is met with brutal repression.The alumni of the SOA have usually been a part of these incidents. Here are just a few examples:

Colombia--In 2002, 20 striking banana workers were brutally murdered. Eight of the 11 Colombian military officers charged in the slayings were SOA graduates, just some of the 10,000 Colombian soldiers trained over the years at the SOA. Currently, Colombia is all too frequently the scene of SOA-style repression, with countless similar examples of such violence.Argentina --In response to the recent economic crisis brought on by free market reforms such as privatization and cuts in social spending and currency devaluation, Argentina erupted in December 2001 with massive civil unrest and large demonstrations. The social movement's protests in the following months were met with repression, and SOA graduates were implicated.

Argentina has a history of SOA grads acting with repressive force, including the infamous dictator Leopoldo Galtieri who was responsible for the Dirty War.Bolivia--In 2000 the government sold the public water system of Cochabamba to U.S. corporation Bechtel, which immediately doubled the price of water. Thousands of citizens took to the streets to overturn the government's corrupt deal with the company. SOA alumnus Hugo Banzer Suarez (SOA '88), then president and former military dictator, sent out the armed forces to attack the protestors. In April 2000, after Banzer declared a "state of siege," at least 8 people were killed and 100 injured in these protests.

El Salvador - In late 2002 into 2003 amid increasing protests against privatization of health care and CAFTA negotiations, police in El Salvador are using repression to silence the opposition. In the ensuing wave of political violence in January 2003 one activist was killed and four were injured in a grenade attack. El Salvador's military has notorious connections to the SOA going back to the 1980 massacre of 900 villagers in El Mozote and, in the same year, the assassination of Archbishop Romero as well as the 1989 massacre of the Jesuits . SOA grads were the chief suspects in these cases and in atrocities and political violence throughout El Salvador's civil war. The current repression likely is linked to SOA alumni who swell the ranks of the country's military.