PSO students join protest

by Douglas Rojas

Twelve students from the Progressive Student Organization returned to the Twin Cities on Monday evening after protesting against the U.S. Army School of the Americas last weekend.
They joined a national protest that brought more than 7,000 people to the school headquarters in Fort Benning, Ga. Last year’s attendance at the protest was 2,000 people, 28 of whom were arrested.
The school is accused of training Latin American military officers in anti-guerrilla tactics, including the use of torture.
“(The turn out) is showing that people really believe that the school shouldn’t exist,” said Thad Swiggum, a senior in psychology.
About 2,340 protesters held crosses and coffins as they walked in a funeral procession to the main entrance of the school, while the rest of the protesters held a vigil outside the base, said David Gordon, a sophomore in American Indian Studies who traveled with the group.
Military officers took the protesters into a bus and sent them out of the school area. Unlike last year’s protest, officers didn’t arrest anybody.
“I was really nervous about it because I didn’t know what was going to happen, said Swiggum, who was one of the four PSO members who walked in the procession. “But I was willing to do it.”
With an annual cost of $20 million to U.S. taxpayers, the school, which was founded in 1945, trains about 900 to 2,000 soldiers per year.
Some of the graduates of the school include former Panama strongman Manuel Noriega and 1980s Argentinian military dictator Leopoldo Galtieri. Graduates have been accused of killing thousands of civilians and many members of the clergy, including Salvadorian Archbishop Carlos Romero, who was assassinated in the early 1980s.
There are no doubts that the school trainees have been involved in gruesome violations of human rights, said Kathryn Sikkink, a political science professor.
School manuals describing training methods and reports from human rights organizations have confirmed those accusations.
The U.S. government justifies the existence of the school by saying that it’s a good way to expose Latin American soldiers to the American way of life.
However, “they haven’t produced any evidence of the positive effects the school might have,” said Sikkink, who teaches Latin American politics.
“It’s a perfect example of a program that has no effectiveness,” she said.
The University students drove for more than 21 hours Friday and met with activists and members from dozens of other organizations the following day. They discussed effective ways and tactics to protest against the school. They also attended a civil disobedience training where they were advised how to not offer any kind of resistance if they were going to be arrested.
“It was pretty laid back,” Gordon said. It was also a good way to do networking and getting to know other activists, he said.
In September 1997, an amendment aimed to cut funds to the school was narrowly defeated 210 to 201 in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Several bills on cutting funding of the U.S. Army School of the Americas have been introduced in the 1990s. While they’ve all failed, the margin of failure has gotten slimmer, with the 1997 bill receiving the closest vote.