U.S. Trains Tyrants

The United States has long seen a strategic interest in Central and South America, dating back to the earliest days of independence. During the Cold War, the main concern was the promotion of regimes that would support U.S. policies, and the undermining of other regimes, especially those that might turn to the Communist bloc.

Throughout history, U.S. military leaders have been willing to overlook atrocities committed by allies. In fact, the U.S. military trained thousands of Central and South American military -- including some who have gone on to murder and torture -- at the School of the Americas, located in Ft. Benning, Georgia.

In "General Manuel García Ruiz, Troop Commander in the Taking of the Zapatista Territory, A Graduate of the School of the Americas, Known as 'Murderer's Academy'" in the March 6, 1995, Proceso, Sanjuana Martínez describes some of the School's graduates:

General Manuel García Ruiz, presently in command of the XXIV Regiment which occupies the "ejido" of Nuevo Momón, in Chiapas, is one of 500 officers of the Mexican Army who graduated from the School of the Americas, located in Fort Benning, Georgia, U.S.A.

... The School of the Americas was founded with the aim of providing special jungle training for U.S. soldiers. Wood points out that later it became a training center for members of the military from all over Latin America, with courses on low intensity warfare, command operations, military intelligence, psychological operations, and a long etcetera. That is why it quickly became known as the "School for the Overthrow of Governments."

Initially installed in Panama, it left that country to relocate in Fort Benning, Georgia. Wood recalls that the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa coined another nickname for it, "The School of Murderers." On the other hand, Panama's president Jorge Illueca referred to the school as "the largest destabilization base in Latin America."

... [Human rights activist] Darrin Wood was able to obtain, thanks to the Freedom of Information Act in the United States, the list of the Mexican officers who attended the school in 1980, where the name of García Ruiz, who, as a lieutenant colonel, took a course on "Joint Operations Latin America O-16" appears.

According to Wood's investigations, among the military who have gone through that school are the six Peruvian officers members of a death squad which killed 10 people in 1992; four of the five Honduran officers quoted in a report by the human rights organization America's Watch as the men responsible for the death squad "Batallion 316", and 105 of the 246 officers mentioned in a formal complaint about human rights violations in Colombia.

Furthermore, and according to a report from the Truth Commission of the United Nations, about the war in El Salvador, out of the 69 officers of the Salvadoran Army mentioned as human rights violators, 42 graduated from the School of the Americas; out of those 42, two were accused of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, in 1980; three are involved in the case of the rape and murder of three U.S. nuns and a lay worker; another is accused of having directed the killing of 300 men, women and children at the River Sampul, in 1980; three were investigated in relation to the murder of labor union leaders at the Sheraton Hotel, in 1981; three are accused of the massacre of 16 civilians in Las Hojas, in 1983; another for the murder of four Dutch newspaper reporters, in 1982; two were accused of murdering hundreds of civilians in the town of El Mozote in 1981; six for the murder of ten civilians in San Sebastián, in 1988; 19 for the murder of the Jesuit priests from The Central American University, in 1989, and two accused of having murdered Doctor Begoña García Arandigoyen, in 1990.

Vicky Imerman, of Covert Action magazine gave the names of other former students of the School of the Americas: General Leopoldo Galtieri, Argentinian military dictator between 1981-1982, General Hugo Bánzer Suárez, dictator of Bolivia between 1971-1978, and actually condemned for genocide; Colonel José Mario Godínez of El Salvador, accused of having committed 1,051 executions, 129 tortures, and eight rapes; Colonel Dionisio Ismael Machuca, also from El Salvador, accused of 318 cases of torture and 610 illegal detentions; Héctor Gramajo, Edgar Godoy Gaytán and José Domingo García Samayo accused of grave human rights violations in Guatemala; Major Joseph-Michel Francois, former Haitian chief of police, and a participant in the military coup against President Aristide; General Humberto Regalado Hernández, of Honduras, linked to drug dealers in Colombia, and Panamanian general, Manuel Antonio Noriega.

The School maintains that its courses include an emphasis on human rights, and that the atrocities occur despite, not because of, U.S. military training.

"Our alumni includes 10 heads of state, 39 minister-level cabinet members, and over 100 chiefs of staff of Latin American armed forces. In addition, an untold number of graduates have been involved in disaster relief, search and rescue missions, in providing medical care in remote locations, in performing counterdrug operations, and in removing millions of mines located throughout Latin America," wrote Public Affairs Officer Capt. Kevin McIver in September 1996.

"We have gone to great lengths to develop a balanced curriculum incorporating military strategy, student development, resource management and human rights. Along with the dramatic reforms in Latin America, our emphasis has shifted over the years from countering low-intensity conflict to advancing support for democracy and human rights."

In January 2001, the school was officially closed and reopened under a new name -- the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (a much harder name to fit on a protest sign).

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