School of the Americas
If you run an educational centre it is good to be able to point to the achievements of former students. Awkward if you have produced notorious dictators such as Noriega of Panama as well as those responsible for massacres of hundreds of people, for example the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador. That is the legacy of the US Army's School of the Americas at Fort Benning in Georgia. What could be done? Obviously close it and then re-open under another name to try to create a fresh image.
Campaigners see it is a centre for training Latin American military personnel who have gone on to lead or participate in many of the human rights atrocities in Central and South America. When the protesters read out the names of all the victims killed it takes several hours to get through the list.
I was shocked when I first heard of the School of the Americas some years back but it is amazing how little attention it gets in the media here in the UK. I once wrote to complain to the BBC when a member of the Question Time audience asked a question about the School of the Americas and Richard Dimbleby swept it aside rather than ask the panel for their comments. No time for that question!
Update, Feb. 2008: The presidents of Nicaragua and Ecuador have expressed sympathy for the campaign to control the college. Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, has confirmed that Bolivian military officers will no longer be attending its courses.
Update, May 2008: Argentina and Uruguay are two more countries that have made public announcements they will no longer send students to the school.
Campainers in the United States have been lobbying for the School of the Americas to be closed or brought under control. Now a vote in the House of Representatives has forced the public release of details of graduates and instructors of the college. See the current home page of SOAW. The release of these details will help to hold the college to account for the deeds of its graduates.
Update, July 2008: If you were able to vote in the United States presidential election (or if maybe you are able to do so) who could you rely on to close the School of the Americas? You might well guess Barack Obama, who has spoken about the need for moral leadership on human rights. However, he has not committed himself to the closure of the school and says that he needs to gather more information. That article is from Upside Down World, covering activism and politics in Latin America
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.