True mission of SOA questioned

Michael Feickema

Michael Feickema

On March 28, a representative of WHINSEC, formerly known as the School of the Americas or the SOA, a U.S. army school for training Latin American military officers near Fort Benning, Georgia, gave a lecture on “WHINSEC and Latin American Relations” at SDSU. He was greeted by members of the Brookings area chapter of Pax Christi, the official peace group of the Catholic Church, holding crosses with the names of a few of the tens of thousands of victims of some of the graduates of the School of the Americas.

Supposedly the SOA was training military officers to create stability and defend democracy in Latin America, to contribute to its economic development, but tragically what happened was the exact opposite. Armed with the techniques of “anti-subversive warfare” they learned at the SOA, many of these graduates went back to their countries and overthrew democratic governments, directed genocidal wars against their own people, assassinated great spiritual and social leaders like Archbishop Oscar Romero and the six Jesuit Liberation theologians in El Salvador. They massacred whole villages of ordinary people like the villagers of “El Mozote” in El Salvador or hundreds of Mayan villages in Guatemala. Military dictatorships turned the Latin America dream of development into a nightmare of spiraling debt, deepening poverty and environmental degradation. In Latin America, the SOA, became known as the School of the Assassins, the School of the Dictators.

Supporters of the school claim that the SOA has been closed and that WHINSEC is a totally different institution but the highly respected human rights organization Amnesty International warns that WHINSEC “is essentially the same school as SOA, with the same primary mission.” Amnesty recommends that, “the U.S. government should take immediate steps to establish an independent commission to investigate the past activities of the SOA and its graduates.” House Resolution 217 calls for the immediate suspension of operations at SOA/WHINSEC and the conduction of a full investigation into Defense Department training in Latin America.

For detailed documentation of the human rights record of the graduates of the SOA, go to, the Web site of SOA Watch, the organization founded by Father Roy Bourgeois that coordinates the movement to close the SOA.

The graduates of the SOA played a decisive role in what some scholars have called the “Latin American holocaust.” We must make sure that it never happens again. Nunca Mas! Never Again!

Michael Feikema is a member of the Brookings area chapter of Pax Christi and a graduate student in History specializing in the study of Latin American liberation theology.