Congress cuts funds to "School of Assassins"
by Herb Kaye By a vote of 230 to 197, the US House of Representatives on July 30 adopted an amendment to the foreign aid Bill to cut off funding for recruiting and transporting foreign officers to the School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia. The vote represents a powerful blow to an institution that has for more than 50 years trained some of the most notorious and bloody mass murderers from all over Latin America. Graduates of the School were involved in the assassinations of Archbishop Romero and of four nuns, six Jesuit priests, and their housekeeper and the massacre of 900 civilians in El Mozote, El Salvador, and many other such crimes in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico, Argentina, and other countries in Latin America. While the US Senate has already voted to continue funding for the school, the issue of funding will have to be resolved in a House-Senate conference committee and the outcome is as yet uncertain. Nevertheless, the House vote is a tribute to the courageous and persistent mass campaign over a period of 10 years led by Father Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest from Louisiana, who has organised protest demonstrations at the Fort Benning School and in Washington and has served seven sentences totaling four years in prison for his activities. In a 1998 vote in the House on cutting off funding, the vote was 212-201. After that vote, 7,000 people turned out in November 1998 at the gates of Fort Benning to protest the School's operations. This was followed six months later by a demonstration of 10,000 in Washington. In the past year a labour committee to close SOA has been formed based in the Northwest, which has gotten the support of 40 local unions and of AFL- CIO President John Sweeney. Whatever the outcome of the House-Senate Conference Committee, plans have been under way for some time for another demonstration at Fort Benning on November 19-21, at which again, many opponents of SOA will "cross the line" and risk arrest and imprisonment to register their protest. "There will be no letup in our struggle until that school is closed", Bourgeois has said. "And beyond that, the fight will go on against militarism and protecting the privileges of small elites — it's all connected."
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