In preparation for larger protests this weekend, several UCSB students will table and rally this week against the U.S. government-funded Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSE), formerly and more widely known as the School of the Americas (SOA).
Amongst other planned activities, students in Associate Professor Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval’s Chicano Studies 177 class will pass out informational fliers in front of the UCen this week and hold a rally at noon Wednesday to protest what they say is a training ground for human rights violators in Latin America.
Of the roughly 80 students in the class, 12 are flying this weekend to WHINSEC, located in Fort Benning, Ga., to join thousands of activists at an annual protest against the facility, said Emily Lu, a third-year film studies major and Chicano Studies 177 class member.
In 1946 the Truman administration founded the SOA, originally located in Panama, to train Latin American military personnel. According to the WHINSEC website, the facility promotes “democratic values” and “respect for human rights” with its training.
However, Lynn Becerra, a fourth-year global studies major and Chicano Studies 177 student, said upon returning to their home countries, the school’s recruits often abuse their authority and even murder civilians for political purposes.
“I feel it’s important for people our age, our generation, to be informed,” Becerra said. “I think we want to believe at times that [the SOA’s abuses are] a part of history, that these things don’t go on any more.”
In March, Rep. James McGovern, D – Mass., presented a bill to the U.S. House of Representatives that would close the facility until a congressional review could be performed. The bill is co-sponsored by 122 representatives, including local Congresswoman Lois Capps.
As part of their goal to remind students of past abuses and potential future ones, class members will read a list of victims names from the 1981 “El Mozote Massacre” in El Salvador, Lu said, on Tuesday from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the UCSB Eternal Flame. During the incident, Lu said, El Salvadorian soldiers murdered roughly 750 El Mozote residents, including women and children, while searching for anti-government guerilla fighters.
One account of the massacre, related in journalist Mark Danner’s book The Massacre at El Mozote, implicates the U.S. as partially responsible because the SOA trained many of the soldiers involved, Armbruster-Sandoval said.
Later Tuesday evening, class organizers will screen the film “Hidden in Plain Sight,” which examines U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, focusing on the role of the SOA/WHINSEC. The free event begins at 6 p.m. in the MultiCultural Center.
On Thursday at 8:30 p.m., organizers will host an educational night on the SOA in the Francisco Torres Residence Hall Fiesta Room, with free refreshments included.
“[The educational night] is targeted for residents because a lot can’t participate in the rally because of class,” Lu said.
Becerra said Armbruster-Sandoval and the 12 students who plan on attending the protest at WHINSEC this weekend are scheduled to take a red-eye flight on Thursday evening. Becerra said she and the rest of the group are currently fundraising to pay for their tickets and lodging.
Like Tuesday’s event on campus, Armbruster-Sandoval said protesters in Georgia read a list of those killed by SOA graduates in a mock funeral ceremony. The annual event attracts citizens of all kinds, including a large Catholic following. Armbruster-Sandoval said SOA graduates have killed many Catholic nuns and priests, such as El Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero, because church members dissented to government actions.
While the trip will be a first for Becerra and for the Chicano Studies 177 class, Armbruster-Sandoval said it will be his fourth year at the annual protest, which he expects to draw roughly 10,000 people.
“What’s interesting about this class is we’re participating rather than just studying [about the SOA],” Armbruster-Sandoval said. “We can say we were just there. … We can apply [the class] to real life.”