Evo Morales Announces end of Bolivian military training at School of the America

School of the Americas Watch, October 10, 2007

Bolivia is the fifth Latin American country to announce a withdrawal from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation

Washington, DC - President Evo Morales announced Tuesday that Bolivia will gradually withdraw its military from training programs at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School for the Americas (SOA). Bolivia is the fifth country after Costa Rica, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela to announce a withdrawal from the Fort Benning school, citing its history of collaborating with repressive regimes and human rights abuses.

Morales, a former coca farmer and advocate of indigenous rights, criticized the institution for training Latin American militaries to identify social movement leaders as "enemies of the state." "We will gradually withdraw until there are no Bolivian officers attending the School of the Americas" said Morales. Questioning the U.S. government foreign policy he noted that "they are teaching high ranking officers to confront their own people, to identify social movements as their enemies."

The SOA/WHINSEC is a U.S. tax-payer funded military training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Ft. Benning, Georgia. The institution was catapulted into the headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution.

The SOA/WHINSEC has played a significant role in Bolivia's recent political history, Hugo Banzer Suarez, who ruled Bolivia from 1971-1978 under a brutal military dictatorship attended the school in 1956 and was later inducted into the school's "hall of fame" in 1988. In October of 2006, two former graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC, Generals Juan Veliz Herrera and Gonzalo Rocabado Mercado were arrested on charges of torture, murder, and violation of the constitution for their responsibility in the death of 67 civilians in El Alto Bolivia during the "Gas Wars" of September-October 2003.

In March 2006 a School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) delegation led by Lisa Sullivan-Rodriguez, Salvadoran torture survivor Carlos Mauricio, and SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois met with President Evo Morales to request that Bolivia cease to send troops for training at the SOA/WHINSEC.

On June 21, 2007 the McGovern/Lewis amendment to the FY 2008 Foreign

Appropriations bill that would have prohibited funding for the SOA/WHINSEC lost by a margin of only six votes. 203 members of Congress voted in favor of the amendment to cut the funding for the school in part due to its connection to human rights abuses throughout Latin America.

No comments: