School of Americas closed--it's replacement ready
FORT BENNING, Ga. (AP) - The Army on Friday closed a school that has trained Latin American soldiers who were later accused of human rights abuses, as Army Secretary Louis Caldera defended the institution as ``not a rogue school.''
The School of the Americas will be replaced next month by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, which will be run by the Defense Department under guiding principles of the Organization of American States.
Army officials say it will be a vastly different institution, focusing more on civilian and diplomatic affairs.
But critics, who maintain that School of the Americas graduates have committed torture and other human rights abuses, say the changes are merely cosmetic.
``No one's being fooled by this,'' said the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a Roman Catholic priest who founded School of the Americas Watch, a protest group. ``It's like taking a bottle of poison and writing `penicillin' on it. It's still very deadly.''
Defenders of the school say it has helped spread democratic principles among military leaders in Latin America and it cannot be blamed for the illegal actions of a few of its graduates.
At Friday's closing ceremony, Caldera said: ``Let me say very clearly that any soldier in Latin America who had even the most remote connection to the School of the Americas who has ever committed a human rights violation did so in spite of the training they received ... and not because of it.''
School of the Americas Watch has organized demonstrations each year at Fort Benning near the anniversary of the Nov. 16, 1989, killings in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests. A United Nations panel found 19 Salvadoran officers involved in the slayings had been trained at the school, the group said.
Last month, police arrested 1,700 people, including actor Martin Sheen, who crossed onto the Army post demanding the closing of the school.
Police officials estimated 6,500 people gathered outside the gate for the protest, about half the number that appeared last year.
The School of the Americas was moved to Fort Benning from Panama in 1984.
>From 1946 to 1949, it was known as the Latin American Training Center. It
then became the Caribbean Training Center/School, and the name was changed to the School of the Americas in 1963.
On the Net:
School of the Americas: http://www.benning.army.mil/usarsa/
School of the Americas Watch: http://www.soaw.org/