SOA Graduates' Fingerprints on Chiapas Policy

The following is a copy of Congressman Joe Kennedy's "Dear Colleague" letter which is being sent to all members of the House of Representatives. Please contact your local Congress person to inform them about this letter and ask them to sign on to it.

Dear Colleague:
As the investigation into the December 22 Chiapas massacre continues, published reports link School of the Americas (SOA) graduates with the Mexican Government's failed Chiapas policy. In the past four years, the Mexican government's policy toward Chiapas has failed to bring about peace in the region. Talks have completely broken down, and operations have escalated into a low- intensity conflict involving members of the Army, paramilitary groups, and local security forces.

Suspicions are high that the Mexican Army's complacency may have allowed the recent massacre to take place. The Mexican government has sacked numerous government officials, including President Zedillo's interior minister and the governor of Chiapas. As the Army occupies much of Chiapas, there is little sign that the violence will end. Amnesty International has reported that the Army committed "widespread human rights violations" during their operations in Chiapas throughout 1997. On January 12, 1998 state police killed a woman during a protest in the town of Ocosingo.

The press in Mexico has been quick to point out that the military's failed Chiapas policy has been engineered and conducted in large part by SOA graduates. Demonstrations are being held across the United States in which protesters blame the war in Chiapas on the United States, citing the role of SOA graduates in the conflict. According to School of the Americas Watch, at least 13 SOA graduates who are now top military officials have played a key role in the conflict in the Southern Mexican states. Those officers include: * Colonel Julian Guerrero Barrios (SOA, Class of 1981, Major: Commando Operations) has been charged with the crime of "violence against the people" and for his leadership in the torture and massacre of over a dozen young men in Jalisco. (Source: La Journada)

* General Jose Ruben Rivas Pena (SOA, Class of 1980, Major: Commando and General Staff). Rivas Pena's analysis of the Chiapas conflict helped design the counter- insurgency strategy in Chiapas. Included in this detailed plan are directives to censor local media, to secretly organize sectors of the civilian population, and to conduct psychological operations against civilians (Source: Proceso).

* General Juan Lopez Ortiz (SOA, Class of 1980). Lopez Ortiz was commander of the 1994 operation in Ocosingo where suspected Zapatista sympathizers were rounded up, placed alongside prisoners, and shot in the town's market. Lopez Ortiz remains engaged in the Army's operations in Chiapas. (Source: Covert Action Quarterly).

This is a familiar pattern: a story comes out about violence or oppression in Latin America, and the names of School of the Americas graduates emerge. Once again the US is shamed.

Graduates of the SOA will come back to haunt us every year, in different countries and under varied circumstances. Every time an SOA grad is implicated in a human rights violation, America's image suffers another black eye. And as our image is further degraded, our credibility in Latin America erodes.

It is time we disassociate ourselves with the School of the Americas once and for all. Join 129 of your colleagues in closing down the School by becoming a cosponsor of H.R. 611. To cosponsor, call Robert Gerber at 5-5111.



Conflict in Chiapas: Understanding the Modern Mayan World
by Worth H. Weller, Ben Weller (Photographer), Julia Weller (Photographer)
$16.95, Paperback, March 1, 2000
Rebellion in Chiapas : An Historical Reader
by John Womack (Editor)
$14.36, Paperback , March 1999
Voices from Exile : Violence and Survival in Modern Maya History
by Victor Montejo
$18.17, Hardcover, October 1999
©Copyright 1997-2000 Jeeni Criscenzo