Tags: beth geglia, cesar maxit, death squads, jorge videla, juan geradi, Latin America, latin american military, natalia munoz, nick alexandrov, oscar romero, pinochet, rios-montt, roger hollander, School of the Americas, soa, street art, torture, vasquez velasquez, victor jara, whinsec
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Roger’s note: If you watch the short video at the end of this posting, you will see a group of young people breaking the law by affixing posters on private property. Someone obviously called the cops, and you will see them being arrested and taken away. I don’t know how things turned out, but I suspect they were processed by the criminal justice system and will pay a price, perhaps even a large one, for their “crime.” The object of their action, their protest, their civil disobedience, i.e., the U.S. government School of the Americas, is responsible for wholesale murder throughout Latin America. They (the American politicians and military and the Latin American soldiers they train) will not be brought to justice for their deeds, they will literally get away with murder. This is the world we live in, supported by our tax dollars.
Víctor Jara was an internationally-acclaimed Chilean singer-songwriter, a theater director and activist. When General Augusto Pinochet took power on “the other 9/11” in 1973, his troops forced Jara and thousands of other political prisoners into Santiago’s Chile Stadium. After a group of soldiers recognized the artist, they tortured him in the arena basement, and then—before the crowd of detainees—cut off his fingers, mocking him as they demanded he perform something, perhaps a composition in the “New Song” genre he’d helped pioneer, and which Pinochet had banned. Witnesses recall that Jara sang “Venceremos”—“We Will Win”—before the guards dragged him away. He was shot 44 times.
Jara is one of the people School of the Americas Watch’s (SOAW) current poster campaign, developed with street artist César Maxit, commemorates. Others include El Salvador’s Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel when assassins gunned him down in March 1980; Guatemalan Bishop Juan Gerardi, one of the main figures behind the crucial human rights report Guatemala: Nunca Más!, whose killers pummeled his face with a concrete slab, mutilating it beyond recognition; and Natalia Tuberquia Muñoz, who was only six in 2005 when massacred—along with three men, two women and another child—in the Colombian village of San José de Apartadó. What the musician, the bishops and the child have in common is that they are just four of the thousands of Latin Americans murdered by School of the Americas (SOA) graduates.
The SOA, located at Fort Benning, Georgia, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, 70,000 of whom have studied counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare there since the institution’s 1946 founding. Training manuals the school used for at least a decade recommended extortion, torture and execution as effective means of dealing with the state’s enemies. And the SOAW posters also feature eight of its alumni, including Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla, who died last year in jail, incarceration his punishment for committing crimes against humanity, including disappearances, torture, and the killing of 15,000-30,000 dissidents; Guatemalan military dictator Ríos Montt, whom a Guatemalan court last year found guilty of genocide against his country’s Ixil Maya; and Honduran General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, a key official spearheading the country’s 2009 coup, which even the military lawyer—himself an SOA alum—charged with giving the affair a veneer of legitimacy admittedwas “a crime.”
SOA complicity in the recent Honduran coup reveals the institution’s continuing relevance. Its 2001 name-change—it’s known now as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)—was merely cosmetic, and “there are no substantive changes besides the name,” one of its former instructors testified shortly after the rebranding. The school’s consistent aim, in the past and today, has been to facilitate Latin American militaries’ wars of repression against their own people. Describing Washington’s support for dictators like Videla and Montt as stemming from its “anti-Communism,” or as related to the U.S.-Soviet rivalry, misses the point. The term “Communist,” for example, was always incredibly elastic, used to refer to illiterate peasant farmers, church officials, university instructors, women in areas considered guerrilla territory—the label could be affixed to whoever was slated for execution. “The army is not killing guerrillas, despite what is reported,” a U.S. mercenary in 1980s El Salvador explained. “It is murdering the civilians who side with them. By terrorizing civilians the army is crushing the rebellion without the need to directly confront the guerrillas. Attacking civilians is the game plan.” The SOAW posters remembering some of the victims—bishops, young girls, a musician—help capture this reality, still very much a part of Washington’s Latin America policy, as ongoing U.S. support for the repressive Mexican, Colombianand Hondurangovernments makes clear.
To help draw attention to the beneficiaries and victims of U.S. training and aid, nearly a dozen activists gathered on May 14 in Washington, D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, where they pasted up a mural composed, in part, of the SOAW posters. “Though the activists were peaceful in their actions,” SOAW reports, “D.C. police decided that political art was unacceptable in the district. After the artwork was completed, four of the activists”—Dominique Diaddigo-Cash, Gail Taylor, Maria Luisa Rosal, and Nico Udu-gama—“were handcuffed, arrested and held for 6 hours before being charged with ‘defacing public or private property.’ The charge carries a maximum penalty of 6 months in prison and a $1,000 fine,” and those detained “will be arraigned in the D.C. Superior Court on June 5, 2014.”
But the police intervention in the Adams Morgan art action hasn’t had a deterrent effect: in the last few weeks, SOAW activists have taken posters to other District neighborhoods, as well as the streets of Los Angeles and the UC Riverside campus. “The best way to stand in solidarity with the targeted activists, and to push back against the criminalization of dissent,” SOAW reminds us, “is to keep up the resistance!”
This video, by Beth Geglia, shows footage of the May 14 action, as well as the subsequent arrest of four SOAW activists:
And go here for more information on the SOAW poster campaign. You’ll find the full series of downloadable posters on the website, as well as step-by-step wheat-pasting instructions.
School of the Americas (SOA Watch) May 26, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America.
Tags: catholic activist, colombia massacre, death squads, father romero, foreign policy, fort benning, hr 2576, human rights, human rights activist, jim mcgovern, jorge alberto amor paez, larry rosebaugh, Latin America, Latin America military, latin american military, military dictatorship, roger hollander, School of the Americas, soa, torture, torture survivors, torture victims
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Torture Is Not a New US Foreign Policy Tool May 22, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Latin America, Torture, Uruguay.
Tags: argentina dictatorship, cesar chelala, chile dictatorship, chile torture, dan mitrione, dwight d.eisenhower, el salvador massacre, foreign policy, foreign policy torture, latin american military, migel angle estrella, office of public safety, pinochet, School of the Americas, torture, u.s. advisors, uruguay torture, uruguayan guerrillas, victor jara
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“We are going to smash your hands to pulp like the Chileans did to Victor Jara.” Those were the words of the torturers in a Uruguayan prison spoken to my friend Miguel Angel Estrella, a pianist from Argentina. They were referring to the fate of the imprisoned Chilean singer and guitarist Victor Jara, whose hands were destroyed so that he would never play the guitar again. Jara, a fervent opponent of the Pinochet regime, was brutally tortured and later machine-gunned to death after the coup that brought Pinochet to power in 1973.
Estrella was being held in Uruguay’s Libertad prison, accused of being a guerrilla from Argentina fighting the Argentine military regime. Unable to prove the charges against him, and given the unprecedented international pressure, the Uruguayan government released him in 1978, having kidnapped him at the end of 1977.
Estrella was luckier than most of those imprisoned by the South American military. Although tortured and held for a long time in isolation, Estrella eventually recovered, leads a brilliant career as a musician, and is now Argentina’s Ambassador to UNESCO.
One of those training the Uruguayan torturers was an American operative, Daniel (Dan) Mitrione, who was later captured and killed by Uruguayan guerrillas. According to A.J. Langguth, a former New York Times bureau chief in Saigon, Mitrione was among the US advisers who taught torture to the Brazilian police.
Mitrione’s method for the application of torture was carefully orchestrated. Langguth reports that the method was described in detail in a book by Manuel Hevia Cosculluela, a Cuban double agent who worked for the C.I.A., “Passport 11333, Eight Years with the C.I.A.”
This is Mitrione’s voice: “When you receive a subject, the first thing to do is to determine his physical state, his degree of resistance, through a medical examination. A premature death means a failure by the technician. Another important thing to know is exactly how far you can go given the political situation and the personality of the prisoner. It is very important to know beforehand whether we have the luxury of letting the subject die….Before all else, you must be efficient. You must cause only the damage that is strictly necessary, not a bit more. We must control our tempers in any case. You have to act with the efficiency and cleanliness of a surgeon and with the perfection of an artist…”
In Uruguay, Mitrione was the head of the Office of Public Safety, a U.S. government agency established in 1957 by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower to train foreign police forces. At Mitrione’s funeral, Ron Ziegler, the Nixon administration’s spokesman, stated that Mitrione’s “devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for free men everywhere.” Thanks to former Senator James Abourezk’s efforts, the policy advisory program was abolished in 1974.
Mitrione’s case was far from unique. Through the School of the Americas, thousands of military and police officers from Latin America were trained in repressive methods, including torture.
On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests, a co-worker and her teenage daughter were massacred in El Salvador. I knew one of those killed, Ignacio Martin-Baró, vice-rector of the Central American University. He was the closest I have ever been to a saint. A U.S. Congressional Task Force concluded that those responsible for their deaths were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
Human beings make culture. And we also make torture, that bastard child of culture. It is up to us to change this situation. When running for president Barak Obama stated, referring to the Iraq war. “It is not enough to get out of Iraq; we have to get out of the mindset that led us into Iraq.” A similar assertion could be made about torture. It is not enough to say that torture will not be practiced any longer by the U.S. We need to get out of the mindset that made torture possible in the first place.