Skip to content

Students blast the SOA

November 16, 2010

A group of about 30 Grand Valley State University Students and a few professors met on the Allendale campus Nov. 15 to watch the film Hidden in Plain Sight. The feature-length documentary looks at U.S. policy in Latin America as furthered by the US Army’s School of the Americas (SOA), which trains Latin American soldiers in Fort Benning, Georgia. Continuing public pressure resulted in Congress closing the school in 2001—only to reopen it under a new name, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

The film documented the atrocities that graduates of the school have inflicted on the poor populations of many Latin American countries through graphic photographs and video coverage as well as interviews with torture survivors and family members of people who were raped, killed and disappeared. In addition, experts on US foreign policy, Latin American human rights organizers, former and current US military and members of congress all substantiated that the school is responsible for training Latin American militaries how to torture, assassinate, murder and use all violent means available to repress poor people in their own countries when they dare speak up for their rights.

Following the film, students and faculty expressed their shock and anger over the US role in funding, training and providing direct support for the violent repression of our Latin American neighbors.

Zulema Moret, head of the GVSU Latin American Studies department, started the conversation by recalling her own experiences as a college student in Argentina. “We need to show this movie all over campus, many times,” she said. “I suffered personally with my people, with my friends at the university when I was a student. All the training the military were receiving for torture of our people was coming from the SOA. We need to be fighting it, without violence, but fighting it.”

Student reactions included anger over an American system that funds violence so that a small percentage of corporate shareholders can reap profits and shock that protests of the SOA in Fort Benning were also met with repressive military response. Hundreds of nonviolent protestors have received federal prison sentences.

“My reaction is anger,” one student said. “This is not what I want my country doing. It’s not in our interest but for the few, one or two percent. It’s the system that we have that is the problem. They are doing this in our name with our tax dollars on US soil. People who stood up (against it) got shut down. There is a whole system of oppression in our country. If anyone is under attack for freedom of speech, we are all under attack.”

“It seems incredibly blind and unjust to take a country’s resources, get their own people to kill anyone who objects and then tell them to stay in their countries,” another student said.  “Corporations can go across borders freely and not get groped in the groin. We allow goods and trade but we stop people.”

“The SOA is an outrage but blame has to be put over the whole system, the interconnect with Wall Street, WalMart, Target—all the things we take part in,” said another. “We get new iPods, new phones and don’t realize the interconnectedness. The whole reason is to exploit this labor for consumer goods. We’re so consumed by our consumerism that we don’t even realize.”

The group agreed that taking individual action such as boycotting stores that make profits on the backs of workers in sweat-shops was a portal to systemic change but that a more organized movement was needed.

“Even if we as individuals make these choices, they (SOA) are still there,” a student said. “These are good starting points but action needs to continue beyond that.”

Ideas put forth included creating independent media, building parallel community systems and direct action. “Small changes within the system are band-aids. Band-aids are good but we really need to change the whole system,” one said. “We can start by educating people in our student organizations. If students in our community don’t know what’s going on out there, how can people in other places know?”

“Every social movement in this country–women’s suffrage, civil rights–were not something voted on,” said another. “A small group of people got motivated, organized and said ‘We care about this. How can we organize and have this policy adopted by our nation? How can we mobilize people and make change?’ That’s how change has come about throughout history. How can we make it so it’s not a just a conversation? Change has to come from below.”

Two students present shared that they are taking direct action by traveling to Georgia this upcoming weekend to join the “Convergence of Hope,” an annual protest at the gates of Fort Benning sponsored by SOA Watch.

At the conclusion of the discussion, a group of students took action by marching through the GVSU campus to raise awareness about the SOA and US military sponsored repression in Latin America.

The discussion will continue at 6:30 p.m. Thursday Nov. 18 with a public screening of Guns and Greed at The Bloom Collective, 671 Davis NW. The suggested donation $3 to $5 includes a light supper with vegan options.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: