The Student Coalition of Social Justice will host a variety of events this week to advocate the shutdown of the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, at Fort Benning, Ga.

The school, which since 1946 has trained Latin American soldiers in combat, counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics efforts and commando operations, has been the target of protest for more than a decade. Religious organizations and human rights advocates contend that the school has trained and continues to train those responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America. SOA graduates are said to have participated in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 and the massacre of 900 civilians.

Since 1997 St. Thomas students through the Student Coalition for Social Justice have been organizing trips to join the vigil and nonviolent protest at Fort Benning, Ga. Approximately 30 to 40 students have participated each year. SOA Watch has organized protests since 1990. The event is centered on prayerful, nonviolent protest at the entrance to Fort Benning. In November 2000, more than 10,000 people participated in this event.

Out of solidarity with victims of violence related to the School of the Americas, Catholic universities, religious orders and churches have been regular participants in the protest, and many Catholic bishops have called for its closing, including Archbishop Harry Flynn.

School of the Americas Awareness Week activities include:

  • The Student Coalition for Social Justice will host a teach-in at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, in Koch Commons.
  • Information tables will be set up on the quad from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, and Thursday, Oct. 17.
  • A re-enactment of the November 1989 University of Central America killing by SOA graduates of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter will take place from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, in the lower quad.

The campus community is invited to support or join the trip to Fort Benning Nov. 15-18. Participants will travel by motorcoach to Columbus, Ga., to participate in the vigil and nonviolent protest. To sign up or get more information, visit the Center for Community Partnerships, Room 153, Murray-Herrick Campus Center. Those who cannot travel to Georgia are encouraged to support the trip with prayers and donations. The anticipated cost of the trip is $200 per person. If you would like to help defray the cost of student participants or have questions about these events, please contact Mike Klein in Justice and Peace Studies, (651) 962-5337.