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A description of school of assassins in human rights violations committed by graduates

Gutman Getting rid of someone is easy. Destroying popular aspirations takes more effort but you can always count on a volunteer or two to do the dirty work.

For money; favors; influence; power--mostly power. When conventional methods-- elections, plebiscites, national referenda--fail, or when the results threaten the oligarchy, the US Army's School of the Americas, a shadowy but formidable war factory billeted at Fort Benning, Georgia, can help.

There are not petty bureaucrats here, taking up space and stealing time until retirement. The SOA is a model institution. Its instructors and students are recruited from the cream of Latin America's military establishment. But Latin American soldiers at the SOA are not always trained to defend their borders from foreign invasion.

They are taught--at US taxpayers' expense--to make war against their own people, to subvert the truth, silence poets, domesticate unruly visionaries, muzzle activist clergy, hinder trade unionism, hush the voices of dissidence and discontent, neutralize the poor, the hungry, the dispossessed, extinguish common dreams, irrigate fields of plenty with the tears of a captive society, and transform paladins and protesters into submissive vassals.

Even if it kills them. For the past two years, a group of US legislators, led by Rep. The measure was defeated. Reintroduced in 1994, the amendment was again rejected.

This time the defeat was sustained by a sixfold increase in the number of abstentions from the preceding year. It has also produced some of the region's most despicable tyrants. The SOA is expected to graduate about 750 students in 1995. This is what happened in 1989, when a Salvadoran army patrol burst into the Central American University and murdered six Jesuit priests, their cook and her daughter.

  1. Jose Efrain Rios Montt.
  2. Captain Pio Flores, whose house was used as a detention and torture center, took four courses at the SOA. Next door, in Honduras, the early 1980s witnessed political violence of a level unknown in earlier decades as the civil conflict in El Salvador and Nicaragua spilled across its borders.
  3. A rich fauna and an exuberant flora. It is doubtful that a term or two at a school which teaches, among other useful tricks, how to filet a human being in less time than it takes to read this sentence, can imbue a Latin American with the "Jeffersonian perspective.

Some of the victims were executed lying face down on the ground. Human rights groups were quick to accuse the US of aiding and abetting El Salvador's military regime. This was not an idle allegation. In fact, almost three-quarters of the Salvadoran officers implicated in seven other bloodbaths during El Salvador's civil war including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero 15 years ago this month were trained by the SOA.

The elite institution has left its mark everywhere in Latin America: Of the 246 officers cited for various crimes in Colombia by a 1992 international human rights tribunal, 105 are SOA graduates. In 1976, Ortega, then a captain, took a military intelligence course at the SOA. Mario Enriquez and Congress President, Gen. Jose Efrain Rios Montt.

A former president of Guatemala 1982-83 Montt is best remembered for his "beans or bullets" policy--beans for the obedient, bullets for the rest. In Honduras, five ranking officers who organized--with US complicity--the secret death squad known as Intelligence Battalion 3-15 in the mid-1980s are SOA graduates.

An America's Watch report has charged Lopez with involvement in a death squad. Colonel Amilcar Zelaya, from whose residence muffled screams were regularly heard, also attended the school. Murrillo's specialty was interrogation and torture. The three highest ranking officers convicted in February 1994 of murdering nine university students and a professor in Peru are all SOA graduates--as is the commander of the Peruvian military who dispatched tanks to block an investigation.

Also known as the School for Dictators and dubbed--less kindly but with more acronymic consistency--the School of Assassins the SOA has sired a number of favorite sons destined for historical scrutiny. Galtieri's military advisers helped establish Honduras' Battalion 3-16.

Not as eminent but equally adept at making war, wielding in some cases formidable regional or local power, and exceeding the limits of their own authority, a number of SOA graduates have been known to take on less redoubtable foes.

In Guatemala, a nation described by a high-ranking US Embassy official as "a fractured society--politically, economically, culturally and ethnically--probably the most corrupt in Latin America," crimes against street children have long made international headlines but were never stanched. Unwanted, unloved, disposable, society's chaff, ubiquitous and growing in numbers, a description of school of assassins in human rights violations committed by graduates continue to pay the price of civil strife and poverty and feudalism and social decay; enduring illegal detentions and beatings, often for petty crimes, including those motivated by hunger.

According to Bruce Harris, executive director, Covenant House Latin American Programs, "1994 was a banner year for a country more preoccupied with bananas and coffee than human live. It produced the highest number of extrajudicial executions of street children in Guatemala this decade--13 in all. Head of the Guatemalan military at Nebaj, Quiche province, where some of the worst atrocities were committed against the campesinos, he is generally blamed for the displacement of over one million persons, many of them orphaned children, and for spurring an urban migration which continues to strain the country's moribund economy.

Former head of G military intelligencehe was twice chief of the National Police 1985, 1990a semimilitarized corps with a reputation and lengthy record of human rights abuses, many against defenseless minors. In 1993 he was named Customs Chief. His death galvanized international attention and paved the way for a widely publicized series of legal proceedings by Harris against his executioners. To his credit, Caballeros did order some of his men investigated, but he blamed the judicial system, rather than inept sleuthing, for its failure to secure binding convictions.

Arrogant and self-deluded, Caballeros may have underestimated the resolve of dedicated human rights activists to take on abusive regimes. At this writing, Casa Alianza has 191 criminal suits in the Guatemalan court system against 120 policemen and 30 soldiers. Arrest warrants have been issued against 18 policemen. Urged by Harris, the European Parliament has vowed to impose economic sanctions against Guatemala. A member of the extreme right-wing Revolutionary Party, Caballeros, who lost a bid for a congressional seat, makes no secret of his political aspirations and his commitment to a return to military rule in Guatemala.

Iit is widely believed that several former administration cabinet members itching for a political comeback favor such a takeover. Public in Siglo Veintiuno 21st centuryCaballeros blames "dirty, rich politicians" for the country's chronic problems. Given that the wealthy in Guatemala as elsewhere in Latin America have traditionally supported the military, Caballeros was being more than disingenuous. Playing on short memories and growing public discontent to agitate the masses, in military parlance it's called disinformation, a technique taught at the SOA under a different appellation.

Long-simmering rumors that the Guatemalan military has been involved in various criminal activities burst into the open last month when a number of high-ranking officers, among them Col. Cited as a cocaine exporter, Ochoa has so far evaded US extradition efforts. Next door, in Honduras, the early 1980s witnessed political violence of a level unknown in earlier decades as the civil conflict in El Salvador and Nicaragua spilled across its borders.

Many "disappeared" after their abduction or were summarily executed by death squads. Seven men, including the late Gen. Alvarez was also charged with abuse of authority, homicide, assassination, torture and hindering due process of law.

In a recent interview, his widow, Lillian de Alvarez, justified her husband's excesses, saying he had "fought against disloyalty and terrorist organizations. Rumors persist that Torres was involved in arms and drug trafficking and murder.

Vigilantism against "delinquents"-- a euphemism of sizable elasticity generally reserved for the destitute and the hungry--continues to claim lives in Honduras. Last month, Regional Police Chief Lt. To reports of irregularities in detention procedures and the torture of detainees during interrogation by the Fuerza de Seguridad Publica FUSEPparticularly at the hands of a description of school of assassins in human rights violations committed by graduates military branch, was soon added evidence of intimidation and harassment of members of human rights groups, lawyers, members of the Catholic clergy, trade unionists and the press.

Relations between the armed forces and the press deteriorated when a group of journalists filmed a murder scene in the provincial city of San Pedro Sula. The killers were identified as members of the armed forces. The journalists were threatened.

  1. One is tempter to speculate--given the nature, complexity, and sophistication of the courses taken by Costa Rican students at an elite combat school such as the SOA--that "civil and rural guard duties" are clever euphemisms crafter for public consumption.
  2. Calling the Casa Alianza shelter "a nest of thieves," and its wards "delinquents," he agitated the downtown business community, fomenting an angry demonstration in front of the shelter. This school has a legacy of providing training to some of the most notorious human rights abusers of this hemisphere.
  3. For the past two years, a group of US legislators, led by Rep.
  4. The atrocities are not all in the past. Not surprisingly, Colombia currently has the worst human rights record in all of Latin America.
  5. Not to be outdone, the Hondurans military have renewed their attacks on the Reina administration for trying, "once again, to damage its credibility and reputation. The rationale, however, is tenuous.

Another had to flee Honduras. While there have been no "disappearances" under the present Carlos Roberto Reina government, serious human rights violations persist and many of the victims are among Tegucigalpa's more than 1,000 street children.

Still a School of Assassins

Last October, this writer went to Honduras to investigate allegations of police brutality against street children, to corroborate recurring charges that minors are routinely--and illegally--incarcerated with adults, and to document long- held imputations that Honduras's military justice system wantonly disregards the nation's highest laws. Under pressure from Bruce Harris, six minors detained without arraignment for three days and three nights with adults at the Seventh Precinct, including a 10-year-old, were first transferred to an empty cell then quietly released.

Hastily convened, a radio interview with Harris and an Amnesty International dispatch accusing Honduran police of illegally imprisoning minors soon made headlines in Tegucigalpa.

Calling the Casa Alianza shelter "a nest of thieves," and its wards "delinquents," he agitated the downtown business community, fomenting an angry demonstration in front of the shelter. Two weeks later, the shelter's director was threatened with expulsion. Marco Tulio Ayala Vindel, were postponed "indefinitely. Not to be outdone, the Hondurans military have renewed their attacks on the Reina administration for trying, "once again, to damage its credibility and reputation.

Among sympathizers of the military, is A. According to private sources, over 30 percent of all living Honduran SOA graduates are still "pulling strings. Golden beaches stretching along two coasts. A rich fauna and an exuberant flora. Costa Rica has it all, and then some. But what makes Costa Ricans proudest of all, what they enjoy reminding the world, is that their small Central American nation has had no army since its abolition in 1948.

A document obtained through the Freedom of Information Act lists nearly 2,500 Costa Rican soldiers and officers who have trained at the SOA since 1949. Among the courses taken: Wilbert Mora and Capts. Calvo Calvo and Carlos Alberto Castro. The last two ended a two-year stint in January. Asked to comment, Maj. Roy Trumble, dismissed any inference of impropriety in the existence of a military presence in Costa Rica.

Its members are trained to perform civil and rural guard duties. They also go on drug interdiction missions.

  • Why should we believe the reform rhetoric of an institution with a history of blatant deception?
  • Grassroots pressure forced them to change the name but;
  • Playing on short memories and growing public discontent to agitate the masses, in military parlance it's called disinformation, a technique taught at the SOA under a different appellation;
  • Colombia, with over 10,000 troops trained at the SOA, is the school's largest customer;
  • In Honduras, five ranking officers who organized--with US complicity--the secret death squad known as Intelligence Battalion in the mids are SOA graduates;
  • Mario Enriquez and Congress President, Gen.

Martel must have recited SOA's standard catechism. The rationale, however, is tenuous. In Costa Rica, as in the rest of Central America, police and army are indistinguishable and interchangeable. One is tempter to speculate--given the nature, complexity, and sophistication of the courses taken by Costa Rican students at an elite combat school such as the SOA--that "civil and rural guard duties" are clever euphemisms crafter for public consumption.

For this nation of three million, such intensive training looks more like a state of continuous mobilization and combat readiness than an attempt to keep peace in the streets or to preseve nature's virgin beauty against human predation. Moreover, a narcotics surveillance radar network donated and installed by the USA has since fallen in disuse, allegedly the victim of cost cutbacks. Creditable sources suggest that the facility may have been shut down because it threatened to drastically diminish the flow of drug money into the private coffers of high-ranking government officials.

Such action, at a time when Costa Rica has been cited as a benevolent land bridge between Colombia's cartels and North America, invalidates Maj.