Thousands of social justice activists are converging on Ft. Benning, Georgia, for the annual three-day mobilization and vigil to demand the closure of the controversial U.S. Military School of the Americas (SOA). The institution—which is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation—has a long history of providing military training to U.S.-allied Latin American nations in counter-insurgency operations against left-wing movements.
The event, which is organized by the SOA Watch and endorsed by more than 50 groups, began Friday afternoon. Participants are discussing politics, anti-war organizing and Latin American solidarity in dozens of workshops. They will also denounce the crimes of the country’s foreign policy and immigration detention system in a series of marches, actions, and vigils set to be held on Saturday and Sunday.
Convention Center looks good! Folks workshopping resistance to US-sponsored human rights crimes in prisons & Mexico pic.twitter.com/rwlkftwMOK— SOA Watch (@SOAWatch) November 20, 2015
This is the 25th year since the SOA Watch was founded and began to protest at the site of the military school in Georgia, sparked by an El Salvador massacre that involved soldiers trained by the United States.
"Despite a shocking human rights abuse record, the School of the Americas continues to operate with U.S. taxpayer money. Closing the SOA would send a strong human rights message to Latin America and the world,” Father Roy Bourgeois, SOA Watch founder, said in a press release.
For the last nine years, SOA Watch has extended their protest to denounce the U.S. criminalization of immigration, which organizers say is intimately tied to U.S. foreign intervention in Latin America.
"We have to address the root causes of migration, which to a major part lie in the deplorable economic and military policies, which the United States has imposed on Latin America," Bourgeois said.
On Saturday, thousands will march to denounce the nearby Stewart Detention Center, which holds over 1,800 migrants behind bars.
SOA Watch’s 25th anniversary vigil comes just over a week after news that the FBI has been regularly spying on the organization for at least 10 years, with tactics similar to those used against Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter.
While the School of Americas is known for having advocated for torture, extortion and execution in its military training manuals, no independent investigation into the facility has ever taken place.
The host of teleSUR’s The Empire Files, Abby Martin, will be reporting for teleSUR from the protests throughout the weekend.