Nicaragua Withdraws from School of Americas: “We Have Been its Victims”
After a meeting on September 4 with international peace activists from School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) and Nicanet, president Daniel Ortega announced that Nicaragua would withdraw its troops from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)—formerly and more widely known as the School of the Americas (SOA). A combat training school located in Fort Benning, Georgia, the WHINSEC is notorious for training Latin American military personnel in techniques of repression, including human rights violations such as torture, forced disappearance, and selective assassination.
Although four countries in South America have already withdrawn troops from WHINSEC—Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Ecuador—Nicaragua is the first Central American country to do so. Since its founding in 1949, the school has graduated approximately 64 thousand alumni, including some of Latin America’s most notorious dictators, generals, and soldiers. Among the latest to be connected with the school is the recently sentenced Pedro Pimentel Rios, a Guatemalan soldier sentenced to 6,060 years for the Dos Erres massacre of 1982, as well as Rito Alejo del Rio, the Colombian general recently sentenced to 25 years for murder. Graduates of the school have also been connected to the Honduran coup of 2009.
“The SOA is a symbol of death, a symbol of terror,” president Ortega said. “We have been gradually reducing our numbers of troops at the SOA, sending only five last year and none this year. We have entered a new phase and we will not continue to send troops to the SOA. This is the least we can do. We have been its victims.”
In addition to withdrawing its troops from WHINSEC, Nicaragua made another important stride in its new phase of autonomy. Along with other countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), the country pulled out of the Interamerican Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, a military pact of the Organization of American States that is dominated by U.S. interests.
In his meeting with the international delegation, Ortega “stressed the importance of the growing unity and support among Latin American nations,” according to SOAW organizer and delegate Lisa Sullivan. She went on to point out that the move was “still not sufficient … to allow Nicaragua to be totally independent of the U.S., a nation that continues to punish [the country] for any slight step out of line by withholding their funds, while also blocking other international funds destined for Nicaragua.”
Despite these challenges, Nicaragua’s gains in sovereignty are fueling progress by solidarity movements. Activists from the around the country are gearing up for the annual protest and vigil at the gates of WHINSEC in Fort Benning, Georgia, on November 16 to 18. This gathering is a celebration of resistance against economic and military repression and serves as a spiritual homecoming for peace and justice advocates throughout the Americas.
Colette Cosner wrote this article YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions.