TRAINING GROUND FOR MURDERERS
Continued U.S. support for the School of the Americas, an institution that has trained dictators and political assassins, is completely unjustifiable.
By David R. H. Smith
The United States established the School of the Americas in Panama in 1946, for the purpose training of Latin American military and police forces (“School of the Americas” 1, “Schools of the Americas; U.S. Military Training for Latin American Countries” 1). Prior to 1984, the United States had a network of schools in Peru and Panama that trained soldiers under CIA instruction (Buckley 5). Panamanian officials requested the U.S. to move the school out of the country, citing the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty giving Panama territorial control over the land the school occupied. In compliance, the United States withdrew the school’s operations in Panama and permanently moved the school to Fort Benning, Georgia (Buckley 5).
Training Latin Americans to protect their nation through strong-arm military tactics places an emphasis on the establishment of democracy through force. How can the American government claim rogue military and police forces create and environment conducive to fostering democracy? After all, democracy that rests on the shoulders of a military regime scarcely follows what the United States claims as “democratic principles” (“School of the Americas”). Outside the United States’ supervision, there are no barriers that curtail the usage of force against civilians by Latin American militaries. David Passage, former director of Andean Affairs at the State Department recently said before Congress, “…The only thing that Latin American militaries have ever done with any enthusiasm or proficiency has been to beat up and shake down their own citizens, overthrow their own governments or get their countries involved in scraps with their neighbors” (United States 1944 4). Passage’s claim illustrates that there is a stability problem within the military and police forces of Latin American countries and, therefore, a nation like Columbia (where in 2001, thirty-eight people died every day as a result of political and military associated violence) should not make up 17% of the population of students at the Schools of the Americas (“Taking Stock: Plan Columbia’s First Year 1; “School of the Americas: U.S. Military…” 8).
Supporters of the School of the Americas claim that the school has substantially increased trade between Latin American nations and the United States. Latin American nations are among the leading exporters of natural minerals and raw materials in the world (Schoultz 158). For Example, in 1985, 37.3% of oil imported into the United States came from Latin American nations (158). Also, the United States’ supply of iron ore such as cobalt, platinum, and nickel are primarily exported from Argentina, Chile, and Columbia (149-152). Charles E. Wilhem, Commander and Chief of U.S. Southern Command Center for the Marine Corp, testified before congress in 1999 stating, “Importance of Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States has not diminished… Economic predications [say] that by 2010 U.S. trade with the region will exceed that with Europe and Japan combined” (Capital Hill Hearing Testimony 1). Wilhem’s statement illustrates that there is a correlation between economic prosperity in Latin American nations and the United States’ interest in those nations. The School of the Americas has been on the forefront of ensuring the protection of these U.S. interests.
The creation of an international school, such as the School of the Americas, is an extension of the U.S. trade policies. Training Latin American militaries to maintain an environment conducive to U.S. trade benefits U.S. economic interests in that region. As author Lars Schoultz pointed out, “It was highly rational, therefore, for the U.S. policy makers to be concerned about the security of U.S. mineral supplies from Latin America” (158). According to Schoultz, it is understandable that the United States would train Latin American militaries to protect the revenue benefited from crops and minerals obtained from those nations.
Robert Bowman recently wrote, “How many times have we done it in Nicaragua and all the other banana republics in Latin Americas? We replaced them [popular leaders] with murderous tyrants who would sell out and control their own people so that the wealth of the land could be taken by Domino Sugar, the United Fruit Company, Folgers, and Chiquita Bananas” (Bowman 2). Bowman confirms the moral depravity that is inherent in U.S. economics policies towards Latin American nations. Consider the 1973 C.I.A. sponsored Chilean group with resulted in the assassination of elected president Salvador Allend (Aued 1; “Country Sheets for Close it Down Fast” 2). C.I.A reports reveal that Allende was assassinated because of his unwavering views promoting socialism and anti-capitalism, which affected U.S. trade with Chile (Jost 6; Aued 1). Blake Aued alleges that, “The C.I.A. organized Allende’s assassination and installed General Augusto Pinochet as dictator… [Pinochet was] a right-winged dictator or junta who will oppress the will of the people and institute economic policies friendly to U.S. corporations” (Aued 1). Out of thirty high-ranking officers responsible for the assassination of Allende, ten were graduates of the School of the Americas (“Country Sheets for Close it Down Fast” 2).
During his sixteen-year dictatorship over Chile, General Pinochet was responsible for 3,000 civilian murders and the imprisonment of over 130,000 political dissidents (Jost 6). The alleged U.S. policy of training military assassins to benefit corporate interests in the 1973 Chilean conflict was anything but democratic. Years later the American sponsored military takeover of the Chilean government is known as the “the dirty wars” because of the gross number of civilians killed during the conflict (Jost 6).
Continued U.S. support for the School of the Americas, an institution that has trained dictators and political assassins, is completely unjustifiable. Because of the school’s existence Latin American countries have had to suffer through radical military regimes, unethical U.S. trade policies, and massacres of innocent people. Very little good could ever be associated with a school that has, for fifty years, consistently trained students how to dominate civilians living in their nations through strong-arm military tactics. The United States needs to reconsider its stance on the School of the Americas because it truly is nothing more than a training ground for murderers.