On the chilly morning of Nov. 23, the names of thousands of people killed as a result of U.S. support for wars in Latin America were sung from a stage positioned in front of the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. The SOA (renamed in 2001 the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) is a U.S. Army training facility for Latin American soldiers connected to numerous human rights atrocities, including the 1981 El Mozote massacre and the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador. “[The school] is encouraging militarism in the world and especially in Latin America,” Ceci [last name withheld], a Latin American woman who has volunteered for eight years with SOA Watch, told Sojourners.
The annual vigil and protest to close the SOA began 18 years ago with just 13 people; this year the crowd was estimated at 20,000. Six people were arrested for attempting to take the protest onto the base; they face federal trial in January, with possible prison sentences of up to six months. In 2007, a bill to close the SOA failed by six votes in Congress, but 34 members of Congress who opposed the bill lost their seats in the November election.