In 2016 the School of the Americas trained a total of 1749 members of the Armies, the Navies, and Air Forces of Latin America — and it also trained 15 civilians and 190 police officers.
We know that Costa Rica and Panama sent only police officers to receive training at WHINSEC, from the simple fact that neither of these two countries possesses an army. Between these two countries, the total enrollment in 2016 came to 44. What other countries also sent their police officers to receive military training at a military academy? We can’t know, as that information has not been made available.
What we do know is that this military training could negatively influence so-called “Law Enforcement Bodies” and that it is possible that the increase in militarization and repression seen towards social movements by police forces in Latin America may be due to the US-promoted doctrine that continues to legitimize the idea that these forces are allowed to do anything and everything for “national security.”
For example, by utilizing the Costa Rican transparency and public information access laws, it became known that among the courses taken by Costa Rican police at the School of the Americas in the last few years were courses in “Counterterrorism Analysis,” “Intelligence Operations,” “Information Operations,” “Anti-drugs and Anti-terrorism,” “Basics of Intelligence Operations for Officers,” and “Information Analysis,” among others.
We also know all too well about how the US understands and confronts terrorism. We know, in the struggle against drugs and terrorism which they promote, that proportionately more civilians will die. We also know what is really meant by “intelligence operations” and “information”: blacklists, social movement infiltration, false news reports, etc.
Furthermore, according to official 2016 data, the two countries which sent the most troops to this military academy were Colombia and Honduras, both countries where grave human rights violations continue to be documented.
Colombia — the country which for many years has sent the most troops to the US for training — in 2016 sent 862 students to the School of the Americas/WHINSEC. Colombia continues to be the number one country in both troops sent and in human rights violations recorded, by far.
According to a Report from the Development and Peace Studies Institute (INDEPAZ), during 2016 there were 117 Colombian human rights defenders murdered. More than 350 death threats, 46 attempted murders, and 5 forced disappearances were also reported.
In Colombia, the armed conflict has left at least 220,000 people killed, 25,000 disappeared and 4,744,046 people displaced in the years between 1958 and 2012. These figures are revealed in the report, “Enough! Colombia: memories of war and dignity.” Eighty-two percent of the victims were civilians.
The country in second place in 2016 for sending forces to the School of the Americas for training is Honduras, with 261 students enrolled.
According to the report, “Honduras: the deadliest place to defend the planet,” by Global Witness, “123 land and environmental activists have been murdered in Honduras since the 2009 coup, with countless others threatened, attacked or imprisoned.”
That report describes the assassination of the respected human rights and environmental activist Berta Cáceres, which took place on March 2, 2016. Months later, the Honduran newspaper El Heraldo reported that among those arrested for this case appear “an active member of the military, two retired officials and an environmental engineer.”
According to The Guardian newspaper, two of those arrested, Major Mariano Díaz Chávez and Lieutenant Douglas Giovanny Bustillo, received anti-terrorist training in 2005 in the United States. What’s more, Giovanny Bustillo received training at the School of the Americas. And in 2016, a Honduran ex-soldier, member of an elite unit, reported that he had seen Barta Cáceres’ name on a “blacklist” that was being circulated within the army.
None of this should surprise us. Behind the killings of human rights defenders, although carried out by hired assassins or by paramilitary forces or criminals — and while frequently passed off as ordinary incidents — hides the hand of power.
From Mexico, a country where currently the gravest of human rights violations in Latin America are being documented, 46 troops were sent in 2016 and 130 troops in the last five years to the SOA, if we are to believe published figures. It is known that the US is committed, through other means and agreements, to the training of their soldiers and police.
An article by John Lindsay-Poland indicated that in just the period between 2013 and 2014, “the United States gave military training to more than 5,700 Mexican police officers and soldiers in 45 locations across the US and at least ten sites in Mexico during the last two years, according to information published by the Department of State.”
According to official data from the United Nations High Commission, during the last decade until August 2015 there were 151,233 murders in Mexico. On September 30, 2015, the Mexican government reported that 26,798 people had been forcibly disappeared in the preceding years. The Attorney General of Mexico reported, in April 2015, that 2,420 investigations were in progress for cases of torture. Of these, only 15 sentences have been handed down.
Mexican professor and activist Denise Dresser, however, tells us that the “war years” have left, at a minimum, 213,000 people dead.
“The army has the highest percentage of lethality, in which eight people are killed for every one that is wounded: as shown by the 12,408 complaints before the National Commission on Human Rights and the military involvement in the cases of Tlatlaya and Ayotzinapa,” reported Dresser.
But not only Colombia, Honduras and Mexico send troops to the School of the Americas. Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, Panama, Paraguay, Canada, Taiwan and other countries do so as well.
Nevertheless, not all Latin American countries send troops to the School of the Americas. By 2016, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay publicly committed to no longer sending soldiers nor police to the institution in question.
Venezuela, for instance, withdrew its soldiers in 2004, two years after the failed coup d’etat against President Hugo Chávez. Among the leaders of that coup d’etat was General Efraín Vázquez, a graduate of the School of the Americas.
Unlike other Latin American countries, Venezuela had not previously lived through military dictatorships. However, prior to Hugo Chávez assuming power, it had documented grave human rights violations of which few, if any, were known in Latin America or the world.
According to the Venezuelan Truth and Justice Commission, between the years 1958 and 1998, there were 10,071 victims of assassination, torture and politically-motivated disappearances documented.
In summation, the School of the Americas, today known as the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), has operated for more than 70 years since its founding in 1946 in Panama. To date, more than 80,000 soldiers from across Latin America have passed through its gates.
Many of its “graduates” became dictators, torturers and assassins. Many others kept or still keep a complicit silence when the people they are sworn to protect have been forcibly disappeared and assassinated.
– Pablo Ruiz, journalist, is a member of School of the Americas Watch.