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History of the SOA

The SOA first began as a military training site in Panama called the “Latin American Ground School.” In 1963, the institution in Panama was renamed the School of the Americas (SOA). Since its expulsion from Panama in 1984, the SOA has been located at Fort Benning, Georgia and is funded by U.S. tax dollars. Classes at the SOA were not entirely focused on military tactics at first, but after Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba, the SOA’s mission changed drastically. President John F. Kennedy then saw communism as a mounting threat. Because of this, the Alliance for Progress was created to provide financial aid for social reform, but more prominently, to fund counter-insurgency operations in an attempt to defuse the influence of communism in Latin America. The U.S. deployed over 600 Special Forces Mobile Training Teams across the Americas to attack any perceived threats of communism. At this time, the SOA began adding anti-communism, interrogation, and counter-insurgency materials to the curriculum. Some of these new additions were eliminated by Jimmy Carter, but in 1981, President Ronald Reagan restored the curriculum to its previous state to include materials such as interrogation techniques, psychological operations, and even classes specifically for the Salvadoran military. 

With organizations pushing for the closing of the SOA, it was closed for one month in 2000 by Bill Clinton. However, the institution reopened in 2001 under the new name of Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). Although it was cloaked under this new name, the classes, educators, building, soldiers, and mission all remained the same. The SOA or “WHINSEC” has been dubbed the “School of the Assassins” due to its history of graduates inflicting extreme violence, bloodshed, and civilian-targeted massacres in Latin America. Civilians in these countries are often tortured, raped, killed, or forced to flee the country as refugees by graduates of the SOA. Targeted civilians also often include those who work for human rights and rights of the poor.  The majority of SOA soldiers attend classes focusing on combat training, commando tactics, psychological warfare, military intelligence, and other classes pertaining to military violence. 

Victims include, but are not limited to, hundreds of Latin American civilians. In 1980, Cleveland’s own Jean Donovan and Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel were murdered in El Salvador, along with two other church women, Ita Ford and Maura Clark. Out of the 5 soldiers who assassinated these women, three were trained at the SOA. Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, a longtime advocate for the rights of the poor, was also assassinated in 1980 by 3 soldiers, two having been trained by the SOA. At this same time, the civil war in El Salvador was just beginning and violence and bloodshed increased. It was then that the SOA Watch movement began in response to the “dirty wars” and violence all around. As a result, people started to mobilize and advocate for the closing of the SOA. Currently, Honduras is being affected by the 2009 coup against their democratically elected president by SOA graduates, and still holds the highest homicide rate in the world. 

It is extremely irresponsible for the U.S. government to continually be spending U.S. tax dollars to fund the SOA. It is unfathomable that the government continues to support an institution that perpetuates such violence and bloodshed. Other countries, such as Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua now refuse to send soldiers to be trained at the SOA. The U.S. must cut-off support to the SOA and make the move to close it for good. With participation from more countries such as these to boycott the SOA, as well as active advocacy, there is hope that the SOA will close and there will be an end to such senseless military violence.