From School of the Americas Watch May 17:
1. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias announced Wednesday that Costa Rica will cease to send police to train at the U.S. Army Ft. Benning facility after citing its history of involvement in military coups and human rights abuses throughout Latin America.
Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, made the decision after talks with a delegation of the School of the Americas Watch, including the Rev. Roy Bourgeois and Lisa Sullivan Rodríguez. The human rights advocacy group has campaigned since 1990 for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School for the Americas (SOA), located at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Costa Rica has no army but has sent approximately 2,600 police officers over the years to be trained at the school. Minor Masis, leader of Costa Rica’s former “Comando Cobra” anti-drug squad attended the School in 1991 and returned to Costa Rica, only to serve a 42-year jail term for rape and murder committed during a 1992 drug raid. Costa Rica currently has three policemen at the center. “When the courses end for the three policemen we are not going to send any more,” Arias said.
Costa Rica is the fourth country to announce a withdrawal from the SOA/WHINSEC. In 2006, the governments of Argentina and Uruguay announced that they would cease all training at the school, becoming the second and third countries to announce a cessation of training. In January of 2004, Hugo Chávez announced that Venezuela would no longer send troops to train at the school.
Costa Rica’s withdrawal from WHINSEC is a great victory for human rights in Latin America. With this major breakthrough, Costa Rica adds its name to the list of countries who are rejecting the destructive approach of institutions such as the SOA/WHINSEC. Combat training and military spending as a means to “solve” social problems do not bring peace and democracy.
2. Salvatore Mancuso, the former Commander of the right wing United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, testified Tuesday that the paramilitaries, branded “foreign terrorist organizations” by the U.S. State Department in 2001, were aided by high ranking Colombian military officers in training and logistics.
Mancuso, testifying in a closed hearing in the city of Medellín, said the Colombian state supported the paramilitaries since their creation in the 1980’s and that “paramilitaries are a state policy”.
Amongst the military and government officials signaled by Mancuso as collaborators are General Rito Alejo del Río, General Martín Carreño Sandoval, General Harold Bedoya Pizarro, General Fernando Landazabal, Colonel Alfonso Manosalva Flores, and the current Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos. The six men received training or served as instructors at the U.S. Army School of the Americas and have been accused by Mancuso of inciting and promoting paramilitary intervention in certain regions of Colombia.
The strategy of using civilian paramilitary groups and death squads to avoid government oversight and accountability has been a common tactic of SOA / WHINSEC graduates throughout Latin America. Salvadoran SOA / WHINSEC graduate and ARENA party founder Roberto D’Aubussoin established the Death Squads that were responsible for much of the violence in El Salvador in the 1980’s. General Manuel B. Lucas García, who attended the school in 1965 and 1970, masterminded the creation of the Civil Defense Patrols in Guatemala. Mexico’s José Rubén Rivas Peña, who took the SOA/WHINSEC’s elite Command and Staff Course, called for the “training and support for self-defense forces or other paramilitary organizations in Chiapas” as a response to the Zapatista uprising in 1994.
The Colombian military is the largest recipient of US military funding and training in Latin America and holds over 60% of the seats available to attend courses at WHINSEC.