WASHINGTON, DC – February 19 – In a letter to the Commandant of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, U.S. Army Col. Gilberto Perez, Bolivian President Evo Morales formally announced yesterday that he will not send Bolivian military officers to attend training programs at the institute formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas.
The announcement came as confirmation of a previous statement made by President Morales in October of last year when he announced that he would discontinue sending troops to the institute based on its historical ties to oppressive military regimes in Latin America. Bolivia has now officially become the fifth country after Costa Rica, Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela to announce a withdrawal from the Fort Benning institution due to its negative image amongst Latin Americans.
The SOA/WHINSEC is a U.S. tax-payer funded military training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Ft. Benning, Georgia. It was originally founded in 1946 in the Panama Canal zone and relocated to Fort Benning in 1984. The institution was catapulted into the headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution.
The SOA/WHINSEC has played a significant role in Bolivia’s recent political history, Hugo Banzer Suarez, who ruled Bolivia from 1971-1978 under a brutal military dictatorship attended the school in 1956 and was later inducted into the school’s “hall of fame” in 1988. In October of 2006, two former graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC, Generals Juan Veliz Herrera and Gonzalo Rocabado Mercado were arrested on charges of torture, murder, and violation of the constitution for their responsibility in the death of 67 civilians in El Alto Bolivia during the “Gas Wars” of September-October 2003.
Graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC have recently been making headlines throughout the Americas. On February 12, Teofila Ochoa Lizarbe, a survivor of the Accomarca massacre of 1985 in Peru, testified in a Miami court Monday against Telmo Ricardo Hurtado and Juan Rivera Rondon. The two former military officers led the Peruvian army units responsible for the death of 69 unarmed civilians living in the Andean highlands of Peru on August 13, 1985. Hurtado and Rondon, attended Arms Orientation courses at the U.S. Army School of the Americas from 1981-1982. On February 18, a Colombian graduate of the SOA, Lt. Byron Carvajal was convicted for the murder of ten elite counter-narcotics police agents. Carvajal and fourteen other Colombian military officers are suspected of collaborating with a Colombian drug cartel.
In March 2006 a School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) delegation led by Lisa Sullivan-Rodriguez, Salvadoran torture survivor Carlos Mauricio, and SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois met with President Evo Morales to request that Bolivia cease to send troops for training at the SOA/WHINSEC.