The campaign spearheaded by social movements in Latin America and SOA Watch to move countries to withdraw from the SOA/WHINSEC has been tremendously successful. High-level meetings in Argentina, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Uruguay and Venezuela resulted in strong denouncements of the SOA/WHINSEC and the announcements that those countries would cut ties to the school.
The countries that took a stand for justice and withdrew their troops have to be applauded as they did it against the explicit wishes of the Pentagon. Taking a look at history shows that disobeying the U.S. government had harsh consequences for Latin American countries (at least 11 SOA graduates have become military dictators).
The Pentagon and WHINSEC have responded to the developments in Latin America and are trying to turn the wheel back. Several military delegations have traveled to Latin America to ensure that the countries that are still sending soldiers to the school are staying in line and to put pressure on those who have withdrawn.
In the case of Costa Rica, there’s a risk that the Pentagon campaign is succeeding:
A few days before the November 16-18 Vigil to Close the SOA, SOA Watch activists in Costa Rica informed us that, after making a commitment to international human rights organizations and confirming to the international press that he would no longer send Costa Rican police for training at the SOA/WHINSEC, President Oscar Arias has mentioned that he may resume sending police for training to the SOA/WHINSEC.
What happened? – On November 19, the Tico Times reported that the U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica flew with Costa Ricas Public Security Minister Fernando Berrocal to the United States where they had a meeting at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Upon his return he recommended to the President that up to 150 Costa Rican police officers should attend the institute to take classes that would help them "fight drug trafficking." In public statements to the local press, Arias has said that he agrees with the minister’s recommendation, "If they are going to get training on how to handle drugs, I would be ok with it," said the president.
Oscar Arias has not yet confirmed that he will effectively send police to WHINSEC, this a great opportunity for us to join in solidarity with the people of Costa Rica and take action by expressing our concerns with WHINSEC’s historical ties to human rights abuses and lack of transparency. We have put together an action letter that you can email or fax to President Oscar Arias.
We ask that you take action in solidarity with human rights advocates in Costa Rica and take few minutes of your time to e-mail/fax President Oscar Arias expressing your concern about his decision to consider police training at the SOA/WHINSEC and asking that he stand strong behind his promise to withdraw Costa Rican police from the institute.
Dear Mr. President Oscar Arias,
As a resident of the United States of America and fellow human rights advocate, I am concerned about your recent declarations to the press in regards to sending Costa Rican police to receive training at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA).
I am writing to ask that you reconsider your stance and that you stand strong behind the commitment you made to your people and to international human rights organizations in regards to withdrawing Costa Rican police from WHINSEC. Graduates of WHINSEC have consistently disregarded international human rights law, taken part in criminal activity, assisted in the overthrowing of democratically elected governments, and acted in direct violation of their government’s constitutions while prioritizing U.S. foreign policy over the needs of the people of their home countries.
During the weekend of November 16-18 2007 I joined with over 20,000 people, including torture survivors from Latin America and two U.S. presidential candidates, in Fort Benning, Georgia to protest the SOA/WHINSEC and celebrate the announcements made by your administration and the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and Venezuela in regards to a withdrawal from the military school knows as the "Escuela de Asesinos" due to its historical ties to human rights abuses and repression of the people of Latin America.
Your role in bringing peace to Central America after decades of civil war is exemplary and your work saved thousands of lives, meanwhile, graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC participated directly in atrocities such as the El Mozote and UCA massacres in El Salvador, the scorched earth policy of Guatemala and the deaths and disappearances of thousands in Honduras and Panama.
As a Nobel peace prize laureate you understand the value of democracy, transparency, sovereignty and human rights. I believe that the SOA/WHINSEC as an institution has side stepped every single one of those virtues and represents an outdated foreign policy which advocates military solutions for problems which should be resolved through dialog, diplomacy, cultural and economic incentives, and the strengthening of civilian institutions.
As President of Costa Rica you have the unique opportunity to show the world that a country does not need to resort to military solutions and the militarization of its police force to live in peace and with prosperity.