By: Justin Worthing ~Staff Writer~
Xavier students and one faculty member traveled nearly nine hours on Nov. 21 to have their voice heard at the annual School of the Americas (SOA) Vigil in Ft. Benning, Ga.
The 10 students joined thousands of protesters from around the world to call for an end to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as SOA, which trains the military personnel of many Latin American countries.
The school has been the subject of much criticism for some time now by Human Rights Watch, SOA Watch and other human rights organizations.
Many who oppose the school cite human rights violations committed by graduates and dictators regimes established by personnel trained at WHINSEC as some of the reasons to shut the school down.
Annual protests began after six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter were killed by the Salvadoran Army in 1989. The Atlacatl Battalion, the unit responsible for carrying out the executions, was created at WHINSEC.
Over time, the protest has grown to include the rejection of militarization in all forms across the Americas.
“The protest started about mostly teaching Latin American soldiers methods of war that we recognize as being unjust, including psychological warfare and torture,” Taylor Fulkerson, head of Xavier’s student delegation and managing editor at the Newswire, said. “But I think the protest has really grown into a movement against militarization, whether that’s specifically military but also police forces, and also the connection to that and why people are immigrating to the United States but aren’t welcomed in.”
On Nov. 23, speakers from Mexico, Columbia, Honduras, Brazil, Nicaragua and other countries in the Americas addressed the protesters about militarism in their nations.
Following the program, protesters conducted a funeral procession commemorating those killed by militants trained at WHINSEC, including the Jesuit martyrs.
“It’s important for people to attend because it brings issues that seem far away to a more personal reality as you hear testimonies and first-hand accounts from speakers, merchants and fellow protesters — people who have been tortured, whose family has been ‘disappeared,’” junior Rachel Piepsney, one of the organizers for Xavier’s student delegation, said. “It also puts into context the history of militarization of these countries, something we may think has ended, but here we see the consequences this has on the world today.”
Seven protesters also committed acts of civil disobedience by crossing a barbed fence surrounding the school. All seven were arrested shortly thereafter.
One of them, 83-year-old author Eve Tetaz, carried a poster of one of the 43 students who disappeared in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, in September as well as Isaiah 2:4, “they shall beat their swords into