On Revealing WHINSEC’s [ex-School of the Americas] Students

A California court has ruled that the Western Hemispheric Institute for Securirity Operations (WHINSEC), once known as the School of the Americas, must reveal the names of students from Latin America who have trained at the Fort Benning grounds. The ruling comes in response to a 2006 act that classified the names of foreign students at WHINSEC. The move is an important one. On the one hand, it creates a greater sense of transparency at an institution known for operating in secrecy and for training torturers and dictators in the past. On the other hand, it also creates a context in which people can know which individuals from which countries continue to have ties to the US military, and with which Latin American militaries the US is more regularly working.

This latter part is particularly important. As Mike Allison points out, references to past SOA/WHINSEC alumni are rather tired and old at this point:

SOA or maybe it’s the media in this case need to move beyond people who attended or taught at WHINSEC’s predecessor half a century ago. In AP article, they mention Rios Montt, Manuel Noriega, Hugo Banzer and those involved in the 1989 Jesuit murders.

Guatemala’s Rios Montt attended the SOA in 1951! (That’s right, during the Arbenz regime.)

Panama’s Noriega attended the SOA in 1967! (Dustin Hoffman starred in The Graduate)

And Hugo Banzer of Bolivia attended the SOA in 1956! (Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” become his first #1 hit)

Even the Salvadoran soldiers involved in the UCA murders in El Salvador attended thirty or so years ago.

Certainly, the SOA absolutely and fairly should be criticized for its ties to these men, and for its role in shaping them in terms of tactics and ideology. Yet the SOA is not just in the past; it continues to teach, train, and play a role in teh political formation of officers throughout Latin America. Bringing up Rios Montt and Noriega time and again does little-to-nothing to help us understand the current status, function, and diffused impact of WHINSEC in the hemisphere. Revealing the names in a responsible fashion means that the Latin American countries and activists throughout the hemisphere can know what their own military’s ties to WHINSEC are, in turn providing important public checks and balances on the authority of those who train at WHINSEC and who all too often in the past operated with impunity.

About Colin M. Snider

I have a Ph.D. in history, specializing in Latin American History and Comparative Indigenous History. My dissertation focused on Brazil. Beyond Latin America generally, I'm particularly interested in class identities, military politics, human rights, labor, education, music, and nation. I can be found on Twitter at @ColinMSnider.
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