Record crowd calls for US military school closure

American missionary, Fr Roy Bourgeois, led up to 22,000 demonstrators in a protest against human right abuses by graduates of a US military training school for the Americas, which included the killing of six El Salvador Jesuits in 1989.

The Houston Chronicle reports that thousands of demonstrators paraded, chanted and raised white crosses on Sunday outside Fort Benning, Georgia, as they continued a 17-year-long effort to close a military school they blame for human rights abuses in Latin America.

The army's School of the Americas (SAO) moved to Fort Benning from Panama in 1984 and was replaced in 2001 by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The school trains Latin American soldiers, police and government officials.

"This is about men with guns," said the Fr Bourgeois, a Catholic priest who spent five years as a missionary in Bolivia and founded the group SOA Watch in 1990 in the effort to close the school.

"People of these countries are hungry," said Fr Bourgeois, a naval officer during the Vietnam War. "You can't eat guns. You can't eat bullets. They want food ... medicine. They need schools for their children."

Sixteen demonstrators, including two grandmothers, who braved chain-link and razor wire fences, were arrested for trespassing on military property. Each could face up to six months in a federal prison and a fine.

Among the demonstrators were toddlers led or carried by their parents, senior citizens, Catholic nuns and priests, and military veterans.

Others included members of a group called 1,000 Grandmothers and a civil rights group known as "Living the Dream," dedicated to the Rev Martin Luther King Jr's dream of a unified, nonviolent world.

The demonstrations are timed to commemorate six Jesuit priests who were killed along with their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador on 19 November 1989. Some of the killers had attended the School.

The US army has acknowledged that some graduates committed crimes after attending the former School but says no cause-and-effect relationship has been proved.

Thousands protest Ga. military school (Houston Chronicle, 19/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Western Hemisphere Institute
SOA Watch
1000 grandmothers
In Solidarity at the School of the Americas - Resources (National Catholic Reporter)
Fr Roy Bourgeois (Wikipedia)
El Salvador Martyrs, 10th Anniversary, Creighton University
Jesuit Portal

El Salvador ex-solder convicted in Jesuit murders arrested in US (CathNews, 27/10/06)
Archbishop slams ruling on Jesuit murder enquiry (CathNews, 10/4/00)

21 Nov 2006