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Peaceful people demand facility closing

Sister Rita Clare Gerardot hands out materials about Saint Mother Theodore Guerin at the Nov 22, 2008 rally at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia.

Note: The following article was written by Sister of Providence Rita Clare Gerardot, who is an activist for peace and who participates in work to close the School of the Americas.

Have you ever heard of the School of the Americas? If not, you’re not alone!

This school, funded by U.S. tax dollars, has been located at Fort Benning, Ga., since 1984, and exists under the pretense of bringing stability to Latin American countries. Father Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest, who organizes opposition to the School of the Americas said, “Historically, the militaries of Latin America have been and continue to be used to defend the socio-economic system which has kept the rich, rich, and the poor, poor. These soldiers have played a vital role in providing muscle for U.S. economic policy, which exploits the poor through large corporations. Over the years, it has trained over 60,000 soldiers.”

Each November, thousands gather for a peaceful protest at Fort Benning. This past November’s gathering was the largest ever — about 19,000 people from all walks of life and of all ages. What prompts all these people to travel great distances, at considerable expense and with many inconveniences? The goal is to get members of Congress to close the school and have it inspected. The SOA, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), gives lip service only to teaching democratic principles. The SOA training manuals (written in Spanish) recommend interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail and arresting the relatives of those being questioned.

Through the years, a group of Sisters of Providence and associates have traveled to Fort Benning in mid-November. This gathering each year commemorates the death of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter.

Those of us who are committed to closing the SOA/WHINSEC have taken every opportunity to speak to small and large groups. Our presentations include a panel of 4-8 people and the showing of the video, “Guns and Greed.” In March 2005 we addressed a group at St. Luke Parish in Indianapolis; in January 2006 we spoke at St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis. Val and Ed Fillenwarth, members of St. Lawrence parish, arranged both of these sessions. The latter gathering was an ecumenical hosting by the two churches — St. Lawrence and the Church of the Brethren.

When the question and answer period arrived at St. Lawrence, a gentleman asked to come to the microphone. His was not a question but a prepared statement refuting much of what the panelists had presented. When he finished his lengthy statement, he invited one of his colleagues (a former commander at SOA/WHINSEC) to the podium. The audience was agitated as they had questions they wished to present. Several women had some excellent rebuttal statements for the two men who were defending the SOA/WHINSEC. The U.S. Army has an intricate plan to fight off criticism of the SOA/WHINSEC called “Strategic Communications Campaign Plan.” It’s an ongoing public relations effort on the part of the Army to counter negative publicity about the Fort Benning, Ga., combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Many of the school’s graduates have been implicated in human rights abuses throughout Latin America. Among other things, the plan called for extensive monitoring of news coverage of the school, as well as monitoring the travel schedule of Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois. Father Bourgeois, who has lectured in 44 states and abroad, said he has heard from people who hosted his talks that Army representatives asking for equal time contacted some. The gentleman who asked to use the podium at St. Lawrence used these same words. He wanted “equal time.”

Our closing appeal at St. Lawrence Parish was to urge the participants to send postcards (which we had available) to their legislators asking them to co-sponsor HR 1217 which would close the school for inspection. For more information visit www.soaw.org.

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Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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