The School of the Americas (SOA), now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), located in Fort Benning, Ga., is a U.S. Army combat training school. The facility trains Latin American military in “anti-insurgency” tactics. For decades, numerous SOA graduates have been linked directly by the United Nations and human rights groups to the torture and massacre of their own people when they return home. The training school is supported by United States tax dollars.
SOA Watch is a large grassroots organization committed to closing the SOA and changing U.S. policy in Latin America through vigils and fasts, demonstrations and non-violent protests, as well as media and legislative work. Sisters of Providence have worked with SOA Watch for many years, and the congregation has an active presence at the yearly vigil that SOA Watch hosts at the gates of Fort Benning each November. (To learn more about SOA Watch, visit them at www.soaw.org.)
Several Sisters of Providence have chosen to take direct action in protest of SOA/WHINSEC, facing legal repercussions for crossing onto federal property at Fort Benning. Sisters have also traveled to Nicaragua, Colombia, Haiti and Guatemala where they have learned about the attacks by the military on people in those countries. In November 2008, Sister Kathleen Desautels was part of an SOA Watch delegation to Chile which sought to persuade the Chilean government to stop sending their military personnel to the school.