Fewer people attended SOA Watch protest this year - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Fewer people attended SOA Watch protest this year

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FORT BENNING, GA (WTVM) -

The School of Americas shut down nearly 13 years ago after much debate and years of protests from critics.

They claim the school is a training ground for Latin American soldiers to become mass killers. SOA closed in December of 2000, but reopened as WHINSEC, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in January 2001.

The SOA watch group said it still was not enough, and the protestors refused to stand for a name change only.

Although WHINSEC is different from School of Americas in some aspects, the founder of School of Americas Watch, Roy Bourgeois, explained that the protestors will not stop until the program and school shuts down completely.

"We are not asking for the military to shut down. We have veterans and heroes who did so much for our country," Bourgeois said. "We want WHINSEC to shut down. It trains Latin American soldiers to hurt their own people when they return to their countries."

Francisco Herrera helped Bourgeois with the SOA protest 23 years ago when it first begin. He performs music to tell the dangerous story of SOA and WHINSEC. Herrera calls himself a cultural worker and visits Columbus every November to help with the protest.

"Our tax dollars are the ones funding torture, dictatorship all through Latin America," Herrera said.

"I had some family members who were murdered in Mexico because of the School of Americas," Herrera recalled. "The pain lasts life time, and I want my music to reach large audience to send out this message."

SOA Watch saw fewer attendees at their protest on their 23rd anniversary. Bourgeois said there were about 2,000 people at the event.

"Many might think that the trouble is over because SOA shut down almost 13 years ago," Bourgeois explained. "But it is not. IT's the same shame, and WHINSEC is connected to suffering and death among the people of country…especially El Salvador and Guatemala."

Betsy Schmitz from Loras Collage in Dubuque, Iowa attended SOA Protest for three consecutive years. She said the program sparked her passion to join other volunteer programs.

"It's not protesting the military, but it's just about closing the school," Schmitz said. "There are a lot of countries that have backed out of schools of America, and that is a huge success."

The members of SOA Watch said that they will come back again next year to protest in front of the Stone Gates of Fort Benning.

"We won't stop until WHINSEC closes down," Bourgeois said.

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