Tuesday, June 20, 2006

U.S. Congress Continues Funding Intervention in Latin America through the SOA and the ILEA-South - Written by Christine Raine

In early June U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick had the nerve to speak publicly against "interventionism" in Latin America at a meeting of the Organization of American States in the Dominican Republic.

Ironically, a few days later the U.S. Congress voted to continue supporting military intervention in Latin America by rejecting an amendment put forth by Rep. McGovern which would have excluded funding for the infamous School of the Americas (SOA) as part of the annual Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. For most Latin Americans, institutions like the SOA – a U.S. military training school known for training dictators and counterinsurgent forces that carried out brutal massacres in Latin America during the 70s and 80s – constitute a direct intervention to their country’s internal affairs. SOA graduates were responsible for the El Mozote massacre of 900 civilians, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the killing of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador, along with countless other human rights abuses.
188 representatives voted in favor of shutting down the SOA, a positive step towards preventing Washington’s intervention in the hemisphere. As we continue the movement to close the SOA, our elected officials must also take note of new "law enforcement" institutions that the United States government is funding throughout the world. In this year’s Foreign Operations bill $16.2 million was granted to fund International Law Enforcement Academies (ILEAs) around the globe for "police training programs and activities".

Included in that budget was funding for a new "ILEA-South" in El Salvador. The choice to fund this new ILEA branch in El Salvador was made without any debate in the U.S. Congress. In fact, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced this decision at an OAS meeting last year, no one in Congress had been briefed about the decision. In a similar fashion, the proposal was passed unconstitutionally in El Salvador where international agreements usually need a 2/3 majority in El Salvador’s National Assembly. Nor was the agreement disclosed to the public – indeed, right-wing government officials must have suspected (and rightfully so!) that most Salvadorans would fervently oppose the presence of a U.S. funded law enforcement academy in their country.

Do our Congressional Representatives know that the ILEA-South had initially been proposed to be built in Costa Rica, but was rejected when the U.S. government refused to guarantee the exclusion of military personnel? Do they know that El Salvador already hosts a U.S. military base, an FBI office and an Interpol office and is the second largest recipient of military "aid" in the hemisphere? Do they know that in light of El Salvador’s 12 year war, in which Washington contributed $1.5 million a day in support of brutal military forces, the 1992 Peace Accords explicitly prescribe the separation of police and military forces? With state-led torture and repression towards social activists on the rise, the ILEA would surely worsen the blurred separation between military and police forces. It’s ironic that while Congress was approving funding for unpopular police and military training programs, Mr. Zoellick was off in Latin America denouncing "interventionism". Perhaps his boss Condoleezza forgot to tell him about the ILEA.

Promoting "law enforcement" overseas comes at a controversial time for our government, but these days it seems everything is fair in the "war or terrorism" abroad. The question of whether to fund institutions such as the SOA and the ILEA-South should not even be a debate, especially with the growing public understanding of the abysmal human rights record of U.S. military forces around the world. Yet it is, making it necessary for U.S. citizens to take action against the policies of their government abroad, not just in Iraq but much closer to home, in Latin America.

The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) has begun a campaign to stop funding for this new ILEA in El Salvador. For more information on how to get involved go to www.cispes.org.