Caldera and the School of the Americas
During Caldera’s term as Secretary of the Army he presided over the name change (read whitewash) of the School of the Americas.
Now lets give a little background history of the SOA. The School of the Americas has long been campaigned against by activists for being a tool of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America responsible for vast human rights abuses. The most prominent is Roy Bourgeois, who operates School of the Americas Watch, and who has been arrested for many anti-SOA actions.
The School of the Americas was founded in 1946 when it opened in Panama at Fort Gullick, in the Atlantic region off the coast of Panama, then under U.S. colonial control. It moved in 1984 under provisions of the Panama Canal Treaty and found a new home in Ft. Benning Georgia. It trained over 60,000 soldiers and police from 22 countries in Latin America. Its graduates have included dictators and death squad leaders, such as Manuel Noriega, Raoul Cedras of Haiti, and Roberto D’Aubuisson of El Salvador. Other graduates have been linked to heinous crimes. For instance in 1989 six Jesuit priests were killed in El Salvador, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, on orders from the government. 19 of the 26 officers involved in the killing were trained at the SOA. Several other crimes in El Salvador and other countries have been documented to show that many of the perpetrators were School of the Americas graduates.
Check out this film for a good overview of the School of Assassins:
and go to School of the Americas Watch (www.soaw.org), run by Roy Bourgeois (an awesome guy) for more detailed info on the SOA and the latest news.
The opposition to the school has been so great it had some showdowns in Congress a few times. A handful of Democrats have voiced opposition to the School of the Americas. It narrowly survived a vote to cut its funding in 2000, coming ahead at 214 to 204. This was the year Caldera was serving as secretary of the Army. The vote that year was preceded by lobbying from the Clinton Administration, the Pentagon, and the U.S. Army.
So what is Caldera to do about this institution having a reputation of graduating killers of poor people in Latin America? Give it a makeover.
Caldera’s plan included the following: More civilians as students, dropping some military courses and adding other academic courses, and changing its name and mission statement. The school would get a new charter, new curriculum, and a new name.
He said at different times that it was not a concession to critics and that it also was a concession to critics of the school. As seen the House narrowly saved the school from being defunded. The opposition to the school meant that it had to change to survive.
The school would broaden the student body to include civilian government officials and more law enforcement. They say they want to bring a “different perspective to security issues. This lines up with a change in mission in the post-Cold War era, including drug trafficking, organized crime, and other insurgencies. Yet it would still target the people of Latin America like it always has.
They would also change the curriculum. Caldera said the reputation of the school was tarnished by its opponents, but nevertheless he implemented a plan to make the school less military and more academic, at least on the surface. They would drop some classes on commando tactics, but still keep many. They would add classes on democracy and human rights, international law, military justice, and other like subjects. Of course this will not change anything, for many graduates accused of crimes took these weak human rights courses. These courses were offered before at the SOA and rarely attended in comparison to the military courses. In response to past outcry there was a mandatory 8 hours of human rights courses, increased from 4 hours before, but still hardly adequate in terms of the subject. America is hardly in a position to teach any nation about human rights anyway. And if they canceled the commando courses hardly any soldiers would come to the school.
And finally, the name would change. The suggested names included the Center for Inter-American Security Cooperation and the Defense Institute for Hemisperic Security Cooperation. They finally settled on the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation. It closed and opened with its new name in January 2001. Many people saw the change as cosmetic. As SOA Watch put it, new name, same shame.
Some of the changes done by Caldera include the governing authority. It created a advisory board of visitors, but it is a handpicked body of proponents that gives no independent oversight of the school. The authority over the school itself would change on paper from the Secretary of the Army to the Secretary of Defense. But already the Secretary of the Army is under the Direction of the Secretary of Defense, and the new change simply authorizes the DOD to appoint an executive agent to run the school, which is the Army or another department.
Overall the changes Caldera proposed and were implemented were cosmetic and nothing substantial. (http://www.soaw.org/about-the-soawhinsec/what-is-the-soawhinsec) The biggest thing that changed was its name.
Louis Caldera on the School of the Americas:
-”We are not doing this to capitulate to our critics in any way. We have a new vision on how to meet the needs of the nation in this post-Cold War era.”
-“The accusations that we teach torture or condone torture are absolutely false and the campaign against the school …(has) slurred the good name of the school and the U.S. Army and our soldiers who did so much to help bring democracy to Latin America.”
-“I thought it would be a mistake to close the school down, because that would be turning our backs on the countries of Latin America.”
-”Some of you and your representatives in Congress could not even abide by the name of this School of the Americas itself and said that no amount of reform of this institution could ever redeem it in your eyes. Today you can rejoice that the school is closed.”
-“Do you truly believe that an American school of our U.S. armed forces located on American soil would not reflect our most deeply held values?”
-“Any soldier in Latin America who had even the most remote connection to the School of the Americas, who has ever committed a human rights violation, did so in spite of the training they received at the School of the Americas and not because of it.”
As seen Caldera defended the reputation of the school to the very end. A school that was responsible for training Latinos to kill other Latinos. Ironic in that the Hispanic Round Table endorsed him in the end because he was a Latino and would supposedly advance Latino interests. As seen in this case his actions themselves served against the broader interests of Latinos. Caldera’s career in the Army was about being subsurvient to imperialism and militarism, as in this case with the SOA.
We will see later how he was also involved in the whitewashing of No Gun Ri, and his involvement in the campaign to bring more Latinos into the Army.
Jelinek, Pauline. “School of the Americas Plans Changes.” Associated Press. November 19, 1999.
Myers, Steven Lee. “Army Training School to Rise Again, Recast but Unmoved.” New York Times. May 20, 2000. Pg. A10.
“School of the Americas Closes; Critics Called Facility a Training Ground for Latin Despots.” Washington Post. December 17, 2000. Pg. A11