IRTF vigil calls for closing of School of the Americas

(Plain Press, December 2006) Seventy-five people gathered at North Presbyterian Church at E. 40th and Superior on Sunday, November 19th for an Inter Religious Task Force on Central America (IRTF) vigil to close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).  

WHINSEC, formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas, is a training facility for Latin American soldiers, sponsored by the U.S. government. Graduates of the School of the Americans, trained in torture techniques, have participated in rape, torture and murder in their home countries. Among the deaths attributed to graduates of the school are six Roman Catholic Jesuit priests murdered in El Salvador in 1989. Vigils and protests outside the facility began in 1990 on the first anniversary of the deaths of the Jesuit priests.

Those at the IRTF vigil joined in spirit with 110 Clevelanders who left Cleveland by bus on Friday November 17th to join with thousands of people across the country to protest at the gates of the training facility in Fort Benning, Georgia.  The Inter Religious Task Force on Central America was formed in Cleveland after the 1980 execution style slaying of four United States religious women in El Salvador by U.S. trained soldiers. Two of the religious women were from Cleveland.

David Quintana, the guest speaker at the IRTF vigil, was himself a victim of torture by a Latin American government. Quintana, a copper miner in Chile, a union member and a member of the Chilean Socialist Party, was arrested and tortured by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The dictator Pinochet assumed power in 1973 when Chile’s elected President Salvador Allende was killed in a military coupe backed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency.

With help from the Lutheran Church, Quintana came to Cleveland. Quintana currently is a staff member of the Cleveland Mediation Center.

Quintana talked about the impact of torture on the lives of Chileans. He said torturers often threaten bodily harm or rape of family members of their prisoners. He said 800 people in Chile disappeared. Their bodies have never been found. “The reason I am here today is I don’t want my grandchildren to be living in a world with repression and torture,” said Quintana.

Quintana noted the School of Americas teaches people to kill people and spreads the philosophy of torture and killing. “We invite soldiers here from Central and South America and they go home and teach more. If we eliminate the place where we create the problem, we eliminate the problem,” said Quintana.

 “We are never going to achieve peace if we keep open a place like the School of Americas,” said Quintana. “If we concentrate and close such an establishment we can develop a better life not only for people in Central and South America but also for people in this country by developing a system where our voice really counts,” said Quintana.

After Quintana’s speech those present at the vigil wrote letters to the State of Ohio’s newly elected United States Senator Sherrod Brown urging him to introduce legislation in the Senate to close the School the School of the Americans. According to the IRTF, the School of the Americas has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers since its inception in 1946. Legislation to close the school has already been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Inter Religious Task Force on Central America is located at 3606 Bridge Avenue on the Near West Side of Cleveland. For more information about the group visit their website at www.irtfcleveland.org.

 

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