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Students travel to SOA protest

Liz O'Donnell | Monday, November 23, 2009

Several Notre Dame students traveled to Fort Benning, Ga., this weekend to participate in watchdog group School of the Americas Watch’s “Mass Mobilization to Shut Down the School of the Americas” protest.

The School of the Americas (SAO) was a United States Army training facility that was founded in 1946 for Spanish-speaking cadets and officers from Latin American nations.

Many graduates of the school were suspected of human rights violations, which ultimately lead to the renaming of the school to its current name, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

According to the SOA Watch’s Web site, the organization was founded in 1990 after soldiers trained at the School of the Americas killed six Jesuit priests along with two other people in El Salvador.

Notre Dame senior Alicia Quiros, who attended the protest, said she disagreed with the mission of WHINSEC.

“In general we go because we don’t agree with the fact that our country and our tax dollars are going to … the training of torture tactics and wars,” she said.

With the recent military coup in Honduras over the summer, Quiros said their attendance at the protests is even more important.

“We’re going down (to Georgia) and making our statement and position clear in this matter,” she said. “The military coup that happened in Honduras was played out by military people from the school.”

According to the WHINSEC Web site, they are “In support of the mandate from Congress, we have formulated and implemented a democracy, ethics, and human rights training program that is the most thorough offered by any military educational institution in this hemisphere.”

Quiros said she doesn’t believe those claims.

“Even though (WHINSEC) claim they’re teaching human rights, we know their not really doing that,” she said.

Quiros said she became involved in the protests as a freshman after coming to the school with an interest in social justice.

“I became interested in the politics of Latin America and I met a group of people who talked a lot about this school training students to go back to their countries,” she said.

While she only became involved as a Notre Dame student, she said many of the people she’s met at Notre Dame who are involved in the protests have been involved with the project for a long time.

“Most people would go with their high schools, the people who came to Notre Dame shared with those of us who had never heard that side of it,” Quiros said.

The group had multiple meetings before they left campus on Friday morning to drive to Georgia for the protest.

“We all got together in a couple of different meetings and group discussions where we would talk about what the history is, presence in our country and Latin America, and what they are doing today,” she said.