Students take part in annual Army Institute protest

Institute under public scrutiny for turning out soldiers who have committed human rights abuses | November 21, 2005

More than three dozen students, as well as several staff members, headed to Columbus, Ga., on Friday, Nov. 18, to protest the U.S. Army’s Western Hemispheric Institute for Security and Cooperation (WHINSEC). A group from Xavier has taken part in this protest every year since 1997.

The institute, formerly known as the School of the Americas, is under public scrutiny for its history of training Latin American soldiers who have committed human rights abuses in their countries.

Of particular importance to the Xavier students is the killing of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the Universidad de Centroamerica, a Jesuit university in El Salvador, on Nov. 16, 1989. Of the 26 members of the Atlacatl battalion of Salvadoran soldiers responsible for these murders, 19 were graduates of the School of the Americas. The protest is held each year on the weekend closest to the anniversary of the death of the Jesuits.

Members of the Xavier delegation toured the institute with U.S. Army Public Affairs Specialist Lee Rials. Voices of Solidarity arranged the tour to encourage more dialogue and discussion about the United States’ role in Latin America. Students had the opportunity to hear the perspective of the school's instructors and participate in a question-and-answer session.

While in Georgia, the students also took part in a national gathering of Jesuit university students known as the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. This event included speakers such as Sister Helen Prejean of Dead Man Walking fame, Charles Currie, S.J., president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts who has introduced a bill, “The Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2005,” which would suspend and investigate the training institute.

The Voices of Solidarity sponsored the trip with support from the student government association, peace and justice programs, mission and ministry, the Jesuit community, and the office of the dean of arts and sciences.