SOA Watch protests WHINSEC at Fort Benning - Local news, weather, sports Savannah | WSAV On Your Side

SOA Watch protests WHINSEC at Fort Benning

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COLUMBUS, Ga. -

Once again, thousands of people gathered outside Fort Benning Saturday for the annual School of the Americas Watch protest. The group is calling for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC. The group claims the school has caused thousands of needless deaths in Latin American countries.

For the 23rd straight year, crowds gathered at Fort Benning taking a moment of silence, and kept outside of the post by security gates to protest the training of foreign soldiers which the group claims has led to genocide in several Latin American countries.

"To think that the training is here in America, and our tax dollars go to something like this. It's just an injustice that we're supporting and a lot of people don't even know that they're supporting it," said JeNay Smith.

The School of the Americas was founded in 1946 but closed in the year 2000 reopening under a new name, WHINSEC, in 2001. Since its resurgence, representatives say the school teaches professional education and leadership development.

"We teach according to U.S. doctrine. We teach information legally, morally, and ethically," said Lee Rials, public affairs at WHINSEC.

But the opposition said they're not buying it.

"You don't teach democracy behind the barrel of a gun. You don't teach democracy behind a fence that says no trespassing," said Roy Bourgeois, founder of the SOA Watch.

The consequences for crossing the gate is a fine or imprisonment but many at the protest are willing to take that risk. Nashua Chantal has been arrested 2 times for crossing over the fence into Fort Benning, but he said it's necessary to promote their message.

"They dig deeper. As well our stories reach around the world and this is why we do it," said Chantal.

Rials at WHINSEC said the school isn't hiding anything and is always open to visit. He said the goal of the program is simple.

"The openness, transparency, and development of relationship both with the U.S. and among countries that are there," said Rials.

The SOA Watch will continue to protest at Fort Benning until WHISEC is closed. Sunday, they will participate in a mock funeral procession to commemorate what they call the victims of U.S. militarism.

Naomi Keitt

Naomi Keitt focuses on education reporting for WRBL News 3. More>>

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