Human Rights Abuses are Nothing New

July 12, 2011

Ryan Murphy, Columban Volunteer

During my 27 months of service in Honduras, I witnessed the June 28, 2009 coup of the democratically elected President Mel Zelaya and the aftermath that followed.  Two years ago, as I traveled in Honduras from San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa (the Capital), I had no idea my experiences would have a lasting effect on me. Along with all other males, I myself was pulled off of buses several times by armed soldiers. The purpose was to harass travelers in order to prevent further protest against the forced evacuation of the President. By the time I arrived in Tegucigalpa, the military had opened fire on protesters, killing two teenagers. I heard many accounts of intimidation of the media, oppression of civilians and their civil liberty. My fellow missioners and I were forced to contemplate how committed we were to serve and if we would stay through a civil war.

Unfortunately, coups and human rights abuses are nothing new in Central America. Before I embarked on my journey, I was well aware that Latin America had been the battlefields of the Cold War. What I did not know was the extent that the U.S. trained ruthless military officers.

When I went to Guatemala for language school, I met a peasant who defended his village against the government and death squads. In El Salvador, I visited the chapel where Monsignor Oscar Romero was assassinated while consecrating the Eucharist. I toured the memorials of civilians massacred in Nicaragua and I witnessed the coup in Honduras. What all these atrocities have in common, is that the military officers that committed these crimes against humanity, were trained with our tax dollars (at a cost of 18 million dollar per year), on American soil, by US military personal. The School of the Americas, now known as Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Corporation, continues to operate and equip foreign militaries with capabilities to abuse their own people. Once a Cold War strategy to prevent the “spread of communism,” now the US has no way to hold former SOA graduates accountable for misuse of training. Since 1946, the US has trained 64,000 Latin American military officers, including notorious graduates like Noriega or Pinochet’s commanding staff of the DINA (the secret police).

In the 65 years of existences, the countless victims of SOA graduates have pleaded with God, prayers reminiscent of Psalm 140:1-2, “Rescue me, LORD, from evildoers; protect me from the violent, who devise evil plans in their hearts and stir up war every day.”  As Columban advocates, summer intern Dylan Knaggs and myself, lobbied Representatives of Columban mission sites to sign a dear colleague letter. The letter would demand President Obama use an executive order to immediately close SOA/WHINSEC. At CCAO, we understand our duty to “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Romans 14:19).” Just as Jesus proclaimed in the Gospel of Luke, “No more of this,” as he healed the ear of the man that came to take lead him to his death. We must likewise, condemn excessive violence and heal the wounds we have inflicted on others. There is always redemption for poor decision or actions but to receive Gods grace we must turn away from the evil practices. We invite you to add your voice to the thousands of others who have called for a permanent closure of the SOA/WHINSEC by following our action alert here:

http://columban.org/8983/columban-center-for-advocacy-and-outreach/school-of-the-americas/