We Can Win; Now When We Take a Stand for Human Rights It Means More. . .
By Eric LeCompte

Celina Ramos was fourteen years old when a Salvadoran death squad murdered her, her mother and six Jesuit Priests - professors at the University of Central America - in November of 1989. The death squads were trying to send a message of fear to those who would raise their voices against the military in El Salvador. The soldiers responsible for these horrendous murders were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA), based at Fort Benning, Georgia.

In November of 1990 a group of 10 people - Salvadorans, U.S. veterans and religious leaders gathered at the gates of Fort Benning and fasted to close the school that caused the death of Celina, her mom and the Jesuits. Every November, the number grew, first by hundreds and then by thousands. Last year over 16,000 people gathered and this year even more will gather at the gates as we celebrate 15 years of work to close this undemocratic institution.

YOU are needed at the gates of Fort Benning this November, and this year your body in front of those gates will mean more than ever before. This year is different than other years when we have gathered to end the violence because our legislation is pending in Congress - and we have MORE than a fighting chance to win. As soon as this spring, Congress will vote on whether or not they should close the School of the Americas and we have more Republican support than ever before. With the political climate rapidly leaning in our favor we believe we are close with the votes we need on HR 1217, our bill to close the SOA. Additionally - due to the work that many of you have done, we already have 122 co-sponsors on our bill to close this infamous school. We only need 150 co-sponsors to set the stage for a victory.

When we gather at the gates this year stronger than ever - we say we are not afraid and we send a message to this Congress that they must close this school down when they vote in the months after our vigil. This year is different, and it will take all of us, to vote with our feet by standing outside the gates of Fort Benning, November 18-20, 2005. We will not let Celina's death go unchallenged.

Our tax dollars funded the arming and training of the soldiers who killed Celina Ramos, her mother and six priests. The graduates of this school have been found responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people throughout the Americas. We've even found out that the school is still training known human rights abusers like Francisco Del Cid Diaz, who was back at the school in 2003 after being found responsible for the beating and execution of 16 people in the 1980s.

We've seen the school's infamous torture manuals that instructed SOA graduates to target union organizers and human rights advocates. We see the graduates bust unions organizing workers in U.S. corporate supported sweatshops in Mexico and see the graduates protecting the profitable oil pipelines of Colombia. Consistently the graduates are seen protecting the interests of the rich and attempting to instill fear in those who oppose the economic status quo.

In spite of the terror and policy of fear, our world is changing and in much of Latin America corrupt regimes are falling, and brothers and sisters are in the street singing songs of victory and building the world they knew was possible. Your presence at the gates signifies your membership in the greatest global struggle of our time.

We need YOU to bring your friends, parents, sisters and brothers, children and co-workers to transform a site of violence into a site of memory and community. If you've been to the gates before, you know that it is a life changing experience. The more people that you bring with you to the gates will be more people who are set on the road that journeys toward justice and freedom.

It is our time to be unafraid, to stand and be counted. This is the year of the vote to close the SOA. This is the time that we join in one global movement against war and for justice. This November is the moment that we choose to make our stand to say No to torture, No to violence and YES to the world that, with our hands joined, we are building.


(Eric LeCompte is the Event Coordinator for SOA Watch and the former National Council Chair for Pax Christi USA. He is a member of the Assisi Community in Washington DC where he lives with his partner Kate and son, Jonah. To make your plans to join us at the gates this November 18th through the 20th visit www.SOAW.org.)