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Franciscans to protest School of Americas

SOA Watch is designed to work in solidarity with the people of Latin America and the Caribbean to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas, under whatever name it is called.

The organization has worked to close the SOA through vigils, fasts, demonstrations and nonviolent protests, as well as media and legislative work.

School of the Americas changed its name to Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC or WHINSEC) in 2001.

The SOA was established in Panama in 1946 as a way to help promote stability in the region. SOA was removed from Panama in 1984 under terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. It now is located at Ft. Benning U.S. Army base in Columbus, Georgia.

Sister Jackie Doepker has been working with SOA Watch. She said the School of the Americas first came to her attention in 1993 while she was working with refugees from Central America.

During SOA's history, it has trained more than 60,000 Latin American troops, 900-2,000 soldiers each year. She said many of these soldiers have been responsible for human rights violations. Officers responsible for human right violations also were trained by the SOA, she said.

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SOA Watch events are to take place Oct. 9, on the campus of St. Francis Home, 190 St. Francis Ave.

* Screening of "The Empire's War on the Border" at 1 p.m. in the St. Francis Spirituality Center.

* Prayer service at 6 p.m. in the St. Francis Convent Chapel.

She said the graduates of SOA/WHISC have used skills in counter-insurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics against Latin Americans. These people have been tortured, raped, assassinated, disappeared, massacred and forced into refuge, she said.

She cited SOA-trained officers being involved in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romera; the assassinations of four North American church women; the assassination of the six Jesuits and two co-workers and the massacre of more than 800 civilians at El Mozote, which included more than 300 children.

Reports by the United Nations on other Latin American countries, as well as studies by other organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have reported similar results, Doepker said.

Doepker said, "I heard these stories about the people affected and this put a face to a name that I couldn't ignore. We are working to change the system and change how we do things."

"Central America is still suffering," Doepker said. "It is important for us to do whatever we can."

SOA Watch has moved its annual convergence this fall from Ft. Benning to the U.S./Mexico border. The Border Convergence takes place Oct. 7-9.

At 1 p.m. Oct. 9, the Tiffin Franciscans are to host a screening of the film, "The Empire's War on the Border," in the St. Francis Spirituality Center; followed by a prayer service at St. Francis Convent Chapel at 6 p.m.

"It is important for people to see what is going on and become more knowledgeable and have more of an understanding of the role of the U.S.," Doepker said.

Doepker's goal is to continue to promote non-violence.

"War and violence are not the answer," Doepler said. "I hope to leave the world a better place and to spread love and joy."

For more information about the SOA Watch movement, visit

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