Add Nicaragua to the list of countries no longer sending soldiers for training to a U.S. Army school in Georgia.
School of the Americas Watch reported that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega decided to end his country’s participation in the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas.
The institute trains troops in state-of-the-art security practices and provides human rights education.
A delegation of SOA Watch activists, including founder Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, met with Ortega this week to push for the withdrawal. The organization announced Ortega’s decision Sept. 6.
SOA Watch was founded in 1990 to call for the school’s closing amid claims that the U.S. Army officials teach the Latin American soldiers tactics to suppress civilians. The effort began a year after the army in El Salvador murdered six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America in San Salvador.
“We’re very encouraged. This has energized our movement,” Father Bourgeois told Catholic News Service this morning from his home just outside the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., WHINSEC’s home.
“To have Daniel Ortega … say that Nicaragua will not participate in the future is a big deal,” Father Bourgeois said.
Nicaragua joins Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela in withdrawing from the school.
Lee A. Rials, WHINSEC public affairs officer, downplayed the announcement.
“It’s a choice the country made and they can choose what they like to do,” Rials told CNS this morning.
He said Nicaragua’s involvement in the school had dwindled in recent years — sending just a few trainees during fiscal year 2011 and none in 2012 — and will have little impact on the school.
“It’s not at all significant in the fact that we have this year more students than we’ve ever had before (at more than 2,200),” Rials said.” I think throughout the hemisphere we’re pretty well known for what we offer and what people gain by coming here.”
Rials attributed the decision to an apparent change in leadership of the Nicaraguan army, saying that just a few years ago the top military leader in the Central American nation told a visiting WHINSEC official “we need this school.”
SOA Watch activists plan to continue visiting officials in other nations. Next on tap, Father Bourgeois said, are Brazil and Peru.