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Students to protest against suspected terrorist camps

Several BGSU students along with members of St. Thomas More University Parish will travel to protest and pray for victims of what they say is a U.S. Army terrorist training camp. The group will travel later this month to Georgia to peacefully demonstrate against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

WHINSEC’s stated purpose is to provide education and training for civilians, law enforcement and military to “enforce democratic principles, respect for human rights” and peace for nations in the Western Hemisphere, according to Congressional approved legislation.

But the School of the Americas Watch thinks WHINSEC has a different motive.

A SOA Watch flyer distributed at the church reported the purpose of WHINSEC “is to control the economic and political systems of Latin America” by training Latin American militaries to become assassins, dictators and death squad leaders.

“Countries with the worst human rights record have consistently sent the most soldiers to be trained at WHINSEC,” the flyer reported.

SOA Watch accuses the 64,000 trained Latin America soldiers to have violated human rights on several occasions – Bolivia during the reign of General Banzer, Nicaragua during the Somoza dictatorship and El Salvador during a bloody repression and currently Colombia.

WHINSEC failed to respond to The BG News after several attempts to reach the institution by deadline.

A movie shown at a SOA Watch meeting last Thursday showed several people testifying on their encounters with WHINSEC, most of which were negative.

SOA Watch has also accused WHINSEC graduates of preventing the formation of unions and public oppositions to Latin American governments.

Erin Battistoni, social justice educator for the church, said WHINSEC does not help to promote democracy, and the U.S. Army has the wrong solution.

“We are not there to protest the U.S. Army, we are there to protest U.S. foreign policy,” Battistoni said.

Battistoni will be traveling to protest WHINSEC with four students from the University – Tom Brennan, Vanessa Garlock, Cara Hanson and Kathryn Tucker.

Hanson, freshman, said she is joining the protest to show her support of the SOA Watch movement to close WHINSEC.

“This injustice is horrible,” she said. “It is only fair [that] the people who have lost their lives get three days of prayer dedicated to them.”

Every year more people are joining the prayer vigil and protest. Last year, the bus traveling to the protest for the Northwest region had 26 people compared to this year’s 46. This increase in participation has grown every year to peacefully protest WHINSEC, which is located at Fort Benning. Battistoni credits the increase to successful awareness campaigns.

This year marks the 15-year anniversary of the first protest against the camp. The first year of the protest less than 300 people joined compared to the 15,000 people last year.

The school’s motto is “Libertad, Paz y Fraternidad,” which means freedom, peace and brotherhood. It is apparent with the increased protesters that many see the school as doing the exact opposite of their motto, Battistoni said.

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