Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Members of Congress Call for WHINSEC Shut-Down


Under the coordination of Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and John Lewis (D-GA) a group of 69 congressmen, 2 Republicans and 67 Democrats, signed a letter sent to President Obama on Tuesday soliciting that he close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), the successor to the controversial U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA). The letter cites the economic benefits to closing the Institute and stresses the ‘problematic history and lack of transparency’ associated with its activities as justification for the shut-down.

The letter also makes note of the “history and legacy of WHINSEC” as “very problematic for broad sectors of Latin American civil society.” The School of the Americas was put in place by the United States in 1946 as part of a campaign to train Latin American militaries. After years of operations, criticisms of the school’s links to human rights violators in the region resulted in a bipartisan vote to close it in 1999. A year later however, the very next morning following the Pentagon shut-down of the facilities, WHINSEC was opened on the same site, under very similar operations. Then, in 2006, under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), all names and of students and faculty at the school were classified in a ‘rejection of public accountability and transparency.’

BBC Mundo reported on the story yesterday with commentary from the spokesman of SOA Watch, Hendrik Voss and a Public Relations representative from WHINSEC. SOA Watch has been working for years on a campaign to eliminate the School of the Americas (including its existence as WHINSEC) and serves as the main catalyst for the recent letter from congress. According to Voss, WHINSEC serves as tool for the U.S. Military through which they can ‘control the armies of Latin America and, in turn, their people, training soldiers to perform the Pentagon’s dirty work.’ In response to such accusations, WHINSEC argued that it is impossible to prove the connection between training that occurs at the school and the actions committed by soldiers after they leave.

The letter from Congress specifically addresses this issue in citing that WHINSEC “asserts…that is has neither the time nor the interest in following the activities or careers of its graduates of foreign faculty once they return to their own countries and institutional realities.” In response, the 69 congressional signers push for greater focus on pre-established in-country training institutions along with a transfer of responsibility to the countries themselves. It will be interesting to see if President Obama recognizes this recommendation as an opportunity to make a significant statement about U.S. commitment and support of human rights and rule of law.

News Briefs

  • El Paso has become a refuge for Mexican’s trying to flee the violence along the border, particularly in Ciudad Juárez. While it’s neighboring city is considered one of the world’s deadliest, local officials are promoting El Paso as one of the nation’s safest. According to the Miami Herald’s coverage of the story, a community of Mexican refugees has been steadily growing in El Paso since 2006, with more than 50,000 Juárez residents fleeing to El Paso over the last three years.

  • Marking the fourth week in a row security forces in Cuba have used physical force and violence to prevent women’s efforts to establish their right to protest. On Sunday, security forces barred a group of Ladies in White supporters from attending a Sunday church service, an opposition movement consisting of wives and relatives of jailed dissidents.

  • An Associated Press photographer released a collection of beautiful photographs taken with a vintage camera of Mayan women vying to become this years National Indigenous Queen of Guatemala.

  • Mexican President Felipe Calderon formally eliminated the “pocket veto,” which granted presidents the right to kill legislation by refusing to sign it, reports the AP.

  • David Rivera, a South Florida Republican Representative proposed a bill on Tuesday that would remove the adjusted state of Cubans in the U.S. if they return to visit the island before receiving U.S. citizenship, which usually takes five years. The bill is a response to complaints that Cubans are abusing the Cuban Adjustment Act, which allows them to take refuge in the U.S. and receive residency after one year and one day.

  • The CIA declassified more documents relating to the Bay of Pigs invasion, providing extensive details on measures taken by the U.S. to maintain ‘plausible denial.’

  • Venezuela’s government announced yesterday that private hospitals will temporarily freeze their fees, in an effort to buy officials more time to solve the nation’s rising health care costs and increase access to the poor. Inflation in Venezuela is at 25.1%, the highest in Latin America currently.

  • According to the Wall Street Journal, Mexican drug cartels are creeping into the methamphetamine market with some labs producing the drug at an industrial level.

  • Venezuela is planning to transfer $6.3 billion dollars in cash reserves to Russian, Chinese, and Brazilian banks in an unexplained and potentially risky move. The WSJ analyzes the economic move.

  • In a live interview with Al Jazeera, the Salvadoran president, Mauricio Funes argued that the Los Zetas drug cartel does not have interests in establishing its trade through El Salvador, except to contract gang leaders to indirectly distribute drugs locally.

  • Representatives from student protestors in Chile and members of Confech (The Confederation of Chilean Students) met with members of congress this afternoon, in what could hopefully result in successful dialogue regarding demands for a educational reforms. Confech and the School of Professors are seeking authorization for a march on Thursday from the Plaza Italia, through La Alameda, to the Plaza de los Héroes.

  • Following yesterday’s post, the transfer back to Colombia of FARC guerilla leader, Julian Conrado, captured in Venezuela continues to be delayed due to an asylum request. As InSight Crime reports, if the request is approved it could lead to ‘a new low phase in relations between the two countries.’

  • Despite the deteriorating security situation in Venezuela as violence associated with organized crime and drug trafficking continues to steadily increase, few seem to making an issue of the conflict. James Bosworth questions why this significant threat to democracy is not being addressed by Chavez and the Venezuelan government.