Fort Benning

Organizers miss permit deadline for annual SOA Watch protest

Video: SOA Watch annual protest leaving Columbus

The School of the Americas Watch annual protest is leaving Columbus and moving to the border of the United States and Mexico. The announcement was made by the organization's national organizer Hendrik Voss on Sunday as this year's participants gat
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The School of the Americas Watch annual protest is leaving Columbus and moving to the border of the United States and Mexico. The announcement was made by the organization's national organizer Hendrik Voss on Sunday as this year's participants gat

For the first time in the history of the annual School of the Americas Watch protest at Stone Gate in Columbus, organizers have missed the permit deadline to hold what would have been the 27th year for the vigil.

Columbus Police Lt. Herman Miles said a permit requesting the closure of Fort Benning Road should have been filed 30 days before the event on Nov. 17-19. No permit is sought for the event after the protest attracted only 33 protesters in 2016, calling for closing the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning.

“As far as we are concerned, it is not happening,” Miles said Tuesday. “They have not gotten in touch with us to apply for a permit. By them not applying for a permit, we don’t think it’s going to happen.”

Father Roy Bourgeois, the founder of the annual protest in 1990, wasn’t available for comment late Tuesday. According to a post on the organization’s website, the group will be in Arizona Friday through Sunday for the SOA Watch Border Ecuentro. The non-violent movement aims to end U.S. economic, military and political intervention in Latin America, demilitarization and divestment of the borders and to call attention to the oppression of migrants.

Bourgeois started the protest a year after Salvadoran soldiers killed six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter in 1989 during the Salvadoran Civil War. Their deaths led to the annual vigil at the gates of Fort Benning.

The school opened in 1946 in Panama to provide education and training to military personnel. It was moved to Fort Benning in 1984. To monitor the students, SOA Watch was granted the names of students and instructors during requests from 1994 to 2004.

Nineteen of the 26 soldiers implicated in the deaths of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter attended the School of the Americas. The school closed in December 2000 and reopened in January 2001 under its new name, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation with a new curriculum.

The protest attracted a sparse crowd for its 26th anniversary. Although much smaller than years past, organizers said the scaled-back event still had a message and it would continue in some form.

The group was outnumbered by law enforcement personnel. “Last year was a very light turnout,” Miles said.

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