SOA Watch: Why We’re Committed

Written by Cafe Campesino on Dec 8, 2011 in BLOG, Cafe Campesino, Editorial, NEWSLETTER |

SOA Watch:  Why We’re Committed
By: Bill Harris

In 1998, Cafe Campesino began as a small trading company grounded in a simple concept: by trading in an open, honest, respectful manner with economically disadvantaged farmers, we could in some small way make the world a better place.  Cafe Campesino wanted to challenge traditional win-lose business models and instead help to create and guide a win-win international model for trade.  Trade based on mutual respect, transparency, fair and honest practices with a desire to build friendships in coffee growing communities all over the world.  A simple but somewhat revolutionary concept.  This kind of thinking led us to surprising places – one of them being only 60 miles from our headquarters.  As we learned more about why coffee farmers in Latin America were so poor, we learned about land rights and human rights abuses, the civil wars that ravaged Central America in recent decades, and atrocities committed by the military time and time again against peasant farmers in these countries where we buy coffee.  And this led us to the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus Georgia.  We do not attend the SOA Watch vigil and memorial service every year simply to protest – we attend to support an effort by tens of thousands of priests, nuns, students, and victims to close a small school that is housed within the grounds of Ft. Benning, supported by U.S. tax dollars, and used to train Latin American soldiers over whom we have no control once they leave US soil.  Formerly called the School of the Americas, it is now called WHINSEC.  While the school clearly taught torture techniques in the past, school officials say they have cleaned up the curriculum and that they now offer human rights courses alongside their counter-terrorism training.  We want to see this school closed. Maybe the school has cleaned up its act; maybe at this point closure would only be a symbolic gesture. But symbolism carries tremendous weight – especially with the families of the thousands of innocent victims of this school’s graduates.  Our country stands as a beacon of hope for so many from Latin America and beyond. We have asked hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens for sacrifices in the name of fighting terrorism, yet we continue to train foreign soldiers in dubious tactics that have directly led to the terrorism of villages and farming families.  Why keep this school open?  US taxpayers supporting a school that trains foreign fighters and have been directly connected to thousands of murdered victims in Latin America. . . It makes no sense.  We have stood at the gates in support of the effort to close this school for 11 years, serving coffee to the masses, and we will continue to do so until it is closed.


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