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7 August 1999

US House Votes to Cut School of the Americas Funding

After a 10-year campaign, activists opposing the US Army's School of the Americas (SOA) in Ft. Benning, Georgia, won their first legislative victory when the US House of Representatives voted 230-197 in the early hours of July 30 to cut the school's funding by almost half. The measure, introduced by Rep. Joe Moakley (D-MA) as an amendment to a $12.7 billion foreign aid bill, eliminates the budget for recruiting and transporting students to the school, which provides training for military officers from Latin America. The US spends $1.5-2 million a year on SOA recruitment and training; the SOA's operating budget of about $2.5 million a year comes from the military budget and is not affected by the amendment.

Although the funding cut would theoretically force the school to close down, the amendment is unlikely to survive a conference with the Senate, which has already passed a version of the foreign aid bill leaving the SOA funding in place. But SOA opponents were delighted and surprised by the vote, in which 58 Republicans joined 172 Democrats to pass the amendment. "I think it sent a tremendously strong signal to the Army and the US government as a whole that our relationship with Latin America ought to focus a lot more on democracy and human rights and a lot less on strengthening the nations' militaries," said Bill Spence, deputy director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a left-liberal think tank. [New York Times 7/31/99; Washington Post 7/31/99] Thousands of SOA opponents have protested the school with civil disobedience actions at Ft. Benning and elsewhere [see Update #460].

Three days before the vote, Army Secretary Louis Caldera argued in an op-ed in the rightwing Washington Times that SOA is needed to help Latin American militaries in the process of "moving away from their authoritarian past." Caldera wrote that Latin American nations "are still faced with many problems: from narco-trafficking to isolated insurgencies; from economic underdevelopment to environmental devastation. In each of these areas, responsible, respected military institutions are key to the pursuit of justice, stability and security in the region." [WT 7/27/99]

Weekly News Update on the Americas * Nicaragua Solidarity Network of NY