Caravana to Fort Benning:Journey to justice

Journey to Justice

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, October 22, 2004. Twenty-one years ago Carlos Mauricio was trying to recover from three weeks of brutal torture. Today, he is driving a bus across the country to protest the existence of the institution that he believes was responsible.

A professor at the University of El Salvador in June 1983, Mauricio was kidnapped, accused of being a leftist guerilla, and tortured for three weeks. Miraculously released, he fled to the United States, ironically, the host for the military establishment that trained the commanders of the institution where he was tortured.

Today, Mauricio is a San Francisco based human rights activist and is driving a bus across the United States to the annual vigil to close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas, or by its detractors as the School of the Assassins.

The School of the Americas has been located in Fort Benning, Georgia since 1984 and asserts that it was founded to provide professional education and training while promoting democratic values, respect for human rights, and knowledge and understanding of United States customs and traditions. Over the years, it has graduated more than 60,000 Latin American students. Coincidentally, many graduates are responsible for horrific human rights violations and indeed, several years ago a torture manual was leaked to the public. However, the School of the Americas refuses to take responsibility for the devastating legacy of their training.

In August, Carlos Mauricio attended the Fresno trial of Alvaro Saravia, found responsible for crimes against humanity for his role in the assassination of Monsenor Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador. Known as the voice of the people, Monsenor Romero broadcast public sermons in which directly addressed the military. In his radio homily on March 23, 1980 he pleaded with the military government: In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you: stop the repression. He was gunned down the next day whilst celebrating mass.

As emerged during the trial, Roberto DAubuisson, a graduate of the School of the Americas and founder of the ruling ARENA party, was the instigator of the assassination. However, the Archbishops assassination was a mere drop in an ocean of blood. During the eighties in El Salvador, more than 75,000 civilians died; 90% at the hands of the military, many of whom were commanded or trained by graduates of the School of the Americas.

Mauricios personal experience of the brutality of graduates of the School of the Americas compelled him to seek justice. In 2002, together with two other plaintiffs, he won a $54 million judgement against two former Salvadoran Ministers of Defense, for their responsibility in his extrajudicial kidnapping and torture. General Jose Guillermo Garcia was a graduate of the School of the Americas, and General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova was honored by the SOA for his exemplary role in the Salvadoran Army and gave the graduation address in 1985. Many other notorious Salvadoran human rights abusers were also trained at the School of the Americas.

Since his unprecedented victory, Mauricio has been working with the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) to raise public awareness of the role of the School of the Americas in human rights abuses in Central and South America. The Caravan, his latest and most ambitious project, will leave San Francisco on November 6, and plans to arrive in time to participate in the vigil at Fort Benning on Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st. En route, Mauricio and other torture survivors will be attending events and giving press conferences in La Paz, Bakersfield, CA (Nov. 6), Los Angeles, CA (Nov 6 & 7), Phoenix, AZ (Nov 8), Tucson, AZ (Nov 9 & 10), El Paso, TX (Nov 10 & 11), Fredricksburg, TX (Nov 11 & 12), Austin, TX (Nov 12, 13, 14), Houston, TX (Nov 14 & 15), New Orleans, LA (Nov 15, 16, 17), Columbus, GA (Nov 18).

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