After 20 years, protest continues to attract thousands

By Curtis McCloud -   bio | email

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Year after year not hundreds but thousands of people come here to Columbus to protest and rally at the gates of Fort Benning. It's all part of an effort lead by the SOA Watch group to call for the closing of WHINSEC formally the School of the Americas on post.

For twenty years this group has continued to meet and protest. Yet the school remains open. So why continue to make the trip to fort Benning every year?

For Mario Venegas, its more than just a protest but a vigil to remember those that lost their lives at the hands of SOA graduates.  Thirty years ago Venegas was tortured and held in captivity for more than two years.

"The two main tortures that were torturing me at that time were trained at the school of the americas when it was in panama in the 70's," Venegas said.

For years Venegas has banned with other SOA supporters coming together to stop these crimes that according to Venegas still happen today.

"We know for a fact that this fort here behind me is still training officers for Latin America, they have trained the people that attempt the coup in Ecuador," Venegas said.

Venegas was held prisoner in concentration camps during military dictatorships in Chile. He tells us that he still has nightmares to this day.

"I don't want anyone to be there, the way you suffer physically and psychologically when you see in front of you people that are being killed and you cannot do nothing about it," Venegas said.

Like Venegas Pascao Murphy has been coming to Columbus from Canada for the past ten years. Murphy says that he keeps coming to support people that have been directly affected by SOA graduates like Venegas.

"It's necessary, to stand in solidarity, with the people that have witnessed that that have been affected by the violence that this institution has been part of supporting," Murphy said.

And Mario Venegas says that until the school is closed. He will keep coming back.

"It's important, and by demanding them and telling them right here in their face, you are tortures, you are assassins of our people in Latin America," Venegas said.

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