ILEA and SOA Funding Approved by U.S. Congress
On Friday, June 22 the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve"foreign operations" funding for 2008, including the funds forInternational Law Enforcement Academies (ILEAs), the School of theAmericas, and a number of other U.S. projects abroad. Although thevote means there will be the funds for another year of operation ofthese two insidious training programs, last week's vote is just onemile marker in a growing campaign to stop the U.S.'s work ofundermining democracy and social justice movements in El Salvador andthe Americas. And we are clearly making important headway.
First, the vote to take away funding from the School of the Americas came closer than ever to winning. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts introduced an amendment to the appropriations bill to cut the funding for School of the Americas (or "WHINSEC" as it has been renamed). It was only after the Pentagon and Defense Department convinced some pro-military Democrats to argue strongly in support of the SOA that the right was able to stop the amendment from going through the final vote was 203 in favor of cutting SOA funding to 214 against. Also, twelve Democrats and seven Republicans abstained from voting. (see http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2007/roll536.xml to see how your Rep voted.)
The final version of the appropriations bill includes $15 million for the functioning of the ILEAs, including the "ILEA-South" in El Salvador. Congress approved spending taxpayer money on a second year of ILEA-South despite the opposition in the U.S. and El Salvador and even though most Representatives have little or no information about the ILEA. The State Department has been incredibly quiet about what takes places behind the closed doors of the ILEA, going so far as to claim that they do not have syllabi for their classes to share with CISPES or other human rights organizations. Yet by continuing to fund and run the academy, the U.S. government shows its de facto support for the repression carried out by the Salvadoran national police.
Despite the disappointing vote, the grassroots work to slow the machine of U.S. intervention by shutting down the ILEA has had some great successes this year. Nationally and at the community level, CISPES committees are building coalitions that will increase our impact both on the ILEA and on other elements of U.S. militarism in the Americas. The campaign to cut funding through Congress has also led to an effective grassroots congressional pressure campaign through which activists have built a number of positive relationships with Representatives who have expressed interest and commitment to continued strategizing on the issue of the ILEA. Finally and most importantly, hundreds of people have taken the issue of the ILEA and repression to the streets. Activists have gone out with petitions, postcards to Reps, letters to Salvadoran officials, canvasses, and posters to get word out about the issue of the ILEA, and this week CISPES sent 6 organizers to the U.S. Social Forum to raise awareness about U.S. support for increasing repression in El Salvador, making the links between international solidarity and community organizing in the U.S.
The fact that both the ILEA and the SOA move forward in a Democratic-led Congress--elected by a population demanding an end to war--is worrisome and disappointing for many. However, the grassroots commitment to reorienting U.S. foreign policy continues to grow, and with increased education and mobilization we will stop training programs aimed to repress organizing counter to U.S. corporate interests and continue to build social justice movements in the Americas and in our communities in the U.S.