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Geopolitics

SOA: Is It Finally Time To Shutter America's 'Coup Academy'?

Its alumni include Manuel Noriega and a long list of other dictators and strongmen turned drug traffickers. The School Of Americas (SOA) has tried to change its image, but leaders in both North and South America are calling for its demise.

A 2006 protest against the 'School of the Americas'
A 2006 protest against the 'School of the Americas'
David Santa Cruz


MEXICO CITY -- Few of the hemisphere's training centers can boast as many ex-leaders and government strongmen among its graduates. For many schools, this would no doubt be an excellent marketing pitch. Not so for the School of the Americas (SOA). None of its famous alumni reached power by way of the voting booth. Some are even behind bars now, either convicted or facing prosecution in their respective countries for abuse of power.

Created in 1946 by the U.S. government, the SOA was initially set up in Panama. During the Cold War, it was the primary training grounds for military hierarchies across Latin America. Among its more famous students is Manuel Noriega, who established a military dictatorship in Panama and is currently in prison in France, accused of working for the Medellín cocaine-trafficking cartel. Elias Wessin, who participated in the coup that toppled the Dominican Republic's Juan Bosh, also attended the academy, as did Hugo Banzer of Bolivia, who went on to become his country's dictator. Then there was the ex-president of Argentina, Roberto Eduardo Viola, and Vladimiro Montesinos, aid to former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Montesinos oversaw Peru's intelligence service. He was later jailed for arms trafficking and corruption. The list goes on.

SOA alumni have been actively connected to human rights violations throughout the region, first in their fight against the extreme left, and then in the fight against drug trafficking. In the end, many of them ended up allied with the drug traffickers themselves. In Venezuela, Gen. Efraín Vázquez, an SOA graduate, was involved in the failed coup d"état attempt against Hugo Chavez in 2002.

This record was enough for some U.S. lawmakers to finally take a stand. Last August, 69 members of the House of Representatives (two republicans and 67 democrats) signed a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (Whinsec), as SOA was re-christened in 2001. Since opening, the school has changed names five times, "but not the curriculum," says Pablo Ruiz, spokesperson for SOA Watch (SOAW), an NGO that has worked to close the institution down.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The "Corrosion" Strategy: How Ukraine Targets Russian Networks And Morale

Russia continues to shrink its ambitions in Donbas, as Ukraine doubles down on its strategy of guerilla attacks, interrupting supply and communication contacts and ultimately undermines the morale of the enemy.

Ukrainian soldiers sitting atop a tank in Donbas on May 22

Clemens Wergin

For years to come, military experts will be studying how Ukraine managed to push back a far stronger enemy and grind Russia’s major offensive in the east of the country to a halt.

Some military strategists are already trying to find a term to sum up the Ukrainians’ success. Australian military expert and retired army major general Mick Ryan credited Kyiv's stunning showing to "the adoption of a simple military strategy: corrosion. The Ukrainian approach has embraced the corrosion of the Russian physical, moral, and intellectual capacity to fight and win in Ukraine.”

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Ryan argues that while the Ukrainians have used the firepower they possess to halt the Russian advance, while aggressively targeting their enemy’s greatest shortcoming. “They have attacked the weakest physical support systems of an army in the field – communications networks, logistic supply routes, rear areas, artillery and senior commanders in their command posts,” Ryan wrote.

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