Building Democratic Institutions

By Caldera, Louis | Military Review, November/December 2000 | Go to article overview

Building Democratic Institutions


Caldera, Louis, Military Review


For more than 50 years the School of the Americas and its predecessors have responded to the needs of the nations of this hemisphere for military training and education. More than 63,000 officers, noncommissioned officers (NCOs) and soldiers have graduated from or attended courses at the School of the Americas. Its graduates have helped to foster a spirit of cooperation and interoperability among militaries throughout the hemisphere and have served their nations faithfully and professionally. As the School ofe,ite Americas closes and a new Department of Defense Institute is established, the United States remains committed to helping the leaders and soldiers of Latin American military departments meet the new challenges of the 21st century.

Change is not new to the School of the Americas. The institution has existed in several forms and at different locations throughout its history to meet the changing needs of our hemisphere. The curriculum has also changed from a focus on counterinsurgency and Cold War missions to reflect a new paradigm in the hemisphere as democracy has spread and economic interdependence has increased. Missions such as peacekeeping, disaster relief and counterdrug operations have become more common as we face new transnational challenges in the hemisphere. The students attending the courses have also expanded to include defense civilians and selected police officers. Above all, our emphasis now includes strengthening democracy by better understanding the important but limited role the military plays is representative democracy.

Unfortunately, the School of the Americas has also become the focal point of a group of critics who have accused the school of complacency and misconduct in training They allege a false cause-and-effect relationship bet*-en training at the school and the criminal acts of a few who have attended the school,*al's pr .egram-ats in the past. The real target of these critics is US foreign policy of -the lOs and gOs and lids aizd a tendency to see all military institution Is as illegitimate. False and overstated allegations conceal the great work of the scat *cho" the ol's graduates and do little to help democracy thrive in the western hemisphere in this new era we have entered.

To put this acrimonious debate to rest, I asked the Secretary of Defense to support an initiative that would close the old School of the Americas and establish a new, updated institution at the Department of Defense level. In May 2000, the administration submitted this legislative initiative to the US Congress. The US House of Representatives and the US Senate have included similar language in their respective versions of the Fiscal Year 2001 Defense Authorization Bill. The final wording and exact provisions will emerge from the Armed Services Committees later this year. What is clear is that we have an opportunity to continue the positive value of hemispheric military cooperation in education and training.

The legislation, once passed, will recognize that the School of the Americas has successfully completed its 20th-century mission to provide sound doctrinal training to the militaries of Latin America and the Caribbean while fostering personal and professional relationships among members of the region's armed forces and exposing them to US civil-military principles and values. Its graduates have returned home to work to support their legally established governments and to confront threats to their internal security. In this quest, many died in the defense of freedom. Others have returned to complete their service and become successful and productive members of their societies. Still others have continued on in public service to become military and civilian leaders. For these actions and successes we honor their service and sacrifices. These graduates have contributed to the emergence of democracy and the stimulation of economic growth throughout our hemisphere. Today these nations have established functioning professional military education systems and schools for officers and noncommissioned officers based on what they learned at the School of the Americas and other US Army institutions. …

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