Costa Rican President Oscar Arias announced May 16 that his country will stop sending police to train at the US Army Ft. Benning facility, citing its history of involvement in military coups and human rights abuses throughout Latin America.

Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, made the decision after talks with a delegation of the School of the Americas Watch, including the Rev. Roy Bourgeois and Lisa Sullivan Rodriguez. The human rights advocacy group has campaigned since 1990 for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School for the Americas (SOA), located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

As I wrote in this space last month, the SOA has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence, interrogation tactics, and, yes, torture. These graduates have consistently used their skills against their own people, frequently on behalf of anti-democratic US-supported governments.

Costa Rica is the fourth Latin American country to announce a withdrawal from the SOA/WHINSEC. In 2006, new leftist governments in Argentina and Uruguay ceased all training at the school, and Venezuela stopped sending troops to the school back in 2004.

Costa Rica has no army but has sent approximately 2,600 police officers over the years for training. Minor Masis, leader of Costa Rica’s former “Comando Cobra” anti-drug squad attended the School in 1991 and returned to Costa Rica, only to serve a 42-year jail term for rape and murder committed during a 1992 drug raid. Costa Rica currently has three policemen at the center. But, “when the courses end for the three policemen we are not going to send any more,” Arias told the press.

Costa Rica’s decision is a great victory for human rights in Latin America and a decisive rejection of the idea that combat training and military spending are a means of solving social problems and bringing about peace and democracy.

Check out the SOA Watch website for tips on what you can do to help close the school’s doors permanently for all nations and check out this YouTube interview with SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois to learn more about the school’s bloody history.