My Cuba adventure m_munro_&_bus.jpg (18349 bytes)

by Margaret Munro

On June 21 at a truck stop near Hermiston, Oregon, I boarded an old, gaily painted school bus on a journey that originated in Canada and was destined for Cuba. The bus was one of various vehicles traveling 14 separate routes, crisscrossing the United States and parts of Canada, that comprised the 19th Cuba Friendshipment Caravan. A humanitarian project of Pastors for Peace, the Cuba Caravans collect medicines and medical and educational supplies at their stops for delivery to Cuba, as a collective challenge to the immoral and illegal U.S. blockade of the island nation. Last November, the United Nations once again voted overwhelmingly (183-4) to condemn the U.S. blockade.

The “caravanistas” helped load my sleeping roll, suitcase and a case of bottled water. When I stepped onto the bus myself, it was the beginning of a three-week adventure! My traveling companions were part of the fun. I enjoyed the three Canadians, a woman who had traveled all the way from Manchester, England, to protest the blockade, and our driver, another North American from Olympia.

At all our stops, we stayed in churches or the homes of church members. In Pocatello, Idaho, the Unitarians provided a nice potluck in their beautiful stone church with an elegant rose window and gave us beds in their homes. We picked up two college students there, one American and the other Canadian. Both were on last year’s Caravan.

In Phoenix, our hostess was an interesting Hispanic lady named Teresa, an extremely hard working mom. She had prepared large trays of chicken and beef enchiladas, Spanish rice, beans and tortillas for us. Although we didn’t get to her home until 2:30am, she and her sons were excited, welcoming and happy to see us at that hour.

We were so late because we had stopped in Prescott, Arizona, to collect computers, many pairs of crutches, walkers, wheel chairs, a patient lift, and other medical supplies. The man who purchased all of these items collected them all year from thrift shops and clinics and paid the fee to have them shipped to Cuba by cargo ship.

The various caravan routes converged in McAllen, Texas, on June 28 for several days of participant orientation before crossing the border into Mexico and traveling on to Cuba. Teresa, our Phoenix hostess, and a friend rejoined us in McAllen to go on to Cuba. They are both ethnic dancers who performed what I would call “Aztec” dances. They danced while the Mexican customs searched our buses, wearing costumes that reminded me of an Aztec drawing, complete with bells on their ankles. With gourds and small hand-held drums, they beat out the rhythm. They also danced several times in Cuba.

Without U.S. Treasury Department licenses for the almost 100 tons of humanitarian aid collected, the U.S. Border Patrol seized 32 used computers that had been donated for use by school children. Without the computers, we traveled to Tampico, where the rest of the humanitarian aid was loaded onto a freighter and we flew to Havana.

Many, many sights impressed me in Cuba: the huge number of beautiful old buildings from colonial and pre-Revolutionary times — many more than I have seen in my travels to Panama, Costa Rica, and the Caribbean islands; the lack of advertising signs on buildings; how friendly and helpful the Cuban people are; the seven Cuban doctors who came to my door in the Pinar del Rio province to provide treatment for me, who were efficient, kind and stayed with me for hours; the effort made to provide exercise and rehabilitation for senior citizens in Havana and the provinces; the large number of young and elderly Cubans taking part in church services, especially the elder group that performed their dance expression as part of the service of the Ebenezer Baptist Church where I stayed in Havana; the joy of an audience in the courtyard of the William Carey Baptist Church in Vedado, Havana, when they jumped to their feet and danced to a good Cuban band; the modern ballet performed by young people at the National Theater in Havana; the excitement of the two young U.S. women students at the Latin American Medical School, who were already planning how they were going to spend two years practicing medicine in an under-serviced area in the United States when they graduate; the fact that there are more than 100 U.S. students studying at the Medical School free of charge; and listening to and asking questions of Maria Regla Alya, a 16-year member of the Cuban National Assembly, and obviously a proud Communist.

Because I was in Cuba only eight nights, I realize that I had only a snapshot of Cuban life; but I have spent three winters in the Republic of Panama, staying approximately three months each time, so I do have a point of reference in that part of the world. Panama is one of the wealthiest Central American countries because of their revenue from the Panama Canal and the tax-free “Free Zone” in Colon, where people from all over the world come to buy everything from cars to expensive watches. But Panama has the contrast of extreme poverty along with wealthy Panamanians living in luxurious high rises. In Cuba, I didn’t see any extreme poverty; and other travelers whom I have met in Panama told me that they didn’t see that kind of poverty in Cuba either.

Our journey had an especially happy ending upon our return to the United States. Responding to pressure from communities all across the country, U.S. officials returned the 32 computers that had been seized. Caravanistas then hand-carried the computers across the International Bridge from Hidalgo, Texas, into Reynosa, Mexico, from where they were sent on to Cuba

Next year would be a terrific year to go to Cuba with the 20th Pastors for Peace Caravan because it will be the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. It is possible to fly to McAllen, Texas, and not ride a bus through the United States, thereby making the trip shorter and less strenuous.

This year I also stayed with the Brown Berets in Salt Lake City, a head hunter in Texas who procures employees for Blackwater and Halliburton’s contracts in Iraq, a ceramic artist in Silver City, New Mexico, who backpacks with llamas. And I met so many other warm, sincere people that I never would have known without getting on that old school bus in Hermiston.

Margaret Munro of Richland is one of our sidewalk regulars in protesting the Iraq war.

– PeaceMeal, July/August 2008

In Memoriam: Rufina Amaya

Rufina Amaya was the sole survivor of the 1981 massacre of more than 700 people in the village of El Mozote in El Salvador. She watched helplessly as Salvadoran soldiers trained at the U.S. Army School of Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia, killed her four young children, beheaded her husband, and massacred her entire community. Though she wanted to die herself after witnessing such horror, she instead pleaded with God to let her live so that the truth of what happened would not be buried in the mass graves of her loved ones.

Rufina’s fearless voice rose above the brutality of the war in her country, a war that was supported by the Reagan administration’s military assistance to the Salvadoran military. Her amazing courage and commitment to working for truth, justice and an end to impunity for the perpetrators of the massacre continued until her final days. Rufina died of a stroke on March 6, 2007, at the age of 64. Her story of survival and determination will continue to inspire people the world over.

– edited from Christian Peacemaker Teams, Summer 2007
PeaceMeal, July/August 2007

Guatemala’s secret police files may hold clues to atrocities

by Ginger Thompson

GUATEMALA CITY - The reams and reams of mildewed police documents, tied in messy bundles and stacked from floor to ceiling, look on first sight like a giant trash heap. But human rights investigators are calling it a treasure hidden in plain sight.

In Guatemala, a nation still groping for the whole truth about decades of state-sponsored kidnaping and killing, the documents promise a trove of new evidence for the victims, and perhaps the last best hope for some degree of justice.

Last summer, authorities from the Guatemalan human rights ombudsman’s office, searching a munitions depot here in the capital, discovered what appear to be all the files of the National Police, an agency so inextricably linked to human rights abuses during this country’s 36-year civil war that it was disbanded as part of the peace accords signed in 1996. At that time, President Álvaro Arzú’s government denied to a truth commission that police files existed. It now seems clear, human rights investigators say, that Mr. Arzú’s government, as well as those that followed, knew about the files all along.

In the months since the files were discovered, archivists kept them closed to the public and much of the news media because of concerns that, given the depot’s many open, unfinished windows and doorways, the files could be pilfered or destroyed. In addition, the archivists said they needed time simply to do a preliminary examination to get a sense of what was in the files.

Following repeated requests, the ombudsman’s office agreed to allow The New York Times to visit the files, after a rudimentary security system was installed and archivists had begun taking samples of documents from the files. Walking into some of the chambers is like staring down a tidal wave. Documents bundled as thick as Bibles stand more than 10 feet tall in bat-infested rooms as dank and dark as caves. There are buckets in every corner that attendants, dressed in rubber gloves and gas masks to protect against the fumes, have been using to catch leaks from the roof.

Everything seems to be there: from traffic tickets, driver’s license applications and personnel files, to spy logs and interrogation records. There are hundreds of rolls of film and videos, along with snapshots of unidentified bodies, detainees, and informants. Some of the files seem to have gotten slightly more careful treatment and were tossed into file cabinets marked “disappeared,” “assassins” and “special cases.” There are transcripts of radio communications and stacks of arrest records listing “Communist” as the reason for arrest.

What remains unclear, investigators said, was why officials in Guatemala’s prior governments — particularly the police — did not destroy the files, even though they appear to hold evidence of egregious abuses. Now that the archive has been found, almost 10 years after the end of the fighting that left at least 200,000 people dead, a new government, struggling to consolidate a fledgling peace, is still grappling with how to proceed.

“This presents a serious challenge for the government because there are going to be a lot of powerful names coming out of the files, and the justice system is very weak,” Frank LaRue, director of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights, said in an interview. “But the government remains committed to opening the archive, and prosecuting people responsible for crimes.”

Later he toned down his statement, saying, “I am not sure everyone in the government would agree with that.”

It is not the first batch of government documents uncovered since the end of the war. In 1999, an activities log for a secret military unit responsible for kidnaping and killing government opponents was smuggled out of the military’s files. And Kate Doyle, director of the Guatemala Project at the National Security Archive in Washington DC, pointed out that last year the government quietly opened the files of the former presidential intelligence agency, which was also accused of systematic human rights abuses and ordered disbanded.

But the intelligence agency files had been ransacked before human rights investigators could get to them. The National Police files — mildewy and messy, but still intact — promise the most complete accounting of the government’s campaign against people suspected of being leftists, a campaign initiated with money and advice from a succession of United States administrations worried about the spread of Communism.

As a precondition for opening the files to viewing by The Times, the lead investigator for the ombudsman’s office, Gustavo Meoņo, asked that specific details from documents describing extrajudicial kidnapings and killings, including names of victims and police officers, not be published. “We have to act very carefully with this archive,” Mr. Meoņo said. “We do not want to unduly raise the expectations of the victims. And, for our safety and for the safety of the files, we don’t want to unduly frighten the people who are identified as perpetrators.”

The ombudsman’s office said it inadvertently found the archive in the munitions depot, not far from the center of the capital, during a safety inspection prompted by complaints from neighbors that explosives were being improperly stored at the site. The neighbors did not know the half of it. The files, in various stages of decay, date back more than a century. Ms. Doyle said it is the largest discovery of secret government documents in Latin America.

Mr. Meoņo said there were files that referred to well-known cases, including the 1990 assassination of Myrna Mack, an anthropologist. He said a team of Belgian lawyers investigating the 1980 assassination of Walter Voordeckers, a Belgian priest, and the 1982 disappearance of Serge Berten, another Belgian citizen, found files on those cases during a visit to Guatemala in September. The lawyers had the government subpoena the former chief of the national police, Germán Chupina, for the first time since the end of the civil war.

“I show you these,” Mr. Meoņo said, referring to documents from the archives, “to make clear to you that we have great hopes that this archive is going to clear up mysteries that have tormented this country for decades.” That seemed to be clear to the directors of archival projects around the world, including those of Iraq, Cambodia, and Serbia, who also visited the police files in November. The question that ran through many of their minds here, they said, was the same one that ran through their minds when they first examined damning files kept by governments led by dictators like Saddam Hussein and organizations like the Khmer Rouge: Why didn’t the government destroy the files when it had the chance?

But Hassan Mneimneh, of the Iraq Memory Foundation, was not surprised that the files had been left alone. “Ultimately these files are the institutional memory of the bureaucracy,” he said. “To expect a bureaucracy to destroy its files is to expect it to commit suicide.”

Heriberto Cifuentes, a Guatemalan historian who was among the first outsiders to lay eyes on the files, said the fact that the government did not destroy them reflected a simple fact of Guatemalan life. “Impunity reigns in Guatemala,” he said. “So whether there are documents or not, people responsible for crimes do not expect to pay for them. They have always enjoyed blanket immunity.”

– edited from The New York Times, 21 Nov. 2005
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Friendshipment Caravan brings zest for aid to Cubacuba_bus.jpg (3659 bytes)

A Cuba Friendshipment Caravan of Pastors for Peace made a first-ever visit to the Tri-Cities on June 22. This was the 17th such caravan that Pastors for Peace has conducted as a nonviolent challenge to the immoral and illegal U.S. economic blockade of Cuba.

A gaily painted schoolbus with Pastors for Peace volunteers, one of fourteen traveling separate routes across the country to collect medical and other humanitarian aid for Cuba, pulled into the parking lot of Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland shortly after 2:00 pm. At 2:30 the nine caravanistas, including 5-year-old Sofia Emily Rose, held a press conference with local news crews from the three major television networks.

After a potluck dinner for the caravanistas and their overnight hosts, a public fundraising event was held at Shalom church. The program featured a talk by Gloria La Riva of San Francisco, who was on four previous Caravans, and a video of the 1993 Caravan that had a schoolbus seized by U.S. Customs at the Mexican border. The bus was seized because “it could be used for military purposes.”

A free-will offering was taken to assist the Cuba Friendshipment Caravan with shipping expenses for the material aid they collected at other cities. An hour of outstanding musical entertainment by local musicians and folksingers concluded the program. The next morning the Caravan departed for its next stop, Boise, Idaho.

All Caravan routes collected a total of 60 tons of humanitarian aid during a two-week journey that converged at McAllen, Texas before crossing into Mexico to depart for Cuba. After delivering their aid to Cuba and an exciting eight-day educational visit to the island, the Caravan crossed back into the United States at Hidalgo, Texas on July 17. They faced interrogation and searches by more than 75 Homeland Security and Treasury officials.

 “We are not criminals. We are responding to an unjust law with a ministry of love and compassion,” said Rev. Thomas Smith, president of IFCO/Pastors for Peace.

The Bush administration tightened restrictions against Cuba in 2004 and is using Homeland Security funds to harass those suspectedof travel to the island. Last year, U.S. Customs officials in Hidalgo, Texas, acting on orders of the Commerce Department, seized 45 boxes of computers and supplies destined for disabled children in Cuba. In May, Customs returned the aid to Pastors for Peace after the faith-based group threatened a Federal lawsuit.

“They could not defend their actions,” said Rev. Lucius Walker, Executive Director of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO), the parent organization of Pastors for Peace. “The Bush administration’s Cuba strategy is bankrupt and based on a repugnant policy to create hardship for the Cuban people,” he said.

After consultation with IFCO’s church partners in Cuba, Pastors for Peace decided to donate the released computers to the New Orleans Survivors’ Council. Organizers in New Orleans remember well Cuba’s offer of 1600 doctors to assist victims of Hurricane Katrina. They also remember that the Bush administration ignored the offer despite the federal government’s neglect following the most destructive storm in U.S. history. Pastors for Peace delivered 80 tons of urgently needed aid to the Gulf Coast after Katrina hit.

In November for the 14th straight year, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly (182 to 4) approved a resolution calling for the United States to end its 44-year-old trade and travel embargo against Cuba.

For more information, see:

– PeaceMeal, July/August 2006

The scales of justice: SOA activists sentenced

Thirty-one human rights activists were sentenced to federal prison terms the week of January 30 for trespass at the U.S. Army's School of Americas (SOA) — now cosmetically renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), located at Fort Benning, Georgia. The sentences came less than a week after a military jury in Colorado gave no prison sentence to an Army interrogator found guilty of negligent homicide in the torture and killing of an Iraqi detainee.

Referred to as the "School of Assassins," SOA/WHINSEC trains Latin American soldiers in methods of counterinsurgency. Graduates of the school have repeatedly been cited for atrocities, "disappearances," and massacres against their own people. The SOA made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that instructed in methods of abduction, torture, and execution.

Those arrested for "crossing the line" onto the Army base, in a symbolic act of nonviolent civil disobedience, were among 19,000 protesters who gathered at Fort Benning in November. The demonstration was the 16th annual one organized by School of the Americas Watch, a faith- and conscience-based organization working to close SOA/WHINSEC. (See:

Federal Judge G. Mallon Faircloth handed down stiff sentences ranging from one to six months imprisonment for the misdemeanor offense. Sr. Mary Dennis Lentsch, 69, Oak Ridge, Tennessee, received a sentence of six months. A repeat offender, she already served six months in federal prison for a previous protest at SOA.

Delmar Schwaller, an 81-year-old World War II veteran and active community volunteer, was sentenced to two months in federal prison. Mr. Schwaller said, "For eight years, I have been studying this issue and listening to the stories of those most affected by the School of the Americas. My prison sentence doesn't change my feelings about my action. I know this was the right thing to do."

Since 1990, 183 people have served a total of more than 81 years in prison for protests at the SOA. They include Fr. Bill Bichsel SJ, 72, head of the Catholic Worker House in Tacoma, who has served a total of 18 months for several acts of civil disobedience. Others have served terms of house arrest and probation.

The movement to close the SOA/ WHINSEC continues to grow. In 2005, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced HR 1217, a bill to suspend operations at WHINSEC and to investigate the development and use of the "torture manuals." The bill currently has 123 bipartisan co-sponsors.

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2006

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

‘School of Assassins’ protest draws 16,000

More than 16,000 people gathered the weekend of November 20-21, 2004, outside the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia, in the largest and most diverse demonstration yet of opposition to the "School of Assassins," a military school located there for the training of Latin American soldiers in methods of counterinsurgency. Organizers with SOA Watch said concern about the war in Iraq and President Bush’s re-election boosted attendance at this year’s event.

Formerly known as the School of Americas (SOA) and cosmetically renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) in 2001, graduates of the school returned to their countries and were consistently cited for atrocities — torture, rape, "disappearances," murders, and massacres — against their own people. In 1996, the Pentagon released information about torture manuals that had been used at SOA as recently as 1992 and were distributed to thousands of officers from Latin American countries. U.S. Army officials defend the school, saying it trains soldiers in civilian and diplomatic affairs, and that human rights courses are now mandatory.

"Like many of its graduates, this school continues to operate with impunity," said Carlos Mauricio, a featured speaker who is a torture survivor and plaintiff in a successful lawsuit against two Salvadoran generals living in the United States. "Shutting down the SOA once and for all would send a strong human rights message to Latin America and the world," he said.

SOA Watch holds the demonstrations every November in memory of six Jesuit priests who were killed along with their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador on Nov. 19, 1989. Some of the killers — all members of the Salvadoran military — had attended the school. Since protests began in 1990, 170 people have served prison sentences of up to 2 years for civil disobedience at SOA; 20 were arrested this year.

– PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2004

SOA protest in Tacoma draws 700

SOA_protest.gif (14696 bytes)Carrying coffins, white crosses, and signs, about 700 people marched two miles in the rain in Tacoma on Sunday, Nov. 16, and listened to speakers call for shutting down the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Ga. The school trains Latin American military.

Some of SOA’s 60,000 graduates have been linked to many of the worst human-rights atrocities and massacres in Latin America. Alumni include many of the hemisphere’s most notorious dictators, drug dealers and war criminals — among them Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, now serving 40 years in Miami for drug trafficking, and Roberto D’Aubuisson, leader of the Salvadoran death squad that killed Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980.

Crosses carried by protesters bore the names of people killed by Latin American soldiers who were trained at SOA. One sign read: "Stop murder, rape, torture. Close School of the Americas."

Charlie Liteky, 72, who lives near Yreka, Calif., was among those who marched. He is a former Catholic Army chaplain who won the Medal of Honor for rescuing 20 U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War. Liteky returned his Medal of Honor in 1986 to protest U.S. involvement in Central America and now devotes his life to peace work.

Students from the University of Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran University, and the University of Washington - Tacoma were among the participants. Sarah Bodnar, one of 25 UPS students, said, "I think this is just the beginning of raising the voice of people in the Northwest to close the School of the Americas. We demonstrated that we do not support a militant foreign policy."

Three peacewalkers from Richland — Victoria ("Barefoot for Peace"), Margaret and Judy — also took part in the Tacoma demonstration. The cold and rain, they said, was offset by the warmth of spirit of those they met.

A week later, some 10,000 demonstrators from around the country gathered at Ft. Benning itself. The annual protest there, organized by School of the Americas Watch, is held on the anniversary of the1989 murder in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, their coworker and her 14-year-old daughter by soldiers trained at SOA — referred to by protesters as the "School of Assassins."

In 1996, the Pentagon released information about torture manuals compiled by U.S. Army Intelligence that had been used at SOA as recently as 1992 and were distributed to thousands of officers from Latin American countries.

The Army has changed the name of the school to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and instituted mandatory human rights courses. But Fr. Roy Bourgeois, 64, a Vietnam veteran, Maryknoll missionary priest, and founder of SOAW, says the change was cosmetic. Fr. Roy has been protesting at SOA for 20 years and has served a cumulative five years in prison for his arrests there.

Bills to close the school are introduced into Congress every two years, but so far have been unsuccessful.

– PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2003
with information from The News Tribune (Tacoma) and The Associated Press

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Assassins kill archbishop in Colombia

Two unidentified gunmen assassinated Colombian Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino, 63, on March 16 as he left a church in a poor district of Cali where he had celebrated a group wedding. Shot repeatedly, Duarte collapsed 50 feet from the front door of the church.

In a deeply Catholic country where even professional hit men have their own cult of the Virgin Mary, the gunshots resounded more loudly than the usual rain of death that strikes Colombia every day. Wracked by drug trafficking and a 38-year-old civil war that claims 3,500 lives a year, there are many possible suspects. Drug traffickers, leftist rebels and far-right paramilitaries all number hit men among their ranks. About 40,000 people have died in the last decade in the complex, often shadowy war in which paramilitary forces kill union organizers, leftist politicians and poor villagers, while the rebels respond with selective assassinations and brutal attacks on isolated police outposts.

Archbishop Duarte Cancino had criticized all the violent forces at work in Colombia. Official suspicions focused on cocaine gangs, presumably worried by accusations Duarte made last month that they were funding congressional campaigns. Prosecutors investigating dirty money in the campaign were planning to interview Duarte, according to a report in El Tiempo, Colombia's leading daily newspaper.

Many said the archbishop died for speaking the truth like Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed in 1980 by suspected right-wing death squads. Others suspect the assassination was intended to further destabilize a country heading for presidential elections on May 26.

President Andres Pastrana announced a $434,000 reward for information on the hitmen or those who ordered the assassination.

The Roman Catholic Church is widely seen as an honest broker by all sides in Colombia's conflict. But despite the respect for the Church and the shock the killing has produced, there is no sign the archbishop's death will alter an already bloody political landscape. Some 22 Catholic priests and one other bishop have been killed by guerrillas, paramilitaries or drug gangs since 1989.

The church has also been involved in the peace talks with the largest leftist guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The government called off the talks in February after three years, and the FARC has embarked on a sabotage offensive throughout the country. A senior FARC commander denied that his group had done the assassination.

Archbishop Duarte injected himself into the chaotic civil war and helped arrange secret meetings between government officials and an outlawed rightist paramilitary group responsible for thousands of killings. The archbishop's delicate role as an intermediary was made public in a best-selling book co-written by Carlos Castaņo, the leader of the paramilitary group.

"This puts people's lives in danger, including my own," Duarte said in December about the disclosure of his role. "Truthfully? It makes me think of leaving. This is going to cause me many, many problems," he said.

- compiled from The New York Times
PeaceMeal, March/April 2002

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

SOA protest draws more thousands

The annual demonstration to close the School of Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Georgia, drew thousands of protesters amid new controversy in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Police estimated attendance at the Sunday, November 18, 2001, event at 7,500 and called it "the biggest crowd they've ever had" since the protests began 11 years ago. Organizers from SOA Watch put the figure closer to 12,000.

The annual protest at SOA, recently renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, began in 1990 — a year after six Jesuit priests and two women were killed in El Salvador by SOA graduates.

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Army informed SOA Watch that it would no longer be permitted to enter Fort Benning as part of its demonstration and erected a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. Because of the high-alert status at Fort Benning, Columbus (Georgia) Mayor Bobby Peters had asked SOA Watch not to protest. When they declared their intention to be there anyway, the city filed an injunction to create a no-trespassing zone 50 feet before the fence.

On Friday, November 16, U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth ruled against the city and lectured its lawyers on the First Amendment. The protesters, he said, have a constitutional right to be where they had demonstrated since 1990. The ruling energized the demonstration as never before.

Carrying signs and singing songs, protesters gathered Sunday morning at a park, where they assembled in a symbolic funeral procession to Fort Benning's main gate. Near the front of the procession were mock mourners wearing black robes, their faces covered by white death masks.

As the three-hour procession reached the gate area, robed protesters slumped to the ground. While they played dead, others put caskets beside them and splattered them with symbolic blood.Participants turned the new fence into a memorial wall, attaching crosses, fresh flowers and banners. Some prepared to go over the fence, even though topped with barbed wire. Others were shaking the fence and the gate while the crowd cheered and chanted. For a moment, it seemed as if an 11-year promise of non-violence was about to be broken. Lawmen were tense.

"Remember the spirit of non-violence," lectured an SOA Watch official who was at the fence watching protesters being arrested. The Rev. Roy Bourgeois, the Catholic priest who started SOA Watch, went to the fence and talked sternly to a 72-year-old veteran from San Francisco who wanted to go over the top.

Filtering among the crowd were 25 observers from the Georgia ACLU, led by the lead attorney for SOA Watch when they go to court.

More than 200 police officers, sheriff's deputies and state lawmen were in the vicinity. Other units were in reserve, waiting. On the other side of the fence, 182 military police waited.

Thirty-one protesters were arrested by county sheriff's deputies and charged with misdemeanor unlawful assembly, obstruction of a police officer, and obstructing a public highway. Fourteen other protesters who "crossed the line" onto Fort Benning incurred federal charges of criminal trespass and resisting arrest.

The following Tuesday, Municipal Court Judge Haywood Turner, who said he had personally witnessed atrocities committed in Latin America, dismissed the charges of unlawful assembly and negotiated no contest pleas to obstructing a police officer and guilty pleas to obstruction of a public road. The 31 protesters were released with no fines and credit for time served in jail.

The same day, U.S. Magistrate Faircloth approved own-recognizance bonds for 13 of the 14 protesters facing federal charges, but attached conditions barring each from trespassing on Fort Benning and requiring them to return when ordered for arraignment and trial. The 14th protester faces an additional marijuana possession charge. The criminal trespass charge is punishable by up to six months in a federal prison.

- compiled from the Ledger-Enquirer, Columbus, Georgia
Peacemeal, Nov/December 2001

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

"Not to have an army is a blessing!"

Costa Rica is a Latin America country that enjoys unusual stability, both political and economic. The economic stability of Costa Rica dates to the beginning of the 20th century when it became the first exporter of coffee to the United States. With that economic input, poverty in the country was greatly reduced and an efficient system of free primary and secondary education was established. Costa Rica has one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America, estimated at 93 percent.

A national health plan was established in the 1970s, as a result of which the average life expectancy in Costa Rica is 76 years compared with 77 years for the United States.

Last year, Intel Corp. established a plant in Costa Rica to produce and export the Pentium IV microprocessor. Intel employs 1,500 professionals in the country, contributing to an unemployment rate around 5 %. In 1999, 38 % of Costa Rica's exports were articles of high technology.

Perhaps the most unique characteristic of Costa Rica is the fact that it has no armed forces. In the middle of the 19th century there was a strong army, but a new political Constitution in 1949 eliminated it. The two political forces of importance, the National Liberation Party (PLN) and the Social Christian Unity Party, have managed to alternate in power without generating conflicts. Under moderate governments, Costa Rica has become Latin America's most democratic country. Voting is compulsory for all citizens over 18 years of age and capital punishment has been banned.

Costa Ricans take pride in having more teachers than soldiers and a higher standard of living than elsewhere in Central America.

Miguel Angel Rodriguez, president of Costa Rica, attributes the unique stability of his country to its elimination of armed forces. "Not to have an army," President Rodriguez says, "is a blessing of God."

- compiled from and MS Encarta
PeaceMeal, November/December 2000

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

10,000 protest at US Army School of Americas
Simultaneous action in Chiapas, Mexico

Over 10,000 people from all over the Americas gathered at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia, on November 19, 2000, to express their outrage at the deadly impacts of U.S. counterinsurgency training on Latin American communities and to demand the closure of the U.S. Army School of Americas (SOA). Paramilitary death squads are a key element of civilian-targeted warfare as it is taught at the SOA.

Over 3,600 protestors risked arrest by crossing onto the base in a massive act of civil disobedience. They filed onto the base in a solemn funeral procession, carrying thousands of crosses and other sacred symbols inscribed with the names of victims of SOA violence in Latin America. The procession was led by a group dressed in black shrouds and white death masks carrying coffins.

A second procession of 200 activists with giant puppets, costumes, and drums subsequently entered the base while other affinity groups simultaneously entered through different entrances and engaged in various acts of nonviolent resistance, such as blocking of the road with their bodies. Dozens of activists planted corn in Ft. Benning soil as a symbol of life and hope.

More than 2,000 protesters, including clergy, students, veterans, grandparents, were arrested and processed. Those arrested, including actor Martin Sheen, were taken to local parks, given letters banning and barring them from entering the base for five years, and released.

In Chiapas, Mexico, 300 members of the civil society group Las Abejas (The Bees) fasted and prayed simultaneously with the Ft. Benning action. At great personal risk, Mexican human rights activists planted corn in soil at a military camp in Chiapas in a coordinated symbolic action.

The SOA vigil featured speakers from Chiapas and Colombia, as well as several other Latin American nations. Both Colombia and Chiapas have been targeted for massive U.S. military aid and counterinsurgency training. Colombia has more SOA graduates (10,000) than any other nation.

In Colombia, former Defense Minister Gen. Harold Bedoya, SOA graduate and guest instructor, has advocated the use of paramilitaries for years. In Chiapas, Gen. Jose Ruben Rivas Pena, who took the elite Command and General Staff course at the SOA, has also called for the use of paramilitaries. Paramilitaries, in collaboration with the Colombian and Mexican militaries, are now cited for the vast majority of human rights abuses in those conflicts.

"We know the names of the generals and the high-ranking officers implicated in these killings, and nothing has been done," said Luis Eduardo Guerra, a Colombian peace activist whose community has repeatedly been targeted by paramilitaries. "We know that the officers who trained the paramilitaries were trained at the School of the Americas."

In 1996, the Army released information about torture manuals compiled by Army Intelligence that had been used at SOA as recently as 1992 and were distributed to thousands of officers from Latin American countries.

This is the tenth year that the national advocacy group School of Americas Watch has organized a mass demonstration at Ft. Benning. The demonstration is held on the anniversary of the murder of six Jesuit priests and their two women co-workers in El Salvador in 1989 by SOA graduates.

Legislation repeatedly introduced in Congress to close the Army's "School of Assassins" has so far been unsuccessful.

- School of Americas Watch
PeaceMeal, November/December 2000

Too little, but not too late to do more

"Making the truth public is a form of justice. This is a moral universe and you've got to take account of the fact that truth and lies and goodness and evil are things that matter."

- Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chairman
South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission

When President Clinton visited Guatemala on March 11, 1999, he all but apologized for United States support of right-wing military units that committed heinous atrocities during Guatemala's 36-year civil war.

"It is important that I state clearly that support for military forces or intelligence units that engaged in violent and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake," Clinton said in a meeting with Guatemalan citizens. He also told Guatemalan President Olvaro Arzu that the U.S. will continue to support efforts to examine and reveal the atrocities committed by the former military regime "to shed light on the dark events of the past so that they are never repeated."

Light has already been shed on those dark events by a United Nations report published in February (see article inside) which found that some 200,000 people were killed or disappeared during the bloody conflict that ended in the early 1990s. The report also found that the United States played a major role in funding and sustaining the repression. Our Central Intelligence Agency and private companies had extensive ties with the military forces most responsible for the killing. Our army's School of the Americas trained Guatemalan military officers in methods of torture and assassination.

In line with denials by former U.S. officials involved that we backed brutal dictatorships in order to combat communism, The Washington Post argued that Guatemala was a rare case and that our government typically acted to broaden freedom. Nothing could be further from reality. Our role in Guatemala was repeated in El Salvador and Nicaragua, in Indonesia and the Philippines, and in Iran. It is being repeated even today in Chiapas, Mexico, where we provide the military hardware — Humvees and helicopters — to maintain the oppression of impoverished peasants who dare to make waves.

It was our government that incited the civil war when it sent the CIA into Guatemala in 1954 to overthrow the democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. Arbenz incurred the wrath of U.S. interests when he began to expand economic and social reform programs, most notably with the 1952 Agrarian Reform Act. Under that law, Guatemala expropriated significant uncultivated holdings of the United Fruit Company in exchange for long-term bonds and redistributed the land to peasants.

It is at such crucial junctures in many countries, where ordinary people have come together to try to improve their condition, that our government has intervened against popular movements for the alleviation of poverty and for democratic representation.

To President Clinton's credit, he is the first sitting American president to make such a frank acknowledgement of our government's complicity in blatant human rights violations and crimes against humanity. But where is the action? If our president is sincere about the United States not bloodying its hands in the future, his words must be backed by actions that will effectively prevent us from following the same policies in the future.

Such necessary actions include:

For good measure, our president and his successors might uphold the solemn acknowledgment in our Declaration of Independence that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the unalienable rights of all people.

- Jim Stoffels, chairman and editor
March/April 1999

"... the root of all evil"
An open letter to Pres. Clinton

Dear Mr. President,

"The love of money is the root of all evil." For the sake of money, our weapons industries are pushing you to lift the 20-year-old ban on sale of high-tech weapons to Latin America. They say they are losing a potentially profitable new market to foreign competitors.

There is an alternative way to level the playing field without inciting the evil of an arms race in Latin America: Work through the United Nations and the Organization of American States for an international ban on sale of advanced weapons to Latin America.

Some argue that the arms sale restrictions of the 1970s are no longer warranted because democracy is spreading in Latin America. However, Argentina a country moving toward disarmament is adamantly opposed to lifting the ban. Chile and Brazil, neighboring countries which are interested in acquiring advanced weapons like the F-16, still do not have full civilian control over their military.

We ask: If democracy is spreading, why are more weapons needed? We expect that your enlightened support for gun control within our own borders will not be contradicted by opening the gate for our "top guns" to enter Latin America.

It should not be necessary to recount the agony of dictatorial military rule and bloody civil war from which too many Latin American countries are just beginning to emerge. We will do those countries and their people a grave injustice if we induce them to buy expensive new weapons and divert their meager budgets from vital economic and social needs.

The end of the Cold War has reduced markets for weapons in general. Living in the community around the Hanford Site, we are well aware of the job losses incurred by nuclear disarmament. Conventional disarmament, which is equally needed by our war-torn world, will incur similar losses.

Is peace worth the cost? The transition to a peace economy, whether in our United States, in Latin America, in Europe, or elsewhere, will never come without cost.

The arms industries calculate their bottom line only in dollars. To be true to its heritage of democracy, the United States must calculate its bottom line in people. Our bottom line is this: "You cannot serve God and mammon."

Peace and love,

Jim Stoffels, chairman
May/June 1997