SOA Watch leader encourages students to protest
By MATT SMITH
Smiling as he explained the sacrifices he has made as leader of the School of Americas Watch, Father Roy Bourgeois said, "If you go to prison for the right reasons, you are free, and I'll be going back again soon."
As an international freedom fighter, Bourgeois has seen many prison walls, spending a little over four years total behind bars. "Prison is a great place to do ministry," he said optimistically.
The School of Americas, located at Fort Benning, Ga., seems to be the only thing that upsets him. The school, supposedly dedicated to teaching young men about democracy, has instead produced some of the most dangerous and violent terrorists and dictators in the world. Topping the school's list of infamous graduates are Panamanian drug lord Manuel Noreaga, and Salvadorian death squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson.
Bourgeois' opposition group started with just a handful of protesters, but now each year thousands gather to protest by trespassing onto Fort Benning property. Bourgeois' first-hand experience of prison comes from these protests.
"They tell me I am breaking the law by trespassing, but I follow a higher law. A law that says suffering must be stopped, " he says. "They call it `civil disobedience,' but I call it `divine obedience.' "
Together with four Notre Dame students, he has been hoping to make an impact with speeches in the past two days at both Notre Dame and Saint Mary's.
Sophomore Brendan Egan, who was the principal organizer of Bourgeois' trip to campus, has been involved with service for many years, most recently making a summer trip to El Salvador. Also leading the way and vowing to participate in November are Liz Moriarty, Shelia McCarthy and Michael-John Myette. These students look to Bourgeois as their leader both in the fight for justice and spiritually.
Bourgeois' rise to prominence started after college, when he joined the military and fought in Vietnam. Disillusioned with the meaningless death and violence of war, he met a missionary that changed his life. After completing the seminary, he was ordained into the priesthood and assigned to Bolivia to help the poor.
While there, he saw first-hand all of the military brutality and joined a resistance movement. His involvement angered the oppressive government there, causing his removal from Bolivia.
Soon, another issue attracted his attention. On Nov. 16, 1989, a massacre in El Salvador erupted. Archbishop Romero, whom Bourgeois admired and considered "a voice for the voiceless, " was brutally murdered while saying Mass. Romero spoke out against violence and had been a voice filled with hope for peace in the troubled region.
Archbishop Romero was killed by Roberto D'Aubuisson's death squads. After looking into the terrorist's history, Bourgeois discovered that he was trained at the School of Americas in the United States. So began what has become a ten-year quest for him and his followers.
Hope seems to be rising for the School of Americas Watch. On July 30, the House of Representatives passed a bill to cut off some funding for the School, and now the bill is on its way to the Senate. Bourgeois attributed this success to the fervent letter-writing of taxpayers, who do not want their money to contribute to the training of potential terrorists.
A strong sense of unity is shown by Bourgeois and his student organizers all across the country.
His parting words were signs of his growing strength as an organizer: "You just can't do it all by yourself, you need others. Present your issue, and if it is noble and worthy, others will come. "
All News Stories for Thursday, September 9, 1999