Interview with Luis Barrios
Priest to serve time for protesting U.S. torture, assassin school
Published Feb 26, 2009 11:15 PM
On Jan. 26, Fr. Luis Barrios declared the Western Hemisphere Institute for
Security Cooperation guilty of training in murder and torture to advance U.S.
imperialism’s interests in Latin America. At the same time, the U.S.
District Court sentenced him to serve two months in federal prison for walking
onto the grounds of Fort Benning, home of Whinsec, better known by its former
name, School of the Americas.
Fr. Barrios is an Episcopal priest, professor and chair of the Department of
Latin American and Latina/o Studies at John Jay College of Criminal
Justice—City University of New York, as well as a journalist and
well-known anti-war activist.
WW photo: Deirdre Griswold
As Fr. Barrios prepared for what he called his two-month “retreat,”
he described to Workers World his reasons for joining the 20,000 protesters at
Ft. Benning on Nov. 23 and why he felt it was important for him to cross the
line onto the army base.
“As my brother Karl Marx said, this is not a moment to describe what is
going on, but to act. I think this is where we need to go. ... It is not that I
was doing nothing, just at this moment I made a decision that I had to do
something more drastic.
“First, Ft. Benning is nothing new. We have been working on closing SOA
for years. Second, war is not an isolated issue in what is going on in behalf
of the U.S. government. For example, we put a lot of energy into bringing the
troops back, to stop the stupid wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—or any
attempt to go into any other country. We are trying to close Guantánamo,
but we need to understand that all these are very unique and particular
symptoms of something we understand as U.S. imperialism. Sometimes they get
disconnected. I can find myself fighting for one issue but having the capacity
to connect that issue with something more, something bigger we need to
In his statement to the court on Jan. 20, Barrios said he carried a photo of
assassinated El Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero with him as he crossed
the gates of Ft. Benning. Barrios' statement explained that Romero’s
1980 “assassination was planned and executed by graduates from the School
of the Americas, with the blessings of the U.S. government, following a speech
in which he pleaded for the army to stop massacring the Salvadoran
SOA trains Colombian military
The organizing to close SOA/Whinsec is not only for justice in the past. Today,
Barrios said, “Colombia is the country with the most graduates from SOA.
SOA can’t be disconnected from Plan Colombia. [Colombian President
Alvaro] Uribe is the number one puppet for U.S. ideology. Because he needs to
stay in power, Colombia is number one at SOA and they return to commit
“Plan Colombia is a military plan. You need to understand it is bigger
than Colombia—to get rid of Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa,
to control the resources of the people, like oil and water. If you take the
displacement of people under Plan Colombia—you can understand
displacement in Iraq because there is open war—Colombia is second in the
world. Nearly four million people have been displaced from land with reserves
of oil and water. It is no accident. They say this is where the guerillas are
and the biggest plantations of drugs—but that is not true.
“Colombia is already the Israel of Latin America. U.S. money for military
equipment is similar. They manage to manufacture a government that will respond
to the interests of the U.S.”
Barrios also noted that the academic establishment shapes ideological
discussion in favor of capitalism and there is less talk about class struggle,
a topic that along with economic analysis needs to be fully discussed. He said
the military isn’t the only method used by the U.S. to invade another
country. Economic dependency is one of the strongest weapons allowing the U.S.
to do whatever it wants to do. Many countries are still controlled by the IMF,
World Bank and free trade agreements—CAFTA, NAFTA and others—that
are not really free at all. Economic independence with the mechanisms and
structures to get there are essential.
Asked about the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), Barrios said it
is going in the direction to challenge the U.S. free trade agreements and for
the people, not the corporations. “The biggest issue is the capitalist
system,” Barrios stated. “That is what we need to
Barrios plans to speak on the broader issues around closing SOA/Whinsec both in
the U.S. and in Latin America.
In addition to Barrios, Theresa Cusimano of Denver,
Co.; Kristin Holm of
Chicago; Sr. Diane
Pinchot, OSU, from Cleveland, Ohio; and Al Simmons from Richmond,
Va., were each sentenced to two months in federal prison for their actions at
Ft. Benning. Louis Wolf
from Washington, D.C., was sentenced to six months house arrest. Fines ranged
from $250 to $1,000. Go to soaw.org for more information.
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