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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.

Luis Barrios
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 eradicate.”

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 people.” (www.soaw.org)

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 atrocities. ...

“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 eradicate.”

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.