Kirkwood Mom Risks Jail to Protest Death of Honduran Man Print
After crawling through a hole in the boundary fence and dashing onto the grounds of the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning, Ga., Tina Busch-Nema mixed a bag of soil from Honduras with the Georgia earth.

She also carried a cross inscribed with the name Eduardo to represent a young man who was rounded up by the Honduran army while his family waited for him to bring home a Christmas cake.

The disappearance of that stranger, for which Busch-Nema believes the U.S. bears indirect responsibility, along with her own experiences in Central America, led Busch-Nema from Kirkwood to Georgia to protest what detractors still refer to as the School of the Americas.
She went having already decided she would break the law in civil disobedience, for which she fully expected she would be arrested and is now prepared to go to jail, she explains calmly.

Busch-Nema was arrested Nov. 17 at Fort Benning and has been charged with criminal trespassing. She will stand trial in a Georgia court in January. At 48, Busch-Nema, married and a mother of three children, doesn't fit the image of a protester, but her decision was affirmed by the request of a Honduran nun to carry a cross onto the base to honor the nun's brother.

"They've never found his body," Busch-Nema explained. "There's never been any justice at all."

Fifteen others were arrested along with Busch-Nema; organizers estimated about 22,000 people protested outside the fort.

The Department of Defense organization they have been protesting annually for the last 16 years technically no longer exists. The School of the Americas (SOA) was officially closed by former President Bill Clinton and immediately was replaced by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHINSEC, which is based at Fort Benning.

WHINSEC, like the School of the Americas before it, is a government-funded school that strives to promote cooperation and understanding by educating the members of the militaries and police forces of participating Latin American nations, said Lee A. Rials, the institute's public affairs officer.

Critics, however, say former students of both SOA and WHINSEC have left the school only to violate human rights in their own countries. A protest group called School of Americas Watch cites numerous dictators, military officers and paramilitarists who the group claims learned techniques of torture, intimidation and repression at the school.

While some people who have passed through the school have been implicated in crimes, Rials argues that no cause-and-effect relationship ever has been proven. Critics simply connect two disparate events, he said, and imply a connection. In many cases, the criminals attended only a few weeks of classes many years before the abuses, Rials said.

Neither WHINSEC nor SOA ever have taught anything illegal, Rials said. The institute does not teach classes in coercion or interrogation, he says.

For SOA Watch members and protesters such as Busch-Nema, however, there is no doubt of the connection. At the same time, the school also is a powerful symbol of what the protesters see as a history of U.S. meddling in Latin America. Protesting the school and advocating its closure is a statement for peace, they say.

"I have incredible hope," Busch-Nema said. "I look at this as a drop in the bucket for peace."

WHINSEC allows visitors onto the base and into the classrooms, Rials said. There was an open house and a panel discussion during the weekend of the November protest, he said. SOA Watch decries what it claims is the institute's secrecy and promotes a U.S. House of Representatives resolution that would close the institute and require a Congressional investigation, said SOA Watch spokesman Joao Da Silva.

"I think it is really important that we look into what WHIN-SEC is and what the School of the Americas was," Da Silva said.

The date of the protest marks the murders of six Jesuit priests and two El Salvadorans in the Latin American country Nov. 16, 1989. Nineteen of the 26 soldiers involved in the murders had attended SOA classes, Da Silva said.

Though SOA Watch isn't officially religious, its founder is a Catholic priest, and it receives strong support from some Catholic organizations. The Kirkwood resident said that for her, the decision to protest was "a spiritual journey."

Busch-Nema studied and lived for 13 years with the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She lived there under temporary vows for many years but left the community shortly after making her final vows.

She still has friends in the convent, and many of them have supported her protests at Fort Benning.

In the late 1980s, Busch-Nema worked with the school sisters at a United Nations refugee camp in Honduras. Near the camp, she crossed paths with a group of mercenaries. When she decided to trespass onto the base, she was recalling the fear she felt during that occasion.

"I was hoping that if they were going to kill me, that they would kill me fast, instead of raping me or something," she said.

The experience of crossing onto the base did not feel like a futile gesture, she said. Rather, it gave her hope that at her day in court she would have the opportunity to speak for the "thousands of people who just don't have a voice."

Rials said he has no doubt protesters are well-intentioned.

"It's a misdirection of very sincere people," Rials said. "I have no question that those people are sincere. But if they are really concerned about U.S. foreign policy, then there should be a more direct way to approach it."

Busch-Nema said her arrest is just one small action that she hopes will lead to a larger change. She thought a lot about the time she'll likely lose with her children, but she said her "desire for peace outweighed my fear."

She said her decision also was influenced by the desire to give an example of integrity to her children.

"I want them to understand that there are times in your life when you stand up and say, 'No, that is not OK,'" she said.

Thinking about the missing Honduran boy, Busch-Nema decided that taking the protest onto base grounds was worth the punishment.

"I had no doubt in my mind that I would do it a thousand times over for him, and for those other people," she said.


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