Students Protest, Fast for Justice Print
Saturday, 28 April 2007 00:00


Protestors held up banners about their three-day fast opposing the former SOA to traffic passing by along Wisconsin Avenue Wednesday afternoon in front of the Federal Building, 310 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Media Credit: Joseph Boesen
Protestors held up banners about their three-day fast opposing the former SOA to traffic passing by along Wisconsin Avenue Wednesday afternoon in front of the Federal Building, 310 W. Wisconsin Ave.
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Twenty-three Marquette students, two faculty members and several other students in the Milwaukee area have joined several thousands across the nation in a three-day fast to protest the School of the Americas.

The fast was organized by SOA Watch, a national group set up to protest the school for training civilian, military and law enforcement officers located at the U.S. Army Base Fort Benning, Ga.

The fast is designed to call attention to a House of Representatives resolution to be introduced this summer which proposes closing and investigating SOA, which was renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001. SOA Watch members chose to fast and demonstrate because they would be more visible on the street.

"Fasting brings people's attention to our message," said Patrick Kennelly, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. "It puts pressure on people to pay attention when they walk out of their office."

Rev. Steven Avella, professor of history, is also participating in the fast because he wants to see SOA/WHINSEC closes.

"As Catholics we believe that fasting has an effect of change," he said. "People who wanted to bring about the end of segregation did the same thing."

The group has scheduled nightly reflections to come together and help each other fast and a buddy system to encourage each other, Kennelly said.

The controversy centers around SOA/WHINSEC graduates who have returned to their native countries and have taken military action that would have gotten them a court martial in the U.S., according to Michael Fleet, professor of political science.

The student protestors compared SOA/WHINSEC to a terrorist training camp.

"The camp advocates the use of torture which contradicts our country's message of democracy and freedom," Kennelly said.

Students began their protest Wed. morning in front of the Federal Building at North Old World 3rd Street and West Wisconsin Avenue and moved in front of Gesu Church at midday. They are scheduled to promote their message across the campus through speeches and reflections through Friday.

"We cannot cooperate or respect the fact that people are being wrongly killed in our name," Kennelly said. "We promote democracy but train dictators."

Fleet said that the camp was designed to train soldiers and maintain ties with other militaries in Central and South America.

"They (the military) would define it as hemispherical security," he said.

Although graduates have committed many violent acts, Fleet said many Latin American government officials believe that their military is better off because of training they receive at SOA/WHINSEC. However, many are protesting the fact that officers are trained by the U.S. Army.

And many people are outraged at the fact that graduates have been responsible for killing members of the clergy. In November 1989, six Jesuits were killed by Salvadorian soldiers in El Salvador. The killings inspired the vigil held at Fort Benning every November.

Fleet said that from the 1960s to 1980s Central and South American governments believed priests and nuns were involved in subversive activities and needed to be eliminated or controlled.

"People have said (WHINSEC) can be an institution for positive change in a politically unstable South America but I don't buy that," Avella said. "They have trained murderers and assassins."

Fleet said he agrees that the training is questionable.

"The training and behavior they exhibit can be problematic," he said. "They are doing things that attack principles of humanity."