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Home Action Action History 1999 65 Human Rights Activists Arrested at November 21 Protest at U.S. Army School of the Americas, 23 To Be Prosecuted
65 Human Rights Activists Arrested at November 21 Protest at U.S. Army School of the Americas, 23 To Be Prosecuted PDF Print E-mail
FT. BENNING, GA – United in protest of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, 4,408 people risked arrest and crossed the line onto the Ft. Benning military base on Sunday, November 21. Of those, 65 were arrested and 23 who had crossed the line in previous years will face prosecution for trespassing on federal property.

Although more than 4,400 people from around the country risked arrest by crossing the Ft. Benning property line, the Army processed and served "bar and ban" notices to only 65 individuals, most of whom were among the group that led the procession onto the base wearing black mourning shrouds and "death masks" and bearing coffins. Once on the base, they smeared red paint on themselves and lay next to the coffins. The majority of the line crossers were seized and taken in buses to a public park approximately two miles away from the base. An estimated 500 people who refused to board the 30 waiting buses remained on the base until about 6:15 p.m., at which point they marched back to the base’s entrance where the crowd cheered their return.

SOA Watch estimated that 12,000 people from the around the country, as well as Peru, Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Canada attended the day-long vigil, compared to 7,000 last year. Leading the states with the highest number of people risking arrest were NY with 317, OH with 310, MN with 259 and IL with 256. The number of those risking arrest nearly doubled from 2,319 in 1998. This year, the event honored the memory of the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter who were murdered by SOA graduates in El Salvador.

"We are telling the leaders of SOA that they can change their name and move the school, but we are not going away," said Adriana Portillo-Bartow of Chicago, a Guatemalan human rights worker whose family members, including her father and two daughters, were disappeared during the Guatemalan civil war. Also present at the vigil were actor Martin Sheen and long-time peace activist and Catholic priest Daniel Berrigan.

At noon on Sunday as people carrying white crosses crossed onto the military base, the names of SOA victims, including the six Jesuit priests, Portillo-Bartow’s family members, and those who were killed in the 1981 massacre of nearly 1,000 villagers in El Mozote, El Salvador, were read aloud. The crowd responded by calling out "Presente," after each name, as a gesture that the dead were with them in spirit. The entire procession took more than an hour to cross.

"We will keep coming back in greater numbers until the school is shut down," said SOA Watch founder and co-director Father Roy Bourgeois. The year 2000 will mark the 10th year that SOA Watch will organize a mass vigil at Ft. Benning.


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