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Interview with SOA Watch organizers arrested at the US/Canadian border

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  • SOA Watch /NE
    Hendrik Voss and Eric LeCompte were stopped by Canadian border guards as they were traveling to give a non-violent CD training in BC. Eric was banned for life
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 19, 2001
      Hendrik Voss and Eric LeCompte were stopped by Canadian border guards as
      they were traveling to give a non-violent CD training in BC. Eric was banned
      for life from Canada and Hendrik was arrested for deportation by US border
      guards. Swift international solidarity freed Hendrik. Their experience
      indicates what "homeland security" is going to mean for activists.
      On October 10th, Hendrik Voss, a German citizen and volunteer for SOA
      Watch/NE and former volunteer for the SOA Watch national office, was
      arrested by the US Border Patrol at the WA state/Canadian border. Hendrik
      was traveling with Eric LeCompte, SOA Watch Outreach Director. Both were on
      the way to give presentations about the US sponsored war in Colombia and to
      hold nonviolence trainings for SOA Watch groups in British Colombia, Canada.
      This was to be the start of the first leg of a West Coast tour involving
      presentations and trainings down the coast from BC, Canada to San Francisco.
      Hendrik was held overnight at the county jail in Colville, WA, while Eric
      was released at the border after being banned for life from entering Canada.

      Due to a swift and well-coordinated international protest, Hendrik was
      released the next day and together with Eric continued on to Seattle where I
      was able to attend their workshop on non-violent resistance.
      Both generously agreed to an interview with Left Turn via e-mail.

      Left Turn: For those of our readers who may not be familiar with SOA Watch,
      can you tell us about the School of the Americas and the goals of your
      current tour of the West coast?

      Eric: School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch), is a grassroots organization
      trying to walk in solidarity with our sisters and brothers throughout Latin
      America. It seeks to educate, mobilize and empower individuals to challenge
      and change corrupt US foreign policy, and ultimately to close the School of
      the Americas (last January renamed the "Western Hemisphere Institute for
      Security Cooperation").

      The School of the Americas is a US military training school established in
      Panama in 1946, ostensibly "to bring stability to Latin America." Currently
      located at Fort Benning, GA, the SOA trains hundreds of soldiers each year,
      at a cost to US tax payers of millions of dollars annually. SOA graduates
      have done little to promote stability in their countries. In fact, hundreds
      have been cited in the rape, "disappearance," torture, and massacre of
      thousands of Latin Americans. Their primary targets have included educators,
      union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, indigenous communities
      and those who speak out on behalf of the poor.

      Hendrik: From it�s beginning, the mission of the SOA has been to train
      soldiers to protect the interests of multinational corporations and to
      maintain the economic status quo for the few rich and powerful in the US and
      their cohorts in Latin America. The focus of our organizing work as SOA
      Watch has broadened over the course of the last two years and includes now
      resistance to oppressive trade agreements like the FTAA, and covers also
      domestic issues like the US prison system. We see the Prison Industrial
      Complex and the School of the Americas both as symptoms of a broader system
      of exploitation and oppression, a system that is dependent on repressive
      institutions to stay in power.

      The intention of our Canada/US West Coast tour is not only to bring the
      issues of the SOA/militarism, human rights and socioeconomic oppression to
      the public, but also to facilitate some kind of coalition building in the
      local communities that we are going to visit. The Seattle event that you
      have been apart of for example brought together Earth First! activists, rank
      and file trade unionists and members of the religious community.

      Eric: These are serious times but I also believe that the current crisis is
      a teachable moment. SOA Watch has a ten-year history of nonviolent direct
      action and we are currently able to connect with hundreds of other
      organizations and grassroots movements. It is a crucial time for organizing
      and training others in nonviolence and leadership skills to work for
      systemic social change. We have an amazing opportunity and a critical
      challenge to go deeper into our understandings of nonviolence. We have the
      power within in us to subvert this ugly system and transform our world into
      something sublime.

      Left Turn: During the workshop, you talked about your experiences at the
      border. The level of harassment by border guards has been on the increase in
      recent years, but your experience indicates a new relationship between US
      and Canadian law enforcement. Please tell us what happened at the border.

      Eric: We entered Canada at the Patterson station north of Spokane, and were
      detained. The Immigration official asked for our identification papers and
      then disappeared into the Canadian Immigration Office. After about 20
      minutes, a US Immigrations Agent joined the Canadian Immigration official.
      The Canadian official emerged from the building and asked us to pull the car
      to the side of the building. The Canadian Immigration official knew my
      history and he knew when I'd been arrested for political reasons in the
      United States. Our car and all belongings were thoroughly searched jointly
      by a Canadian immigrations official and an US immigrations agent. Canadian
      and US immigration officials spent a great deal of time looking through SOA
      Watch materials in our car. According to the Canadian Immigration officials,
      Canadian Immigration has access to the FBI database and were able to produce
      my conviction record and other information about me available in my FBI
      file. After being detained for three hours of searching and interrogation
      they told me that I would not be admitted to Canada because of an arrest in
      1995 where I was demonstrating for Welfare Reform in Rochester, New York.
      Hendrik was not admitted to Canada either. I was also told that part of the
      reason that we would not be admitted to Canada is because they suspect that
      we would encourage Canadians to protest. They told me that I should not
      return to Canada at all in the future, and if I do return they will arrest
      me immediately. Hendrik was also told by Canadian officials that he could
      not enter Canada now because he didn't have enough money on him.

      Hendrik: Back at US customs we were stopped again and ordered by US border
      police to get out of our car and to come into the border station. Inside the
      border station I was immediately singled out and brought into an office in
      the back, where I met the same INS agent that had taken part in the
      questioning and the search of our car on the Canadian side of the border. I
      had to empty out my pockets and the INS agent went outside and grabbed my
      backpack out of the car to search it. He and the US border patrol agent in
      charge were especially interested in political literature and questioned me
      about my involvement in protest actions in the United States. The border
      patrol agent left the room where I was interrogated with my notebook and
      read extensive passages from it over the phone while the INS officer
      continued to ask me where I�ve learned about the School of the Americas and
      other questions related to political issues. As the INS agent began to talk
      about deportation, I stopped answering any questions and demanded to talk to
      an immigration lawyer. In retrospect I shouldn�t have talked to the INS or
      the border police at all.

      Left Turn: Hendrik, what happened after you were taken from the border
      station? Were you aware of the international support being organized to
      defend you?

      Hendrik: The border patrol agent handcuffed and transferred me to the border
      patrol station in Colville, WA, where all of my written material as well as
      all political literature got copied. I was finally allowed to make my phone
      call and talked to a supporter in the region. After the call I let the
      border patrol know that I wouldn�t take part in any further interrogation
      and proceedings until I would have been in contact with my lawyer, Katya
      Komisaruk from the Just Cause Law Collective. They got pretty upset about
      that and came up with bogus claims that disobedience would result in
      criminal charges against me etc. After I got picked up from my chair to be
      processed with force, I went limp and one of the border patrol officers
      shouted out; �that boy got trained � he�s not doing this for the first
      time�� Engaging in non-cooperation tactics actually allowed me to stay
      somewhat in control in a situation that is laid out to be disempowering.
      Katya called pretty fast. We had to start out talking over speakerphone (my
      hands were still cuffed on my back) with three agents in the room, but after
      she demanded some more privacy, I got chained to a chair and could pick up
      the phone. Katya reassured me of my legal rights and informed me how I
      should best proceed further in jail. She also updated me about the planning
      for solidarity actions that took place right away after my arrest and a
      campaign that was started in activist networks in Germany to pressure the
      German consulate to take action. After we were ready, Katya also talked to
      one of the border patrol agents witch resulted immediately in a much better
      The next time that I heard about the effective solidarity work that was
      going on outside was as I got transferred to the Stephens County Jail, where
      I spent the night. The jail guards placed me in a waiting room while they
      discussed my case with the border patrol agents. I was able to hear them
      through the door. �He�s one of these IMF/World Bank people� he has got a
      whole system behind him with lawyers and everything� it�s a whole can of
      The next morning I was told that the District Council in Seattle decided
      that they �don�t want to fight this battle� and that I am free. Ken Little,
      SOA Watch union organizer and Advisory Group member from Tacoma, WA picked
      me up at the jail and we drove to Spokane were people had been up the whole
      night to strategize and contact the networks that ensured this success.
      There is no question that I would be still in jail or deported by now if it
      weren�t for the solidarity work that took place.
      I am sure that there are hundreds of others that are being unjustly targeted
      for their political believes or because of the color of their skin and the
      INS has an easy game because no one knows about them.

      Left Turn: Eric, we all shared a laugh during the workshop about the legal
      actions taken against you by the Canadian authorities, but this is a serious
      situation. How will this restriction on your right to travel affect you and
      the efforts of SOA Watch?

      Eric: Well, I�m banned from Canada because of my work to close down the
      School of the Americas. I can�t visit Canadian groups that are working on
      this vital human rights issue. But this movement is bigger than any one
      person. The events in Canada went ahead without us and were well attended
      because of what happened to us. We are finding that there is greater
      interest in some of the cities Hendrik and I are visiting on the West Coast
      because of what happened at the border. Also, this entire event really
      invigorated the movement to close the SOA. Thousands of people called the
      German consulate asking for the consulate�s assistance with Hendrik�s
      release. Members of congress and major religious leaders were moved by our
      movement to contact the INS and demand Hendrik�s release. The fact that I
      cannot return to Canada without being arrested was an opportunity for us
      because it unmasked what this system is willing to do to squash dissent and
      to stop those of us who are working for a more humane world. Whenever we are
      able to unmask this system, we have the opportunity to show the people of
      the world the ugly face of this system.

      Left Turn: How do you expect Bush's global war and his new Homeland Security
      project to affect the work of SOA Watch, particularly the upcoming events at
      the SOA base in Ft. Benning, Georgia during the weekend of Nov 16th?

      Eric: We at SOA Watch are already seeing the effects of this global war on
      terrorism. Beyond what happened to Hendrik and I at the border, our movement
      has been wrapped up in a permit struggle with the city of Columbus. General
      Lemoyne of Ft. Benning has told Columbus Mayor, bobby Peters, not to grant
      us a permit at the gates of Ft. Benning this year. Hence, the mayor followed
      General Lemoyne�s orders and we�ve been fighting to be in Columbus as we
      have for the last ten years. Additionally, Mayor Bobby Peters has threatened
      to arrest the organizers of our annual gathering at the gates of Ft. Benning
      if civil disobedience occurs. The times are serious when civilian
      authorities are taking their orders from Generals at US Army bases. No
      matter what, we will gather again in Columbus this November and if we are
      arrested for organizing, we have yet another opportunity to unmask the
      ugliness of this system.

      Hendrik: On another note, our movement has received a lot of attention in
      recent weeks because of this so called global war on terrorism. People know
      that Osama Bin Laden and several of the alleged perpetrators of the Pentagon
      and World Trade Center tragedies received military training either from US
      forces or via US aid. People are saying is that we have a training camp for
      terrorists in our own backyard called the SOA. More than ever, we must
      gather in Columbus to call for this training camp for Terrorists to be
      closed. If President Bush was serious about a war on terrorism his first act
      would be to close the SOA in Ft. Benning Georgia.

      Left Turn: What can the readers of Left Turn do to support the work of SOA
      Watch and defend the rights of those targeted immigrants who may not be part
      of the movement for global justice and peace?

      Hendrik: The attacks carried out by SOA trained militaries against the
      people of Latin America are part and parcel of the same system that
      criminalizes immigrant communities and erodes civil liberties in the United
      States. In order to affect real social change, we need to tear down the
      false distinction between different single issues and support each other in
      our struggles for justice. It�s also crucial that we are taking on the
      responsibility to make the voices of those heard who�s voices have been
      taken away. May it be the voices of people murdered by graduates of the SOA
      or the voices of people who are incarcerated because of racist and unjust
      immigration policies.

      Eric: We tried this on October 15th through 18th. We were supposed to be in
      Vancouver, but since I couldn't return to Canada without being arrested and
      Hendrik couldn't go because of US immigration problems, we met with folks
      from different civil liberties groups and we spoke to legal and immigration
      rights groups about organizing to protect our civil liberties and raise
      awareness about immigrants who may be unjustly imprisoned. We ended up
      having a demonstration in Tacoma, Washington followed by a delegation of
      concerned citizens who delivered a letter, which advocated for immigrant
      rights, to the INS headquarters in Seattle. We are all a part of the same
      struggle and our struggles of liberation are all bound together. We are
      unmasking this ugly system and together we will build a world where liberty
      and beauty can thrive.

      Hendrik Voss, 26 started his political life in the antifascist struggle
      against the rightwing resurgence in Germany. He left Europe for Washington,
      DC in 1999 and became full time staff for SOA Watch

      Eric Lecompte, 25, as a child on the South Side of Chicago, as a Catholic
      Worker in New York, and as a college student in Colombia, has seen the
      effects of US policy upon the poor. He has organized for the Fellowship of
      Reconciliation, Pax Christi USA, and the GI Rights Hotline and been arrested
      for advocating radical/economic justice and disarmament.

      For more information about the campaign to close down the School of the
      Americas and the upcoming November vigil and direct action visit

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