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