Celebrated Human Rights Activist Dr. Blas Bonpane Warns Lawrence Activists About Provocateur Strategies

Wes Mixa

On May 22, 2001, major human rights activist Dr. Blas Bonpane visited Lawrence University and
lectured before a large crowd in Wriston Auditorium. Bonpane, a Maryknoll priest and superior,
served the Catholic Church in Guatemala from 1962 to 1965 and is internationally recognized for
his humanitarian efforts in South, Central, and North America. He is a UCLA and California State
University Northridge professor, contributor to the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, and
was a commentator and founder of KPFK 90.7FM, a pioneering public broadcasting station
predating PBS and NPR. Famous philosopher Noarm Chomsky says his “quiet modesty cannot
conceal his remarkable and inspiring life and work.” In 1985 Bonpane led the first International
March for Peace in Central America through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El
Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. In 1989 Dr. Bonpane was named “the most underrated
humanist of the past decade” by Los Angeles Weekly. He is currently Director of the Office of the
Americas, a non-profit corporation dedicated to peace and justice in the western hemisphere.
Dr. Bonpane claims that the United States is currently in a war system, a system supporting a
culture of violence and greed, which manifests itself in the poverty of American citizens at home
and the patterns of terror and violence in American policies abroad, such as those in Latin
America. To support his point, Bonpane highlights the School of Americas, located in Fort
Benning, Georgia, and its teaching of terror, torture, and violence as poltical tools to Latin
American militants; the reported rape and torture of Sister Dianna Ortiz, an Ursuline nun and
citizen of the United States in a Guatemalan prison overseen by a CIA operative, “Alejandro;”
numerous reported intrusions of the FBI against U.S. citizens’ rights during the term of Hoover;
United States intelligence of the assassination of democratically elected president of Chile,
Salvador Allende, reportedly for his refusal to privatize his country’s copper mine industry; and
the $260 billion ineffective “War on Drugs” in Latin America. Bonpane also voices his concern
about the ecological devastation caused by the United States military: “The military at peace is
trashing the globe.”
According to Bonpane, the current military system must be replaced by a peace system, one in
which there is “zero tolerance for violence.” Bonpane recalls the formation of the League of
Nations and the United Nations, criticizing the United States for not accepting the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, which nearly every other member of the U.N. has accepted.
Bonpane envisions the United States accepting and abiding by the Declaration, and redirecting
the resources of its present military efforts toward peaceful organizations and policies promoting
internal and international healing, such as the Red Cross. According to Dr. Bonpane, a primary
characteristic of the military system is the use of fear for political purposes and the stifling of
free thought. “When I was younger I wore a marine outfit,” says Bonpane, “I was dangerous,
very dangerous. To who? Anyone. You.”
Bonpane is positive that major changes toward a peace system are underway: “I think that the
moral revolution Martin Luther King has called for has come. There is more activism in the
United States in the year 2000 than there was in 1968.” Bonpane stated a clear warning,
however, coming from his decades of experience organizing peaceful protests and concerning a
political strategy known as “provocateurism.” Under provocateur strategies, members of groups
opposed to peaceful demonstrations use mob psychology tactics to promote violence within a
group, and thus redirect the intentions and attention of the protest event away from the groups’
causes and toward immature acts of violence. Bonpane claims that such politics were used in the
more recent and televised protests in Seattle, Philiadelphia, Los Angeles (Democratic
Convention), and demonstrations in Washington D.C. According to Bonpane, his son was
arrested in a peaceful protest “by the people wearing black breaking the windows,” and less than
one percent of the demonstrators in Seattle participated in violent acts. According to Bonpane in
his recent book Guerillas of Peace, “In the thirty years I have been in the peace movement, I
have never known anyone to burn a flag. I have never known anyone in the movement to burn
a flag.