Celebrated human rights activist Dr. Blas Bonpane warns Lawrence activists about provocateur strategies

Wes Miksa

Late last May, 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 90.7 FM, 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 political 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.”