One peace activist gets a $5,000 fine, another gets five years probation for entering Ft. Benning during protest to close the SOA

eve  nashua 2015 2-1

photo by María Luisa Rosal

from the Ledger-Enquirer

by Ben Wright

One School of Americas Watch protester was sentenced to five years probation and another was slapped with a maximum $5,000 fine Thursday for trespassing onto Fort Benning during the annual protest in November.

U.S. Magistrate Stephen Hyles sentenced Robert Norman Chantal, 62, of Americus to five years probation after pleading guilty and stating that he wouldn’t enter the post again. Chantal was dressed in a sad clown face during the Nov. 23 protest on Benning Road to close the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Calling 83-year-old Eve Tetaz a bad citizen, the judge sentenced the longtime activist to pay a $5,000 fine but the woman with a many medical issues avoided prison time. She must pay the fine in 30 days or make arrangements, one of her attorneys said outside District Court.

Chantal and Tetaz of Washington, D.C., were among the 1,336 people who gathered at the Stone Gate for the annual protest to remember the victims of violence in Latin America and call for closing the institute. It was the group’s 25th year at the post since the 1989 massacre in El Salvador was linked to graduates of the School of Americas which operated at the post from 1984 to December 2000. The school’s name was changed to the institute in 2001.

Chantal, who is also known as Nashua Chantal, said the sentencing was a victory.

“I feel that the judge understands what goes on in Latin America and he also understands we need change,” Chantal said outside the courthouse. “I think the system will work on that. It’s a big victory. Now that this is over with, I get to go back to my community and work with young people that need help and just continue my simple living.”

In a letter read to the judge, Chantal said he wanted the government to release the names of students attending the institute. If the government is proud of what the students are doing, he asked why the government won’t release the names of the students.

Attorney William P. Quigley, one of the SOA Watch attorneys from New Orleans, said a Freedom of Information letter and a lawsuit have been filed to get the names. “The government is doing everything in its power to try and make sure that nobody knows who is being trained out there,” he said. “We are fighting in court and the government is fighting us every inch of the way. We are continuing to fight that fight that’s going on now.”

Chantal also promised not to trespass again on post. He will spend his time working with young people building houses at the Flint River Habitat for Humanity in Albany, Ga.

In her statement to the judge, Tetaz said she entered at the Interstate 185 gate with a picture of a missing student in Mexico and a cross. She asked the guards where the missing could be found.

When Hyles questioned Tetaz on why she couldn’t have made that same request without crossing onto the military reservation. Tetaz said she didn’t see any difference in her right to petition the government.

Capt. Corey McKinnon, a special assistant U.S. Attorney, sought the maximum six months in prison and $5,000 fine for each of the protesters.

Anna Lellelid-Douffet, the SOA Watch attorney for Tetaz, noted the health problems for the retired public school teacher. She asked that Tetaz be allowed to self report to prison if she was sentenced to serve prison time.

Before ordering the fine, Hyles said the way to avoid prison time is to obey the law. It costs more than $80 a day to house an inmate in federal prison.

Tetaz’s attorneys were pleased with the sentence that avoids prison time for the protester. In response to the judge calling her a bad citizen, Tetaz said she doesn’t necessarily agree with him but she understands.

“That he was very angry, I hope it comes from his being moved by what I said and that his response was anger which is very human,” she said. “I’m going to write to the judge and tell him I sincerely didn’t want to upset him and that I believe that I am a good citizen as I continue to speak the truth to power and challenge the empire.”

eve  nashua walk out

photo by María Luisa Rosal

from SOA Watch

On Thursday morning, January 29, Eve Tetaz and Nashua Chantal stood trial before U.S. District Judge Stephen Hyles in Columbus, Georgia. The prosecution called for Eve, an 83-year-old retired public school teacher and longtime peace activist, and Nashua, a 62-year-old longtime SOA Watch activist, to be incarcerated for the six-month maximum for illegal entry onto Ft. Benning on November 23, 2014. Ft. Benning is home of the School of the Americas, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001 (SOA/WHINSEC).

During their sentencing by Judge Stephen Hyles, people in the courtroom, including the JAG attorneys were surprised when Nashua was sentenced to 5 years of probation, and Eve was sentenced to a $5,000 fine. Neither of them was sentenced to prison, something that Judge Hyles has been notorious for imposing on nonviolent activists since beginning his tenure in 2010. Represented by Anna Lellelid and Bill Quigley of the SOA Watch Legal Collective, Eve and Nashua were accompanied by Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Coleman Smith of the Puppetistas, SOA Watch Council Member Ken Hayes, Irene Rodriguez of the SOA Watch Communications Collective, Anton Flores of Georgia Detention Watch/AlternCommunity, members of Nashua’s community in Americus, and SOA Watch Field Organizer Maria Luisa Rosal.

During the press conference before entering the courtroom, Anna Lellelid stated, “Eve is planning to plead not guilty. Nashua crossed over a fence, and he was protesting the violations of human rights committed by graduates of the School of the Americas, and he will be pleading guilty, and hoping to serve community service with Habitat for Humanity in his community and continue to serve the people that he loves.” Bill Quigley stated, “We hope we are going to be walking out with both of these people today.”

During their trial, both Eve and Nashua addressed the court and spoke truth to power, highlighting the horrors of the School of the Americas:

Nashua stated, “I did cross the fence to protest the human rights violations in Latin America. I am totally supportive of the work of School of the Americas Watch, particularly the work to release the names of the gradautes. If they are proud of the school, they should be proud of their graduates.” After pleading guilty and requesting community service instead of prison, Nashua also said, “I have made my point. I have stood up for human rights.”

Similarly, Eve put the SOA on trial, as well as a U.S. culture of militarism when she affirmed, “torture is not a political tool. My own President asks ‘is this who we are?’. All of us would like to say no, but if the School of the Americas is kept open, then I am afraid the answer is yes. This is who we are.”

Thursday’s trial was a victory for the SOA Watch movement. Through their actions, Eve and Nashua continued to denounce the SOA, and in doing so, were still able to walk out of a courtroom that has historically seen harsh prison sentences handed down to others within the movement who have crossed the line in the past. To date, over 300 people have collectively served over 100 years of prison sentences for their nonviolent acts of civil disobedience to call attention to the SOA/WHINSEC. SOA Watch maintains that those responsible for the SOA torture manuals and for the training of repressive foreign militaries are the ones who should stand trial and be held accountable. Nashua and Eve are to be commended for speaking truth to power. They continue the long tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience.

Our work to close the SOA and to change oppressive U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America continues. In the face of more violence against our brothers and sisters in Latin America – the 43 disappeared students in Ayotzinapa, the continued violence and repression in Honduras, the impunity in Guatemala – we continue to organize and to come up with creative forms of resistance.

La lucha sigue, the struggle continues.