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The Culture of Militarism : The Idea of Shelling Out Billions for Strong Armies Is Bankrupt. Providing Basic Human Rights--Housing, Education, Health Care--Calls for the Elimination of This System.

May 01, 1994|BLASE BONPANE | Human rights activist Blase Bonpane is director of Office of the Americas, a Los Angeles-based group that provides information and analysis on current events in Latin America and the Caribbean. A professor of American government who has taught at several colleges and universities in Southern California, he is also host of a weekly radio show that is syndicated to 20 stations, including KPFK-FM in Los Angeles, and can been seen monthly on Century Cable's "World Focus" program. A former Maryknoll priest and missionary, Bonpane was expelled from Guatemala in 1967 for his work organizing peasants. More recently, he ran as the Green Party candidate in the 30th Congressional District when Edward Roybal retired in November, 1992. He was interviewed by Times staff writer Kevin Baxter. and

Countries are like people--you have to evaluate their performance. And when you evaluate this country, what you find is that we are very high on civil liberties but actually we're quite weak on human rights.

I can open a porno shop if I want to. That's a civil liberty. But we're weak in terms of the right to housing. Many people need to see that the right to housing is a human right, and we have very serious human rights abuses being committed right here by virtue of people not having housing.

We're also weak in terms of the right to medical care. We're weak in terms of the right to an education. Those rights are part of the constitutional offerings of many young nations, many new nations.

In our Constitution, we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which are abstractions. People are looking for concrete rights.

It's important that people see the relationship between the problems in the United States and Latin America.

Look at our own city. Right now we have as many as a half-million Salvadorans in Los Angeles. We didn't have very many at all until U.S. foreign policy began to include assisting the military in El Salvador. And we were responsible for assisting in the death of some 80,000 Salvadorans. While that was taking place in their country, they were fleeing to our country. We drove them here.

The same could be said for Guatemala. For 40 years now, Guatemala has essentially been a military police state. That has driven many Guatemalans to the United States. So we have to realize where the people come from that are filling our streets, and we have to realize we helped draw them here.

The very monies that were spent to prop up the militaries in El Salvador, in Honduras, in Guatemala, throughout Latin America are monies that are not spent on the problems in the cities in this country.

We in the United States have always believed that we could control any country if we controlled their military. The tragedy of this thinking is that by support ing the war system, we are supporting entities that exist only to control their own people. The best thing that could happen is the elimination of this system.

In 1948, Costa Rica disbanded its army. As a result, they have an education system and they have a health system.

When Guatemala disbands its army, it will have an education system and it will have a health system.

When the United States stops giving half of its resources to a military-industrial complex, we will have a functional education system.

What we have to understand is the fact that the military is the obstacle.

The culture of militarism, the idea that the way to deal with the Americas is simply to have strong armies, is bankrupt and the people in those countries know it.

Just look at the Zapatista rebels in Mexico today. What the hell did you expect? Did you expect them to have their kids live on one tortilla a day for the next 10 years? It's the same thing.

I remember one time when I was working as a missionary I had to baptize all these babies, and they all looked awful. Dirty, sick. I think one of them might have been dead. And I said I'd never do that again.

Vaccinate them first. God doesn't need them baptized. I don't need them baptized. We're going to vaccinate them first. We're not going to spend any more time baptizing dead children.

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