Bishop’s death raises questions about school

By BERNARD A. SURVIL June 10,1998

Seattle P.I.

RURAL GUATEMALA   I took the pre­dawn phone call. The Maryknoll sister said to pass the word to the others in the house: They had killed Bishop Gerardi.

By the time it got light outside, I was on my way to join the protest that had been planned for months to take place outside the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City.

The previous Friday the coordinating committee, largely made up of Guatemalan Catholic religious, had held a news confer­ence at its headquarters to explain the event. Petitions were circulating seeking endorse­ments to urge the Guatemalan government to boycott the School of the Americas (located at Fort Benning, Ga.).

Videos were circulating about the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, currently serving jail time once again for crossing the line outside the U.S. Army base. Another video featured the testimony of Army Maj. Joseph Blair, one­time instructor at the school and now a supporter for its closing. .

As already widely covered by the U.S. media, the Recuperation of Historical Memo­ry project, headed by Gerardi, had held three days previously a solemn session in the archdiocesean cathedral with the diplomatic corps in attendance. Our diocese of Verapaz has been an active partner recording count­less interviews with people who had the courage to go on record about what had happened to their loved ones during the terrible civil war years of the 1970s and 1980s. Even the politically conservative in our parish were saying they killed Gerardi for saying the truth.

Many Guatemalan clergy and religious have no illusions about the brutality of their own military because the military finds plenty of support in the entrenched wealthy and fundamentalist Christians who have a proven preference for dictatorships. That reality is why many clergy and religious say it's curious that Gerardi was killed on the eve of our demonstration at the U.S. Embassy and that the media gave it so little coverage. Could it be that once again hard liners in the United States are at the root of the assassina­tion? They know the list of political assassi­nations is long and includes as victims even U.S. citizens.

For my part, the blind commitment of the Republican dominated U.S. Congress to maintain the School of the Americas can only fuel speculation among historically aware Central Americans. It reminds me of the spring of 1979 when 125 members of the U.S. Congress petitioned President Carter " to stand behind our friend Anastasio Somoza,” who, incidentally, was frantically repressing the Nicaraguan people to keep himself and his business empire intact and in power. Such are the friends of the U.S. Congress.

The Rev. Ennio Bossu, Italian missionary for 20 years here and translator of the New Testament into two Mayan languages, asked me at a clergy meeting this month: "Just what devil is driving supporters of the School of the Americas?" My response: Idol worship. The gun and those who handle it in the United States see themselves as the saviors of "their way of life." That's why even children in U.S. society are reared surrounded by guns and taught the way of the gun.

Urgent is the need for the idol worshiper's to spread their doctrine: Violence is the sure way to get one's way, to even the score, to be a sport, to collect trophies. So if Americans teach that to their children, they'll want to teach Latin American adults gun literacy, at. U.S. taxpayers' expense, no less.

The suspicion of Guatemalan church people is very credible. The best way for U.S. readers to relieve the pain of the truth is to make sure their representative in Congress is on record to close the school by "taking out" its budgetary request for Fiscal Year 1999. The vote is due in Congress in early summer.

The Rev. Bernard A. Survil is pastor of a rural Roman Catholic parish in Guatemala, Originally from Olean, N.Y., he is the founder of the Child Forester Project, in which Guatemalan children plant and care for trees in return for a primary education.