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School of the Americas Watch founder to speak

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The first speaker in the annual Peace Lecture series of the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) at Bethel College will be given by internationally known peace activist Father Roy Bourgeois, M.M., founder of the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch.

Father Roy will speak on "The Struggle for Peace and Justice in Latin America" on the Bethel campus Tuesday, Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium of the Fine Arts Center. The event is free and open to the public.

Roy Bourgeois was born and raised in the small town of Lutcher, La. He graduated from the University of Southwestern Louisiana with a degree in geology, but his quest to strike it rich in the oilfields was cut short by the Vietnam War. Bourgeois enlisted in the Navy and served four years as a naval officer – two at sea, one at a NATO station in Europe and one on shore duty in Vietnam. He received the Purple Heart after being wounded in a bombing raid that killed several of his friends.

After his discharge from the Navy, Bourgeois decided to “put the life of a warrior behind [him]” and entered the seminary of the Maryknoll Missionary order. In 1972, he was ordained a Catholic priest. He spent five years working with the poor in Bolivia before being arrested and forced to leave the country, then under the repressive rule of dictator and SOA graduate General Hugo Banzer.

In 1980, Father Roy became involved in issues of U.S. policy in El Salvador after four American churchwomen – two of them his friends – were raped and killed by Salvadoran soldiers. Father Roy became an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.

Since 1980, Father Roy has spent close to four years total in U.S. federal prisons for nonviolent protests against the training of Latin American soldiers at the School of the Americas (now officially called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, WHINSEC) in Fort Benning, Ga.

Father Roy founded SOA Watch in 1990, with its office just outside Fort Benning’s main entrance. Each year, at U.S taxpayer expense, SOA/WHINSEC trains hundreds of soldiers from Latin America in combat skills. The nonprofit SOA Watch works to keep the general public, Congress and the media informed about the implications of this training for the people of Latin America. In addition to Gen. Banzer, SOA’s roster of graduates includes former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega (now serving 40 years in a U.S. prison) and Roberto d’Aubuisson, leader of El Salvador’s infamous death squads in the 1980s.

Father Roy has worked on and helped produce several documentary films, including Gods of Metal (1983), about the nuclear arms race, and School of Assassins (1995), both nominated for Academy Awards. A 1997 documentary (rebroadcast on PBS in early September this year), Father Roy: Inside the School of the Assassins, profiles Bourgeois and describes his meetings with three SOA/WHINSEC graduates who learned torture techniques there. That same year, Father Roy received the 1997 Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace Award.

Every Thanksgiving, Father Roy and SOA Watch organize and lead a large protest action outside the gates of Fort Benning, including civil disobedience through illegal entry. He continues to travel extensively, giving talks to college and university, church and other groups around the country.

The KIPCOR Peace Lecture Series, now in its 36th year, provides a forum to address issues of peace, justice and conflict resolution in the world and at home. The series has included Nobel laureates, scholars, performing artists, activists and visionaries. All lectures in the series are free and open to the public. The series receives support from the J. Winfield Fretz Lecture Fund and the Peace with Justice Task Force of the Kansas West Conference of the United Methodist Church, both of which support speakers and events on peace and justice. Other funding comes from individual contributions to KIPCOR and, for the Bourgeois lecture, from the Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas.

For information on Father Roy Bourgeois’ appearance at Bethel College, call KIPCOR at 316-284-5217 or e-mail

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at

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