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.”