Union Leader Sentenced for School of the Americas Protest

by Dave Riehle

Longtime American Postal Workers Union (APWU) leader Greg Poferl will enter federal prison in Waseca, Minnesota, on April 6 to serve a ninety-day sentence imposed as a result of participation in a protest at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Georgia, earlier this year. Poferl was sentenced along with 26 other protesters tried in Columbus, Georgia, in January for “crossing the line” during the annual demonstrations at the SOA last fall.

The U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) by the Bush administration, is known to many as “The School of Assassins.” It is based in Fort Benning, Georgia. SOA trains Latin American soldiers in combat, counter-insurgency, and counter-narcotics. SOA/WHISC graduates are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion, and execution. Among the SOA’s nearly 60,000 graduates are U.S.-sponsored dictators Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. Lower-level SOA graduates have participated in human rights abuses that include the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador.

Poferl, a well-known St. Paul, Minnesota, union activist, is a National Business Agent for the APWU. A U.S. Army veteran, Poferl has been deeply involved for many years in international labor solidarity. In an open letter to APWU members Poferl cited a close personal connection to Latin American postal workers whom he had met at a postal workers caucus during an international labor meeting in Puerto Rico in 2000.

“(APWU) President Biller assigned me to represent APWU at the conference. (Workers) recounted the stories of union organizers who had been assassinated or disappeared in Latin America. They were an inspiration to all of us at the conference. I was humbled by their courage.”

In his statement to the court, Poferl cited his participation in the AFL-CIO sponsored Miami demonstrations against the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas just prior to the SOA protest.

“Guns, greed, and globalization were just as evident in Miami on November 20 as they are in Latin America. The only difference is that south of our border they use real bullets.

“My experience in Miami strengthened my resolve to step deeper into the struggle of the SOA Watch,” Poferl told the court.

“By crossing the line at Fort Benning, I wanted to stand in solidarity for the dignity of workers and their basic human rights to organize and to speak out without fear of violence.

“I wanted to give voice to those labor activists who have been victims of those trained by the SOA/WHISC.”

More information on the 27 prisoners of conscience and on the movement to close SOA/WHISC is available at the School of the Americas website, www.soawatch.org.

Messages of solidarity can be sent to Brother Poferl at FCI, PO Box 1731 1000 University Drive SW, Waseca, Minnesota; or to American Postal Workers Union, 8009-34th Av So, Bloomington MN 55425.