May 16, 2003 - The Nation: Pre-empting Protest at the Peace Corps

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By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, May 19, 2003 - 6:20 pm: Edit Post

Pre-empting Protest at the Peace Corps





Read and comment on two stories that concern first amendment rights by Volunteers serving in the Peace Corps - the first one about volunteers who were warned not to protest US involvement in Iraq at the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic and the second about a volunteer who resigned after beginning a hunger strike in the Philippines to support a moratorium on the distribution of the genetically modified corn in the country.

Read and comment on the first story from The Nation on a group of sixty Peace Corps volunteers in the Dominican Republic who had planned a peace demonstration at the US Embassy against US policy in Iraq in March. Three days before the demonstration was scheduled, Peace Corps officials sent an e-mail to all volunteers warning that the protest would "cause tarnish and embarrassment to the Peace Corps" and that anyone taking part could face administrative separation. Fearful of being sent home, the vast majority who had planned to protest dropped out, and in the end, only three protesters showed up. Peace Corps investigated the case but found no grounds for discipline, which made co-organizer Andy Kauffman bitter that the larger march was suppressed. "We were basically silenced," says Kauffman.
Background

Whether United States citizens have first amendment rights to criticize American Foreign Policy while serving outside the United States as Peace Corps Volunteers in our Host Country is an issue that goes back to the early days of the Peace Corps. The issue was first raised in 1969 when Chile volunteer Bruce Murray wrote a letter that was published in a Chilean newspaper identifying himself as a volunteer and protesting the war in Vietnam. He was terminated. Upon return to the United States, Murray was drafted and later indicted for refusing to be inducted. In a case brought on his behalf by the ACLU, a judge found that the Peace Corps had violated the due process guarantee of the first amendment and enjoined prosecution of the indictment of failure to report for military service.

In a case decided by the courts almost twenty years later, a federal judge found in favor of the Peace Corps when PCV Dean Wood staged a protest in front of the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic against President Reagan's invasion of Grenada, was terminated, and the judge upheld the Peace Corps' decision, ruling that a volunteer's speech is generally protected, but that Dominican newspaper photos of Wood protesting in a Peace Corps t-shirt damaged the credibility of the agency.

The Peace Corps' view and a view supported by many Returned Volunteers, is that public demonstrations by volunteers who identify themselves as members of the Peace Corps, threaten to politicize the Peace Corps in foreign eyes, to sacrifice the Peace Corps' apolitical reputation, and to damage the Peace Corps mission.
Should volunteers retain the same first amendment rights while serving overseas as they do as citizens living in the United States? Should Peace Corps Volunteers be allowed to protest US foreign policy but only if they not identify themselves as volunteers? Should the Peace Corps spell out rights and reponsibilities of new volunteers and have them sign a contract in which each volunteer acknowledges the conditions under which political expression can be made while serving as a volunteer? Read the stories, make up your mind, and leave your comments at:

Pre-empting Protest*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.



Pre-empting Protest

by Sasha Polakow-Suransky

Ever since writer Paul Theroux got booted from the Peace Corps in 1965 for inadvertently conspiring to topple Malawian president Hastings Banda, the issue of political expression has been a sensitive one for Peace Corps headquarters in Washington. And today, as American soldiers pledge to bring democracy to Iraq, our "Ambassadors of Peace" face threats of expulsion for exercising their freedom of speech.

Earlier this year, a group of Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) in the Dominican Republic planned a peace demonstration to be held at the US Embassy in Santo Domingo on March 31. Co-organizer Aaron Drendel thought it was essential to "show Dominicans that there are Americans who don't agree with the policies of our government right now." Sixty to seventy volunteers agreed to join the demonstration. According to Drendel, local Peace Corps officials did not object initially, so long as the protest wasn't held in the Peace Corps's name. But three days before the march was scheduled, after consulting with Washington headquarters, local Peace Corps officials sent an e-mail to all volunteers warning that the protest would "cause tarnish and embarrassment to the Peace Corps" and that anyone taking part could face administrative separation, the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge. Fearful of being sent home, the vast majority who had planned to protest dropped out, including Drendel. In the end, only three protesters showed up, among them co-organizer Aaron Kauffman. Washington investigated Kauffman's case but ultimately found no grounds for discipline, which makes him all the more bitter that the larger march was suppressed. "We were basically silenced," says Kauffman.

Though the Peace Corps is independent from the State Department, its upper echelons come and go with Washington's prevailing political winds, and volunteers who protest Administration policy have never been well received. (The President appoints the Peace Corps director and deputy director, and the appointments must be confirmed by the Senate.)

At the same time, the Peace Corps takes great pride in its political autonomy abroad. PCVs are not required to promote US foreign policy objectives and are barred from getting involved in the domestic politics of their host country, lest they sully the agency's reputation of independence. As former Secretary of State Dean Rusk once insisted, "To make the Peace Corps an instrument of foreign policy would be to rob it of its contribution to foreign policy." Yet the rules are far less clear when it comes to expressing opposition to US government actions. As outlined in a training manual distributed to all volunteers, PCVs must make clear that any political views expressed are their own, but they are also free to "petition the US government," as many had planned to do by marching to the US Embassy in Santo Domingo on March 31.

The issue of free speech in the Peace Corps first went to court in 1969. Bruce Murray, a PCV in Chile, was expelled from the program after writing letters to the New York Times and a Chilean newspaper criticizing the Vietnam War and Peace Corps efforts to suppress an antiwar petition. Once home, he instantly became eligible for the draft. Murray sued and won. The court found that the Peace Corps had violated his First Amendment rights. In 1983, PCV Dean Wood staged a spontaneous solitary protest in front of the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic upon learning that President Reagan had invaded Grenada. But Wood forgot to change out of his Peace Corps T-shirt and was terminated. In 1987 a federal judge upheld the decision, ruling that volunteers' speech is generally protected, but that Dominican newspaper photos of Wood protesting in a Peace Corps shirt damaged the credibility of the agency.

If anything, the expression of antigovernment views among PCVs would seem to bolster the Peace Corps's much-touted image of independence. To many returned volunteers, presenting a diverse array of political views is vital to teaching locals about American values and ideals. "They're asking for trouble if they silence volunteers," says former PCV and veteran TV journalist Kevin Delany. "It's far better to say this is in the spirit of our values." Sam Brown, former director of the ACTION agency, which oversaw the Peace Corps during the Carter Administration, insists that "in large parts of the world right now, not expressing your opinion [and] being seen as a blind instrument of foreign policy puts you in more direct danger." But Peace Corps spokeswoman Barbara Daly is adamant that such forays into political speech are potentially dangerous for the agency and its volunteers. "We need to protect the image of the Peace Corps," she says. "For or against, we stay out of politics."

Meanwhile, the Peace Corps is feeling the fallout from Bush Administration policies. On April 3 the agency withdrew all volunteers from Morocco in the wake of widespread antiwar protests and rising anti-Americanism. It is precisely at times like these that many current and former PCVs feel that it's essential to show foreigners that Americans are not politically monolithic. After the Dominican protest was "crushed," Drendel wrote to fellow PCVs: "As humanitarian volunteers we believed that we were in a respected position and could bring some positive light to Americans in a time when more than ever Americans are being labeled in a negative neo-imperialistic light."

After all, one of the Peace Corps's primary goals is "to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served." But these days volunteers are feeling increasingly muzzled. "It's sad that as volunteers we don't have a voice," protester Kauffman laments. "The Administration...gets to choose how we're depicted to the general public."

Peace Corps Volunteer resigns after beginning hunger strike in Philippines





Read and comment on this story from the Star Sun Network Online on former Peace Corps Volunteer Andrew Haralam who is on a hunger strike in the Philippines to protest introduction and cultivation of the Bacillus thurigiensis (Bt) corn. Haralam told reporters the possible detrimental effects of the genetically modified product on the environment include agriculture homogenization and immunization of target pests. "As an environmental activist, I am protesting the introduction of Bt corn in an effort to protect the ecosystem in general and preserve the indigenous strains of corn in particular," said Haralam.

Haralam was serving in the Peace Corps as a Volunteer in agriculture and resigned after beginning his hunger strike. Read the story at:


Hunger strike v. Bt corn enters 4th day*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.



Hunger strike v. Bt corn enters 4th day

By Harley Palangchao

BAGUIO -- A former American Peace Corps volunteer enters his fourth day of hunger strike Monday at the Malcolm Square to protest the introduction and cultivation of the Bacillus thurigiensis (Bt) corn in the country, claiming it is even more frightening than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars).

Andrew Haralam, 29, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, told reporters the possible detrimental effects of the genetically modified product on the environment include agriculture homogenization and immunization of target pests.

Since he started his hunger strike, Haralam's only nourishment consists of mango juice and water.

He also warned that Bt corn could cause stomach and colon cancer, birth defects and neurodevelopment disorders. He claimed that these possible side effects of the product are irreversible.

"As an environmental activist, I am protesting the introduction of Bt corn in an effort to protect the ecosystem in general and preserve the indigenous strains of corn in particular," said Haralam.

He also called on Malacañang not to allow the entry of Bt corn. "Please do not contaminate this beautiful land with poison, either with the chemical or the genetically engineered variety."

Haralam also expressed optimism a ban on Bt corn in the country would set a precedent for other Asian countries to oppose the entry of the Bt corn and other GMO products.

The former Peace Corps member, who also maintains a one-hectare farm in Buguias, Benguet, said Americans and Mexicans are now suffering from the ill effects of Bt corn since the GMO-type product was introduced.

Bt corn-MON810 is a GMO-type variety introduced and patented by the US multi-national company Monsato. The product produces proteins, allegedly reported to be a built-in poison, which kills the Asiatic corn borer.

The Department of Agriculture approved the commercial release for propagation of Bt corn in the country early December last year.

Reports said the corn variety was already planted in Ilocos, Pangasinan, Isabela and Camarines Sur. Expected harvest date is between April to May this year.

Meanwhile, Malacañang continues to remain silent on the snowballing opposition against the nationwide commercialization of Bt corn, even as the hunger strike led by environmental activists is now gaining support from various sectors in the country and abroad. With Rachelle Landico and Catherine Solomon/Sun.Star Baguio

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Speaking Out; COS - Dominican Republic; COS - Chile; COS - Philippines; First Amendment Rights

PCOL4793
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By Reynold Mason (adsl-068-213-018-169.sip.asm.bellsouth.net - 68.213.18.169) on Monday, October 03, 2005 - 7:23 am: Edit Post

My daughter was just Administratively Separated for Producing a stage play: The Vagina Monologues. The CD seemed to think it was inapropriate for the citizens of Uzbekistan. Her appeal was denied. I am about to take it to
Federal Court. Does any one have a citation on the Bruce Murray or Dean Wood case? I think it would help greatly with my daughter's appeal.

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-44-58.balt.east.verizon.net - 151.196.44.58) on Monday, October 03, 2005 - 8:49 am: Edit Post

Dear Mr. Mason,

You can find a discussion of the Bruce Murray case in Chapter 6 of What you can do for your country by Karen Schwarz published in 1991. You may be able to find something there to get you started.

BTW - how could your daughter have been administratively separated from the program in Uzbekistan when the Peace Corps program in that country has been suspended? To our knowledge, have been no Peace Corps Volunteers in Uzbekistan since June 2005.

Just a question

Best Regards,


Admin1

By Boris Leonov (199.245.156.254) on Wednesday, January 18, 2006 - 4:37 pm: Edit Post

I was wondering if a Returning Volunteer can give me an interview (over email) of what they think of the Peace Corps volunteers being silenced in the Dominican Republic, concerning the protest they were planning. The article is located above on this page. If someone who was involved or was in the country during the time of the planned protest could write me, Id be greatly obliged. Thank you. My email address is boris_leonov@yahoo.com .


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