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Thursday, July 14, 2005


Fernando Suarez del Solar: 'What Happened to You Teachers?'

Fernando Suarez del Solar spoke to a roomful of teachers on July 5 at the National Education Association's annual Representative Assembly. Fernando, whose son Jesus died when he stepped on a cluster bomb challenged us when he questioned, "What happened to you teachers?"

Fernando belongs to Military Families Speak Out, and has founded a counter-recruitment organization, Proyecto Guerrero Azteca. Jesus' story is one that high school children must hear.

Fernando owned a business in Tijuana when Jesus decided in 2001 that he wanted to join the US Marines in order to combat narcotics traffickers. Fernando, who is a Mexican citizen, as was his son, sold his business in Tijuana so that his son could follow his dream. When Jesus finished boot camp in 2001, he told his father that he didn't want any member of his family to join the Marines. Recruiters didn't tell him that he would have to pay for his uniforms, that he would have to pay for his life insurance, and that the lauded education benefit also came with a price, one hundred dollars monthly. In fact the military couldn't be bothered with paying for all of Jesus' funeral. The most difficult news for Jesus was that one must be a US citizen in order to join the Federal Agents in pursuit of drug dealers. Jesus told Fernando that he intended to serve his four years and leave.

In February 2003 Jesus found himself in Iraq. He told his father not to worry about him, that he wanted to help the children. Fernando's son did not return from Iraq. Jesus, who was not a trained scout, was ordered to perform as a scout on March 27. On March 26, the US forces had unloaded 20,000 cluster bombs in "homes, hospitals, and schools," according to Fernando. When Jesus was working as a scout, he did not receive any information that there were cluster bombs in the area.

Fernando was informed by the military that Jesus died in combat by a shot through the head. Later he found out that this was a lie; that his son died in a "friendly fire" incident when he stepped on a cluster bomb.

"My life changed," Fernando told us in halting English. In December 2003 he visited the place where Jesus died. He also visited children in hospitals and talked movingly about the beautiful babies who died within three days because there was no medicine to treat their diarrhea. Fernando made a promise to help these children and in December 2004 along with other parents who lost soldiers in the war delivered 600,000 dollars worth of medicine.

Fernando is on a mission to keep the military recruiters out of high schools. To that end he has spoken in 155 high schools in sixty-five cities. He admonished the teachers in his audience to "help for [his] grandson's generation. [The] best way to combat terrorism is the book. Stop the next war, " he challenges us. "Stop Criminal Recruiting."

Kids who think that they are going to get money for school via the military must be apprised of other options and certainly not depend on a military that is merely an extension of a corrupt government. The place for kids is the university, not a military base, says Fernando. Fernando concluded his presentation by reminding teachers that it is "our work [to teach] justice, tolerance, and peace for other people."

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