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Father of a U.S. Marine killed in Iraq:
"We can become a voice for change"

January 9, 2004 | Page 5

FERNANDO SUAREZ DEL SOLAR has become a national figure in the struggle against the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Fernando's son, a Marine named Jesús, was one of the first U.S. troops to be killed during the war last March. Since then, Fernando has taken a determined stand. In Spanish and halting English, he has spoken out at meetings and forums around the country and the world--from small groups of high school youth to mass antiwar rallies.

He has organized a foundation to counter military efforts to recruit Latino youth and is a member of Military Families Speak Out. In early December, Fernando traveled to Iraq with other military families for a firsthand look at the consequences of war and occupation. Here, he talks to Socialist Worker's JUSTIN AKERS about what he saw.

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WHY DID you travel with the delegation of military families to Iraq?

THERE WERE two goals. The first was to find the place where my son died and fulfill a promise to my wife that I would plant a cross on the exact location.

The other reason was to see for myself the impact of the war and to speak to the Iraqi people directly. I wanted to bring them the message that thousands and thousands of ordinary American people do not see them as enemies. In fact, many of us are also suffering and crying because of this unnecessary war.

WHAT HAS the impact been in Iraq?

THE WAR and occupation are affecting the Iraqi people in many ways. First of all, many families are affected by the fact that thousands of their loved ones--civilians and ordinary soldiers--have been killed. Many people have lost family members.

The basic infrastructure in the cities has been destroyed. At this moment, many areas lack basic electricity, telephone service and sources of potable water. The water is totally contaminated. Health services have been undermined. Hospitals lack the most basic medicines and equipment and are in a state of disrepair. Doctors haven't received pay in as many as three to four months.

Education has been affected as well. Many schools were bombed and remain destroyed. The students are lacking basic school supplies such as pencils, pens and notebooks. For example, in one class, children had to erase their work from the single paper that they had to use for multiple lessons.

Before the war, they used state textbooks that emphasized the Koran and Saddam Hussein. Now they have even less. Now they have no books at all, and no regimen of study since they have no government. This will have a long-term detrimental impact on the children, going so long without education.

There is also a breakdown of public security. There is no real police force that is trusted by the people and that commands authority. Because of this, crime is rampant--and in other ways as well. For example, in an oil-rich country, people have to spend up to six hours waiting in line for gasoline for their cars!

Every aspect of daily life has been negatively affected for ordinary Iraqi people. Since the fall of Saddam and the supposed end of the war, the people were expecting things to improve.

They expected that the U.S. would help reconstruct their country and fulfill their promises. But this has not happened. Instead, the occupation has brought more problems. The people are afraid of the troops because the violence against the Iraqi people continues unabated.

HOW DID the Iraqi people respond to you and your mission?

WE WERE received very well, with open arms. It was a type of welcome that I didn't expect. I expected to be avoided and shunned, but it was the opposite.

I met lots of people, in markets and in the streets. When I told them what I was doing there--that I was the father of a soldier in Iraq and that I wanted peace--the people responded in kind. We were invited to peoples' houses to talk and visit. We made many friends among the Iraqi people.

HOW DID U.S. soldiers respond to your visit?

THEY WOULDN'T let us onto military bases, but we were able to speak with soldiers on the streets, at checkpoints and at the entrances of bases. The response was good in the sense that they generally welcomed us and thanked us for bringing them the cards from U.S. schoolchildren [with wishes that they would return home].

I was able to see that the soldiers want to return home. Many expressed that they felt their mission was over when Saddam Hussein was toppled, and they now feel that their presence in Iraq is detrimental--that nothing good can come from it. Some felt that the longer they stay, the greater the risk of killing innocent people or of being killed themselves.

DO YOU think that the capture of Saddam Hussein changed the situation?

NO, BECAUSE according to Bush's own words, the war objective was not the capture of Saddam Hussein, but to find and secure the supposed weapons of mass destruction and to find the link to the September 11 attacks--neither of which have turned up. The capture of Saddam Hussein is good for the world--one killer less to worry about. But it doesn't change the nature of the occupation.

On the contrary, the capture will likely produce more hatred from supporters of Saddam Hussein and more attacks against U.S. troops in general. For example, since the arrest of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. has used recovered information to crack down on more people, many of whom are possibly innocent. In reality, the situation has actually gotten worse for the Iraqi people since the capture.

THE BUSH administration claims that the resistance in Iraq is largely composed of "Baath Party loyalists"--disgruntled and defeated elements of the old regime. Do you think this is accurate?

IN MY experience in Iraq, I can say that it is true that there is a strong resistance organized by Baath Party elements. But there is also a civilian-based resistance that is independent and not organized through political parties--and, in fact, isn't necessarily organized.

Many of the attacks that we hear about are carried out by ordinary Iraqis who were victims of the war. They lost a loved one, or they lost their house. Or they asked for help from Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority, or the U.S. armed forces, and they were denied or ignored. They then, on their own, decided to take revenge.

Each moment of the occupation is producing more people who become disaffected and who are in reality more dangerous than the organized resistance. I had the opportunity to meet the family of a 12-year-old boy who was killed by the occupation forces. He didn't have a weapon, he wasn't a member of a party--just a little boy.

His 25-year-old brother told me, "I want revenge, and when I get the opportunity, I am going to kill soldiers." This is the most dangerous face of the resistance.

WHAT ROLE have military families been playing in building opposition to the occupation?

I WENT with other parents of soldiers in Iraq. For example, one woman, a Latina from Arizona, has a son and a daughter in Iraq. These actions are setting an important example for other military families who want to bring their loved ones home.

If the family members of soldiers unite, we can become a powerful voice for change--for an end to the occupation. This trip to Iraq is a demonstration of how we can support our children and build for peace.

I'd like to imagine that instead of four or five parents going to Iraq, hundreds would go. What would Bush say to these families then? Would he also attack them? I think that if more families are involved, it will force Bush to listen to us and bring our children home.

Here in the U.S., we can work to unite military families so that they don't feel alone and so that we have more of a force. Military Families Speak Out now has close to 2,000 family members who are making their voice heard through demonstrations, rallies, marches, letter-writing campaigns and other activities. These are the things that we can do here today.

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