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Activists Protest Minnesota National Guard Trip to Central America

January 3, 1987

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ About 400 peace activists, some of them using homemade wooden ladders to scale a fence, demonstrated Saturday at the gates of the Minnesota National Guard airbase, protesting the departure of about 70 Guard members to Central America.

The mission to Panama is to include deliveries of mail and supplies to U.S. embassies in Central American nations. Two more trips to Central America involving the Minnesota National Guard are planned for later this month.

Around 3 a.m., 22 protesters used homemade wooden ladders to climb over an airport fence. They said they hoped to put placards on the transport planes and obstruct their departure, but instead they were detained and escorted off the base by security officers.

None of the protesters was arrested.

Some protesters alleged that the Guard’s 15-day mission to Panama will involve covert activities conducted on behalf of Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

″I think it’s just one more way that President Reagan is trying to avoid the direct approach and get us involved indirectly″ in Central America, said Diane Schley, 23, a law school student.

Maj. Gen. James Sieben, adjutant general of the Minnesota Guard, said Friday the Panama trip is not intended for covert purposes.

Protesters from several Twin Cities peace organizations began gathering at the base at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at 7 p.m. Friday. Their vigil ended after the plane took off around 4 a.m. Saturday.

At the height of the protest, more than 400 people were gathered, but that number dwindled to about 50 through the early-morning hours.

Ron Chamberlain, district supervisor of the Federal Protective Service, said the only arrest was of a man who harassed protesters and allegedly assulted a law enforcement officer. The officer was not seriously hurt.

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