The U.S. Navy started another round of military maneuvers and bombing on the island municipality of Vieques, Jan. 13, even though they have officially announced they will leave Vieques by May 1, 2003
Before the new round of bombings, hundreds took part in a 32-mile peace march to San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. On the first day of the bombings protestors entered the bombing area in acts of civil disobedience in order to delay or stop the bombing. At the time of this writing eight people have been arrested.
“The people of Puerto Rico repudiate the restarting of military exercises because these maneuvers are contrary to the desires of the people of Vieques for peace,” wrote Sila María Calderón, governor of Puerto Rico, in a letter of protest to George W. Bush.
According to the U.S. Navy, the bombing practices may last for up to 29 days. The fleet headed by the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is expected to use the island of 9,000 residents to train for an invasion of Iraq.
The Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques (CRDV) issued a statement in which they deplore the renewal of bombing practices and the reasons behind them.
Saying they are “against war and for peace,” the CRDV criticized “the use of waters, air and land to attack Iraq.” The CRDV said that the Navy has used Vieques to train so as to impose U.S. policies on different countries, such as: Guatemala, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Grenada and Panama in the Americas, as well as Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Palestine.
Studies have shown that Vieques suffers from a cancer rate that is 27 percent higher than in the rest of Puerto Rico. The more than 60 years of military bombing practices in Vieques has left the municipality contaminated with cancer-producing chemicals.
Senator Norma Burgos and Fernando Martin, executive chairman of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), said the U.S. Navy has not shown that it can be trusted and called on people to be vigilant. Burgos, a leader of the annexationist New Progressive Party, headed a multi-party commission that concluded the Navy had to leave immediately so that Vieques can prosper. The commission’s report became official governmental policy of this U.S. colony.
The religious community in Puerto Rico expressed concern over the renewal of military practices as well as the Bush administration’s war policies. Rev. Wilfredo Estrada criticized the announcement, done during the Christmas season. In a press statement he said, “The admirals have taken over our people’s peace … We have no other alternative; we have to, once again, hit the streets to confront the Navy.”
The Catholic Archbishop of San Juan, Monsignor Roberto Gonzalez expressed his concern over the bombing of Vieques and the Administration’s drive for war against Iraq and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Father Nelson Lopez, pastor of the Catholic church in Vieques, criticized the bombing and said that if the Navy does not keep its word to leave by May, the people of Vieques will keep its word to engage in mass civil disobedience. Damaso Serrano, the mayor of Vieques, promised to lead the people of his town and forcefully take down the fence and enter the restricted bombing area.
As though to underline this point, unknown persons removed 485 feet of the fence surrounding the bombing area on New Years Eve.
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