Vieques protests continue as bombing resumes

Commentary



If the U.S. Navy thought that, in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the USA Patriot Act, the people of Puerto Rico would curtail their protests and acts of civil disobedience against the military maneuvers in Vieques, they were sadly mistaken.

On Sept. 2, five members of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) entered the bombing area in defiance of the Navy to protest the bombing, scheduled to begin Sept. 3. A number of organizations, including Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques (CRDV) and the National Hostos Congress (CNH), are planning incursions into the firing zone throughout the 23 days of Naval maneuvers. At press time, 20 activists had entered the bombing zone and some have been arrested. More than 1,300 activists, since May of 2000, have been arrested, including many religious leaders, for entering the bombing zone.

Jaime López, arrested on the first day of the maneuvers, said the PIP activists were there to protest “repression and … the violation of human rights.” The Navy launched teargas towards a group of journalists covering the event.

Among those arrested were two photojournalist, Rafael Farrique Pesquera and Juan Manuel López Mari, who were covering the protests and bombings as they were taking pictures of a fire started by some Navy bombs.

The Puerto Rican Association of Photojournalists said they would investigate the incident and demanded that the government and the Navy allow reporters to do their job unimpeded.

Ferdinand Mercado, the acting governor, sharply criticized the attack. Mercado is serving in place of Governor María Sila Calderón. Calderón was in the U.S. promoting a Puerto Rican government program to encourage Puerto Ricans in the U.S. to vote.

Calderón visited Vieques, Sept. 6, as promised, and condemned the maneuvers. She said that the practice bombings “have violated the peace and health of the people of Vieques for 60 years.” Calderón, who won election last year, in part because of her campaign promise to end the military use of this island municipality, repeated her “complete opposition to these exercises.”

Calderón’s statement in Vieques was stronger than her first reaction, for which peace forces criticized her. The governor had said she was “saddened” by the announcement that maneuvers would take place in September. Angel Fermin Candelario, an actor arrested in the firing zone, said people needed “to do more than just feel sad.”

Apparently, Calderón expected that no new bombings would take place in light of President Bush’s statement saying he was going to end the use of Vieques by May 2003. The Navy had also cancelled some previously scheduled maneuvers.

Bush’s statement on Vieques came last year after the “Puerto Rican Referendum,” where the overwhelming majority voted for the immediate cessation of bombing, clean-up and immediate return of the lands to the people of Vieques.

That referendum was held because a U.S.-sponsored referendum, which was to be supervised by the Navy, did not include the option of “immediate cessation.” The federal referendum was called off.

There is a growing fear that the Bush administration will keep the Navy in Vieques past the May deadline.

A letter writing campaign to pressure Bush into signing an Executive Order making the Navy leave by the promised date is under way. Close to 30 members of Congress signed letters.

The movement to stop U.S. bombing in Vieques can grow and win. More U.S. peace organizations like, Veterans for Peace, are calling on its members to contact their representatives and demand an end to the bombing.

Puerto Rican Senator Fernando Martín, PIP executive president, said, “The battle to rid Vieques of the Navy is one that requires putting the greatest amount of political pressure on the President of the U.S. in such a way that the cost of not conceding the demand of the Puerto Rican people is greater than … accepting that of the Navy.” Martin called for a worldwide campaign to pressure the United States.

Jose Cruz is editor of Nuestro Mundo. He can be reached at jacruz@attbi.com