Yanqui Invasion of Vieques
U.S. Out of Puerto Rico
Revolutionary Worker #1054, May 14, 2000
In the early dawn hours of Thursday, May 4, U.S. federal agents carried out an operation to remove over 400 protesters from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. People had been camped out on the grounds of the U.S. Naval base since last April--demanding that the U.S. military stop using Vieques as a bombing range. These "People's Zone" encampments had prevented the U.S. military from carrying out military exercises on the island.
U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno--who ordered the FBI agents and federal marshals onto Vieques--described the May 4 operation as "peaceful." And the U.S. said no criminal charges would be brought against the protesters. But clearly, the U.S. was ready to use open, brute military force if necessary. The federal agents were armed, and they were backed up by Navy warships and hundreds of Marine troops on alert nearby. While the protesters were not arrested, U.S. officials declared that anybody who went back onto the military base or committed any offense other than trespassing would face harsh punishment.
The Vieques protesters and their just cause had won widespread support in Puerto Rico, the U.S. and worldwide. The government/military invasion against the encampments was another outrage in the history of U.S. colonial domination of Puerto Rico.
Years of Resistance
The Caribbean nation of Puerto Rico has been held as a colony since it was occupied by U.S. troops over 100 years ago. In addition to exploiting Puerto Rican people in the fields and factories, the U.S. imperialists turned the island into a "stationary aircraft carrier" for their military. U.S. bases in Puerto Rico have been a staging area for repeated invasions, a storage depot for weapons, a nerve center for intelligence, radar and covert activities, and a training ground for international aggressions.
Vieques is a 22-mile-long island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico that was taken over by the U.S. Navy during World War 2. It has been used as a target range for training bombers and naval artillery and as a staging area for amphibious landing exercises. Two thirds of Vieques is now a Navy base. On the western part of the island is one of the Navy's largest ammo dumps. The eastern part of the island has been systematically pounded and polluted as a Navy bombing range. The North Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility there is one of the largest live weapons training grounds in the world.
Tens of thousands of people have been forced off Vieques since the U.S. took over the island, and now there are about 9,000 people living there. They are confined to a thin six-mile strip of land between the two large naval reserves on each end of the island. War games and bombardment have destroyed much of the fishing in surrounding waters, taking away the livelihood of many people remaining there. The Navy itself only employs a few civilians on the island--while unemployment is about 70 percent. Many residents blame their unusually high cancer rate on Navy ecological contamination.
The Puerto Rican people of Vieques have waged years of resistance against the Yankee occupation of their land. The struggle intensified in April 1999 when two Marine warplanes on a practice bombing run killed David Sanes Rodriguez, a civilian guard, and injured four other people. The pilots who killed Sanes were training for deployment to the Balkans for the NATO war on Yugoslavia.
The death of David Sanes struck a deep nerve across the island of Puerto Rico. Once again, the U.S. military was using Puerto Rican soil in an unjust war--and once again, the Puerto Rican people had paid a bitter price under U.S. domination.
Activists entered the Navy base on Vieques and refused to move--in a protest against the killing of David Sanes and the Navy's occupation of Puerto Rican soil and waters. The Navy denounced the activists for "trespassing" and warned that they were camping on land dangerously contaminated by military ordnance (an act of self-exposure by this toxic Navy). Fishermen brought supplies to the encampments and defiantly sailed into "forbidden waters"--challenging the Navy's claim to the seas surrounding Puerto Rico. In February, 200,000 people marched in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico to demand that the U.S. Navy stop all military activity on Vieques.
In January, U.S. President Bill Clinton and the notoriously pro-military and pro-imperialist Puerto Rican governor Pedro Roselló announced a "compromise deal": the U.S. Navy will stay on the island for at least three more years, and the people of Vieques will be allowed to vote in a referendum on whether the Navy can stay longer. To "sweeten" the deal, Clinton promised $40 million in "aid" if the deal was accepted--more if the Navy could stay beyond three years.
The activists on Vieques denounced this attempt to derail the struggle with a crude bribe. As a protester pointed out, a corporation spends $40 million to build just one tourist hotel--not even counting the golf course.
When they failed to get over with their phony "compromise," the U.S. imperialists made clear their intention to remove the encampments by force. Navy officials claimed that the bases on Vieques were vital to U.S. "military preparedness"--that there simply was no other place that U.S. troops could carry out such war exercises.
Such statements only served to reemphasize Puerto Rico's status as a colony dominated by U.S. imperialism. As the Vieques protesters asked, why doesn't the U.S. military use places like Martha's Vineyard, Long Island, or the beaches of Florida for their bombing practice?
The Struggle Continues
Following the U.S. invasion of Vieques, there were protests across Puerto Rico and in many U.S. cities. In San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, hundreds of people blocked the gates to the U.S. Army's Fort Buchanan and confronted riot police. Fifteen hundred people marched and rallied in New York City. An indication of the broad character of the Vieques struggle is that two Puerto Rican members of the U.S. Congress were among those removed from the encampments. And one Puerto Rican congressman was arrested when he walked onto the White House grounds in Washington, D.C. in protest.
The Vieques activists are vowing to continue the struggle. Some of the protesters said they will find ways to get back onto the Naval base on Vieques. Meanwhile, the U.S. military is strengthening the fences around the base and has established a three-mile-wide "security zone" in the waters around Vieques.
The U.S. operation against the Vieques encampments once again shows that ultimately and fundamentally, U.S. control over Puerto Rico rests on military occupation. U.S. rule over Puerto Rico was first established by an armed invasion. Uprisings of the Puerto Rican people have been suppressed by guns and bombs. Puerto Rican fighters have been rounded up and imprisoned by the hundreds, sometimes by the thousands.
The beautiful coast and mountains of Puerto Rico have been carved up by bases and ranges for bombing practice. Puerto Rico is not just an occupied colony--it has been transformed into a launching pad for countless U.S. invasions of other countries.
The military occupation of Vieques--and the colonial domination of Puerto Rico as a whole--will not be ended by referendums and elections. There is a colonial dictatorship of the U.S. imperialists, and the elections staged in Puerto Rico are mechanisms for legitimizing U.S. domination of the island.
As the RCP,USA said in a statement on the 100th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico:
"The imperialists claim today that Puerto Rico now rules itself--in `voluntary association' with the United States. They claim that deepened integration with the U.S. is the island's only hope for prosperity. They stage plebiscites and elections--and then announce that the dreams of independence have faded in the hearts of Puerto Rico's people.
"But we know none of this is true!
"All the `status options' the U.S. `offers' in their staged plebiscites--statehood, commonwealth or phony `independence'-- represent a continuation of the U.S. domination of Puerto Rico. No matter what new arrangements the U.S. imposes on the people of Puerto Rico, a future under U.S. imperialism will be filled with continued exploitation, the ongoing destruction of Puerto Rico's land and waters, and systematic assault on the people's language and culture. The people of Puerto Rico can never solve the problems that face them without forcing U.S. military bases off their island and breaking the grip of U.S. corporations over their lands and industry."
Free Puerto Rico!
U.S. Navy Off Vieques!
For more articles on Puerto Rico, go to RW/OR Online at: rwor.org/s/pr.htm (for English), or rwor.org/s/pr_s.htm (for Spanish).
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