Puerto Rico: Resisting U.S. Bombs on Vieques

Revolutionary Worker #1062, July 16, 2000

Saturday night, June 25, a massive U.S. naval battle group appeared on the horizon off Puerto Rico. The aircraft carrier USS George Washington, 16 other warships, 80 combat planes and 15,000 troops had come to bomb the beautiful island of Vieques off Puerto Rico’s eastern coast with dummy munitions practicing war moves for their next deployment.

For the next four days, the navy warships fired hundreds of shells at Vieques. Warplanes swooped in to drop hundreds of bombs pounding the sands and shoreline of the eastern tip of the island, which the U.S. Navy calls the "Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility."

Meanwhile, hundreds of Puerto Rican people forced their way into the restricted military zones of the island to put their bodies in the way of U.S. bombardment of Puerto Rican soil and waters. Protesters cut through military fences or landed on remote beaches in a clandestine sealift.

Military guards scrambled to seize protesters, arresting anyone they could catch. Some activists eluded the military’s roundup and escaped into the reserve. The U.S. Navy admitted that their first shellings had to be delayed as these skirmishes occurred on the beaches and along the military fences.

Later in the week, a Navy spokesman charged that a dozen local fishermen had fought and injured U.S. sailors when federal patrol boats tried to stop a five-boat sealift of protesters. The Navy announced that this case was being turned over to the FBI for prosecution.

This was the first U.S. war practice at Vieques since April 1999, when 500-pound U.S. bombs killed a Puerto Rican civilian, David Sanes.

For almost a year after Sanes’ death, people from Vieques and mainland Puerto Rico occupied parts of the military reserve on Vieques to demand that the U.S. Navy leave Puerto Rican soil. In May 2000, U.S. federal agents carried out mass arrests on Vieques, intending to reopen the military base for military bombardments. The Navy decided to renew their bombing in the end of June, and sent the USS George Washington steaming for Puerto Rico.

Despite all the government’s efforts, these renewed bombings still could only take place in the face of intense protests by Puerto Rican people.

After pounding Vieques, the USS George Washington battle group left Puerto Rican waters heading for its imperialist mission threatening the people of the Persian Gulf region.

Federal authorities announced that they were charging 183 people with trespass for their actions during these confrontations. A federal judge demanded that the arrested people pay $1000 bail each.

Over 120 of the protesters refused to pay this bail many of them supporters of the social-democratic Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP). Manuel Rodriguez Orellana, a PIP supporter and member of the island’s Senate said, ``We do not recognize any moral authority nor the legitimacy of the U.S. court in this matter.’’

When protesters defied U.S. authority by refusing to pay bail, U.S. marshals staged dozens of raids all across Puerto Rico, arresting the protesters and taking them to federal prison outside the island’s capital, San Juan.

The Issue is Puerto Rico

"The federal court is colonial oppression!’’

Banner outside federal prison
in San Juan, July 4

Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States seized over 100 years ago by force. Throughout that century, Puerto Rico has served as a key launching point for the projection of U.S. power in the Western hemisphere. U.S. corporations have bitterly exploited the labor of Puerto Rican people, while armed force has repeatedly been used to suppress the revolutionary independence movement and hold the island under U.S. domination. Large parts of the island have been turned into military bases for the U.S. and have served as staging areas for invasions and threats throughout Latin America.

Vieques has been a training ground for U.S. aggression all over the world. During the Vietnam war, the U.S. sent pilots here to learn carpet bombing. Over 6,000 aircraft flew over 35,000 bombing runs on the island. It was here that the military conducted massive testing of their notorious napalm the jellied gasoline used against the Vietnamese people. Since then the U.S. has trained pilots there for their air wars against Iraq and Yugoslavia.

The U.S. government has responded to the last year of outrage and protest in typical Clinton style combining slick double-talk with hard-core imperialism. In January, the Clinton administration proposed that the government hold a referendum in a few years on the Navy’s continued presence in Vieques but only if Puerto Rico’s people accepted years of renewed bombing in the meanwhile. Clinton infuriated many people by dangling a promise of $40 million in front of the people of Vieques, to entice them to support a continued Navy presence as if the lands and lives of the people can be bought for a few Yankee dollars.

On June 29 President Clinton met with the leaders of the major bourgeois parties in Puerto Rico. Slippery as always, he announced he supported "self-determination" for Puerto Rico, but pointedly refused to stop his Navy’s pounding of Puerto Rican soil or mass arrests of Puerto Rican people. In fact, the imperialist refusal to withdraw from Vieques reveals what they mean by "self-determination" they have repeatedly offered the Puerto Rican people three different imperialist forms for continued U.S. domination: annexation through statehood, neocolonial "independence" or the current colonial "commonwealth" status.

It is like giving a condemned prisoner a "choice" of how to be executed: The noose, the chair or the gas chamber? Some choice. Some "self-determination."

What Makes Vieques Special to Them

Officially, the U.S. Navy insists that there is no place other than Vieques where they can train their naval and sea forces for war. However, there are obviously many island coastlines in the U.S. itself say, Martha’s Vineyard or the Hamptons on Long Island where military bombing and submarine warfare could be practiced.

There are, in fact, no special qualities to Vieques other than that Puerto Rico is an oppressed country a dominated colony where the U.S. military feels free to do what it wants.

The land of Vieques was seized by imperialist decree. The people were moved at will. This island has been pockmarked and poisoned by decades of bombing. The fishing industry, the reefs and wildlife have been devastated. The lives of many people have been cut short by cancer-causing materials like armor-piercing depleted uranium shells. And the U.S. Navy intends to continue all this precisely so that they can dominate and oppress other countries around the world too.

This powerful movement against the U.S. Navy occupation of Vieques has emerged as a major rallying point for the Puerto Rican people and their aspirations for national liberation for an end to the century old U.S. colonial domination of their island and their people.

After the USS George Washington battle group left Puerto Rico, there have been new reports of people entering the restricted military areas. On July 4, 16 more people were arrested there by military police. Meanwhile in both Ponce and San Juan, hundreds of people rallied to support the imprisoned protesters and demand an end to U.S. military bases on Puerto Rico.

For more information see "The Yankee War Machine in Puerto Rico" on rwor.org’s Puerto Rico page

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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