Revolutionary Worker #1102, May 13, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
A major U.S. Naval battle group, of 15,000 sailors and Marines aboard a dozen warships, steamed out of Norfolk in April to shell and bomb the eastern shoreline of the 22-mile-long Vieques island, which the U.S. Navy calls the "Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility."
The maneuvers were expected to last up to seven days, with plans to pound the island with up to 300 bombs a day. The beautiful tropical forests and beach of eastern Vieques were targeted for amphibious landings, 500-pound dummy bombs and five-inch shells from naval guns.
The Pentagon ignored an earlier agreement to hold off any bombing until the health effects on 9,000 local people could be studied by the Center for Disease Control and the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. On April 26, a U.S. federal court threw out a court challenge protesting the health effects of Navy exercises, and the U.S. armada moved to attack.
The U.S. military was intending to reassert its 60-year-old practice of using Puerto Rican soil as a ground zero for U.S. weapons training. Instead, they ran straight into intense and militant resistance from the Puerto Rican people.
Day after day protesters faced off with military police at the fences marking the Weapons Testing Range. Hundreds of people found ways to infiltrate the Navy's target areas--risking their lives to stand in the way of the bombs and shells. In San Juan, New York, and other cities, large marches and rallies denounced the Navy's assault on Puerto Rican territory.
"We're going to keep putting people on the bombing range because we have demonstrated that we have been more efficient at getting people in there than the Navy has been at taking them out."
A fisherman from Vieques
"A significant number of protesters have cut a large portion of our fence and the number of trespassing incidents continues to escalate."
Rear Adm. Kevin Green,commander of U.S. Naval Forces South,
The moment the U.S. federal court gave a go-ahead to the Navy on April 26, confrontations started. The U.S. Coast Guard tried to seize boats delivering protesters to the target areas of Vieques.
In San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, more than 6,000 people rallied against the Navy attacks. And hundreds then traveled by car caravan to the eastern port of Fajardo where they boarded a ferry for Vieques.
A vigil of hundreds of people gathered outside the main gates of Camp Garcia. Navy guards used pepper spray and attack dogs against protesters who were cutting their way through the base fences. The Navy complained that some of its vehicles were trashed.
At the University of Puerto Rico, 35 students blocked the entrance to an Army Reserve recruitment office.
The following morning, five Navy A-4 fighter jets dropped nine 500-pound dummy bombs on the eastern tip of the island and shelling started from offshore. But over and over on the following days, the Navy had to stop or postpone its attacks, as protesters made their way onto the 900-acre firing range. Military police used beanbag guns and tear gas to attack encampments that sprang up on the island. And arrests mounted.
The Navy claimed they were calling a halt because of bad weather, and later, to honor the Catholic beatification of a Puerto Rican saint--but the simple fact was that they were unable to prevent protesters from making their way onto the target areas.
Early Monday, April 30, as the Navy tried again, over 40 protesters made it through police lines. "There have been some reports that demonstrators are burying themselves in a live-ordinance area to hide from Navy personnel," said Roberto Nelson, a Navy spokesman. The Navy was forced to postpone their attack for four hours.
That same day, in a lame attempt to change their "image," the Navy gave up 8,100 acres it had occupied in western Vieques--handing over 4,248 acres to the Vieques municipality, 3,100 acres to the U.S. Department of the Interior, and 800 to the private Puerto Rico Conservation Trust.
By Tuesday, May 1, the Navy gave up. Its nuclear battle group steamed off for the Persian Gulf area, where it would be used to attack and threaten Iraq. Over 180 people had been arrested--many of them refusing to pay bail and remaining in jail after the imperialist war fleet left. Navy spokesman Lt. Jeff Gordon announced: "We were able to accomplish our objectives. However, the circumstances were less than ideal.''
In fact, the week had been a disaster for the Navy and for U.S. imperialism--and an important victory for the struggle of the Puerto Rican people.
A Training Ground for Imperialism
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 there to learn carpet bombing. Over 6,000 aircraft flew more than 35,000 bombing runs on the island. It was there 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.
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, this is nothing but the logic of an imperialist power that believes it can get away with pounding an island off an oppressed country.
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.
A Broad Consensus Against the Navy
"President Bush we ask you to stop the bombing of Vieques now!"
Full page ad by prominent Puerto Rican entertainers and sports figures
in the New York Times, Washington Post and other newspapers
While the masses of people were in the forefront of the resistance, various prominent figures also took a stand. A major ad against the Vieques bombing was run in U.S. newspapers, signed by singers Marc Anthony, José Feliciano, and Ricky Martin, actor Benicio del Toro, baseball players Roberto Alomar, Carlos Delgado, Juan González, and Iván Rodríguez; boxers John Ruiz and Tito Trinidad, and golfer Chichi Rodríguez.
The incredibly broad and intense feeling among Puerto Rican people has made it difficult for even the reactionary and conservative forces ruling the island to take their traditional stand alongside the U.S. Navy. U.S. federal officials charged that Puerto Rico's recently elected governor Sila Calderon had allowed Puerto Rican police to stand aside as protesters on Vieques confronted Navy forces and broke the law. Chicago Congressman Luis Gutierrez was among the people arrested on Vieques, and there has been some controversy within the U.S. bourgeoisie over Gutierrez's charges that he had been brutalized. Various forces within the U.S. ruling class itself--including Governor Pataki of New York state, and a number of U.S. Congressional representatives and senators spoke out against this round of U.S. war games. U.S. Attorney General Ashcroft was forced to promise an investigation of the Navy's tactics.
Badly stung by the storm of protest, the Navy insisted they would conduct more maneuvers this summer. But clearly, they are having a very difficult time enforcing their colonial control over Vieques. For two years, since a U.S. Navy F-18 killed the civilian David Sanes during military exercises on Vieques--the movement against the Navy's occupation of Vieques has grown. Ten months ago, powerful protests disrupted the last attempt at military maneuvers here.
This latest round of protests reveals how isolated the U.S. Navy has become within Puerto Rico and how deeply people there oppose the use of their land as a ground zero for U.S. imperialist forces. The Navy even hired a Virginia ad agency to improve its "image" in Puerto Rico--and this imperialist killing machine that has occupied and brutalized Puerto Rico for a century even adopted the surreal slogan: "The Navy, Puerto Rico's own, serves people."
This month, the Pentagon stood so isolated over this issue that one U.S. columnist quipped, "The Navy's only friends may be the people it takes for rides."
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.
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!
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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