Federal Govt. Jails Vieques Protesters

Revolutionary Worker #1106, June 10, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

The U.S. Navy is reportedly planning a new round of bombings of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. The renewed bombings may start as soon as June 13 and last up to 18 days. This means that the U.S. could start bombing Vieques again just three days after the June 10 National Puerto Rican Day parade in New York City. The annual event draws millions of Puerto Rican people, and last year opposition to the U.S. bombing of Vieques was an important theme. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is coming down hard against the movement to stop the bombing by jailing protesters.

Protest against the U.S. military's "practice" bombardment of Vieques have been mounting in the past two years. Between May and October 2000, some 480 people were arrested in protests against the bombing. In those cases the punishment ranged from fines as high as $1,000 to time served during the detention after arrest.

From April 27 to May 2 this year, there were new protests against the latest Navy bombing. 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.

The authorities arrested 182 people during these protests. And in a change of tactics, the government is beginning to put the protesters in prison. NY Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez wrote that the shift is "part of a new get tough policy by the federal government under President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft." On May 16 judges began ordering immediate trials for those arrested April 27-May 2. Demonstrators are being given minimum sentences of 40 days in jail.

Especially outrageous are the sentences imposed on Ruben Berrios, president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, and Rev. Al Sharpton. The court imposed a four-month sentence on Berrios and a 90-day sentence on Sharpton, The judges declared that the two were given heavier sentences because they had prior convictions for arrests in demonstrations (in Sharpton's case, a 1987 conviction for civil disobedience to protest a racist killing in Howard Beach, Queens).

Sharpton and three other New York-based political figures--Aldolfo Carrion Jr., Roberto Ramirez, and Jose Rivera--were told on May 22 that their cases would be tried the next day before a federal judge in Puerto Rico. The four were denied any delay in the trial; and they were convicted, sentenced, and jailed after a one-day trial. The four are now in a federal detention center in Brooklyn. Their initial request to be released on bail was denied. Seven other protesters also received jail time on the same day.

By jailing the Vieques protesters, the government is trying to send a message of intimidation against the movement against the bombing of Vieques. And by adding extra jail time to the sentences imposed on Berrios and Sharpton, the government is declaring that those with a history of activism will get treated even more harshly.

In a statement condemning the jailing of the Vieques protesters, the National Coordinating Committee of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation said: "The bombing of Vieques is a crime. These protesters should never have been put on trial. The Vieques protesters' sentences represent an attempt to criminalize dissent and quash protest of any kind."

While the masses of people have been in the forefront of the Vieques protests, the fact that elected officials and other prominent figures are among the protesters shows that there is incredibly broad and intense feeling among Puerto Rican people on this issue. The U.S. and its military have been badly stung by the determined protests. And the protests have revealed how isolated the U.S. Navy has become in Puerto Rico and how intensely the people there oppose the use of their land as ground zero for U.S. imperialist forces.

The U.S. government is now trying to gain the initiative by stepping up repression against the protesters and getting ready for another round of bombings. But these steps will surely be met with continued resistance of the people. On May 28 ten thousand people demonstrated outside the federal prison in Puerto Rico to demand the release of the jailed protesters. There have been demonstrations daily in New York City.

The U.S. imperialist bombardment of Vieques is an ongoing insult and outrage against the people of Puerto Rico. The powerful movement against the occupation and bombing of Vieques has become a rallying point for the Puerto Rican people and their aspirations for national liberation and an end to the century-old U.S. imperialist domination of Puerto Rico.

Further information on the Puerto Rican struggle and the history of U.S. domination of Puerto Rico is available online.

Also on this site are the appendices of the new Draft Programme of the RCP,USA that discuss the liberation of Puerto Rico. See the appendices "Internationalism & International Relations" and "Uprooting National Oppression and White Supremacy."

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