Revolutionary Worker #1109, July 1, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org
On June 13, U.S. President Bush announced that the Navy will stop the bombings on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques--but not until the year 2003. In the meantime, the Bush administration said, the weapons testing and troop training on the eastern shoreline of the Vieques island will continue. At same time as Bush made the statement, the U.S. Navy began a new round of military exercises at Vieques. And the militant resistance against the bombing also moved into gear once again--determined to make clear through the actions that the Puerto Rican people want an immediate end to the U.S. Navy bombing, not (maybe) in two years.
The latest Navy war exercises on and around Vieques involved 11 ships--including aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt--and more than 10,000 sailors. The practice bombings on Vieques began June 19. Hundreds of police and military personnel were mobilized in an attempt to keep the protesters away from fences around the bombing range on Vieques, which the Navy calls the "Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility."
But the protesters were determined to disrupt the Navy exercises. On June 20, a number of protesters were able to cut through the fence and enter the bombing range. As Navy fighter jets prepared for a high-altitude bombing exercise, protesters shot off a flare to signal their presence. The Navy was forced to cancel this bombing run, saying the protesters had "fouled the range." The Navy is currently dropping "inert" bombs which do not explode--but the protesters still risked danger when they went into the firing range during the Navy exercises. On Friday, June 22, six protesters wearing camouflage emerged from the weapons range and said they had evaded Navy patrols since the previous Sunday and had succeeded several times in stopping fighter jets from dropping bombs. As of June 23, 55 protesters have been arrested during the current protests.
Training Ground for U.S. Imperialist Aggression
Puerto Rico was seized by the United States over 100 years ago and has been a U.S. colony since then. Throughout the twentieth century, Puerto Rico served as an important launching point for U.S. military moves in the Western hemisphere. U.S. corporations have bitterly exploited the Puerto Rican people. The U.S. has repeatedly used armed force to suppress the independence movement and maintain domination over the colony. Large parts of the island have been turned into bases and training grounds for the U.S. military and have served as staging areas for invasions and interventions throughout Latin America.
Vieques has also been training ground for U.S. troops sent to other parts of the world. During the Vietnam War, U.S. pilots learned techniques of carpet bombing on Vieques. The military also conducted tests of napalm--the jellied gasoline bombs used against the Vietnamese people. In recent years, the U.S. has trained pilots on Vieques for air wars against Iraq and Yugoslavia.
Vieques has been used as a practice range for U.S. bombings for about 60 years. The U.S. Navy has officially claimed that there is nowhere else where their Atlantic forces can train for combat. But this is nothing more than the arrogant logic of an imperialist superpower.
In reality, the particular quality that makes Vieques so "special" to the U.S. military is that Puerto Rico is an oppressed nation, a dominated colony that the U.S. has felt free to push around and abuse. The U.S. seized Vieques island by imperialist decree and moved the people at will. The island, home today to over 9,000 people, is pockmarked and poisoned by decades of bombing. The fishing industry, the reefs and wildlife have all been devastated. The lives of many people have been cut short by cancer-causing material like depleted uranium shells.
A Storm of Protest
In 1999 a U.S. Navy F-18 killed David Sanes, a civilian security guard, during bombing exercises on Vieques. This sparked a new surge in opposition to the bombings and the Navy occupation of Vieques. Between May and October 2000, some 480 people were arrested in protests against the bombing.
In an attempt to cool down the protests, the Clinton administration announced that an "agreement" had been reached with the governor of Puerto Rico to hold a referendum allowing registered voters on Vieques to vote on whether the Navy can continue with the military exercises. As an "incentive," Clinton offered $90 million in "economic aid" if the people of Vieques voted for the continuation of the Navy bombings and war exercises.
But this "agreement" was rejected by the movement against the bombing, and protests continued. When the Navy began bombings in April of this year, there were daily confrontations between protesters and military police at the fences marking the weapons test range. Hundreds of people found ways to infiltrate the Navy's target areas, and more than 180 people were arrested.
In a change of tactics, the U.S. government began giving jail sentences to people arrested during the April-May protests this year. People arrested in the previous protests had received fines and sentences of time served during detention after arrest. More than 40 people have received sentences of up to four months for their actions during the April-May protests.
But the increased repression has only led to the further growth of resistance. While the masses of people have been in the forefront of this resistance, broad forces have also become involved, including many prominent figures. A major ad against the Vieques bombing recently ran in various U.S. newspapers. The ad was 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 broadness of the movement and the intense feelings among the masses against the bombing have made it difficult for even those among the ruling forces in Puerto Rico to take their usual stand alongside the U.S. and its military. Puerto Rico's current governor, Sila Calderon, has spoken out against the bombing. A number of elected U.S. officials of Puerto Rican origin have been among those arrested at Vieques, as well as others such as Rev. Al Sharpton and Jacqueline Jackson, wife of Rev. Jesse Jackson. Some forces within the U.S. ruling class itself have expressed opposition to the Navy's use of Vieques, including Gov. Pataki of New York. And it's been widely anticipated that the referendum on Vieques, scheduled for later this year, would result in a vote against the Navy.
It was in the context of this growing storm of protest that Bush made the announcement of the Navy pullout in 2003. The U.S. and its Navy have been badly stung by the protests, which have gained international attention. The protests have revealed the deep hatred of the people of Puerto Rico for Navy bombings of Vieques and the use of their land as training ground for U.S. imperialist forces.
Whether a Navy pullout will actually happen two years down the road is another question. Some forces in the U.S. ruling class--including within the military and Bush's own Republican party--have been very upset with the Bush announcement. Bob Stump, an Arizona Republican and the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would conduct hearings on the Bush plan on Vieques.
As he expressed outrage at the Bush announcement, Stump made a revealing statement about widespread opposition to the U.S. military elsewhere. He said, "We have other areas...even within this country where there have been numerous complaints about our training around our bases, and I think once you give in to this type of action...then we're inviting trouble in many other places." Another Republican House member expressed fears that a pullout from Vieques would encourage opposition to U.S. bases and war exercises in places like South Korea and Okinawa: "What do we tell them? We won't bomb on ours, but we'll bomb on yours?"
The resisters against the bombing of Vieques vow to continue protests as long as the Navy exercises go on. Their just and righteous demand is: U.S. Navy Out of Vieques Now!
The Draft Programme of the RCP discusses the question of the oppression of Puerto Rican people and the liberation of Puerto Rico. The Draft Programme is available at Revolution Books stores and outlets or on the web at rwor.org.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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