VICTORY IN VIEQUES!
Readers of CADU News will be aware of the ongoing battle that the residents of Vieques have had to stop the U.S. Navy using their island for bombing practice. Their campaign of civil disobedience has finally won. It was announced last week that the Navy will be withdrawing from the Puerto Rican island by the 1st of May this year.
The U.S. Navy, which owns a third of the island, has carried out military manoeuvres there, including the testing of depleted uranium, for the last sixty years. In 1999, after the death of a resident, killed accidentally by the navy, the People's Assembly of Vieques issued an ultimatum, with the unanimous support of all of Puerto Rico´s community sectors and with the support of the Puerto Rican Government, which demanded the immediate departure of the U.S. Navy. They also condemned the use of depleted uranium, napalm bombs and other chemical and toxic weapons condemned by international public opinion because of their adverse impact on health and the environment.
Since then, the people of Vieques formed the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, and began a committed campaign of civil disobedience. They continually trespassed onto the military ranges, setting up illegal protest camps, and taking their message to the world.
The U.S Navy informed the government of Puerto Rico that the military will cease using Vieques, instead using other sites in Florida and the US mainland. The memo dated Jan 2003 from the Chief of Naval Operations is testimony to how effective the direct action resistance has been -
"In addition, physical security at Vieques is becoming ever more difficult and costly to maintain, given the civil unrest which accompanies the Navy's presence on the island. We have been successful in completing our training on the island only because of extremely aggressive and costly multi-agency security actions. The level of protests, attempted incursions, and isolated successful incursions generally remain high when Battle Group training occurs on the island. The Navy has devoted significant resources to maintain range security and safety, as well as the safety of our onsite personnel. Even so, our Sailors are continually subjected to an unsatisfactory environment in Puerto Rico. The support of the local police organization has been unable to provide the kind of safety we would demand at any other site in the U.S. The Navy's departure from Vieques will liberate us from this burden."
However, this news came only days after the islanders were informed that a new wave of training exercises were to begin on the island this month (Jan) which could last up to a month.
Gov. Sila Calderon, who opposes the training, sent a letter to President Bush on Friday calling the plan "patently offensive."
The people of Vieques, promised to keep up civil disobedience during what is likely to be the last round of military exercises, and five people were already arrested sneaking onto military lands before exercises resumed.. "On May 1st, the lands will still be contaminated and will still be in federal hands. That's the next battle" said David Noriega, one of the protestors.
The following report from the Peace and Justice Camp sums up their inspiring and successful struggle.
During these last few days the Secretary of the Navy certified to the Congress and the President that there exist alternate sites for the bombing practices which for sixty years have taken place in Vieques, and that in May of this year the Navy will cease using the bombing range here. This news represents a tremendous advance in the struggle for peace for Vieques. Nevertheless, the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques insists that peace is much more than the end of bombing. Our community's historic demands in the face of the military presence can be summarized by the 4 D's: demilitarization, decontamination, devolution of the lands and sustainable development of a Free Vieques.
The determination by the Secretary of the Navy also certifies the effectiveness of civil disobedience and the consistent denunciation and protests by all sectors of Puerto Rican society in favor of peace for Vieques. It is a testimony to the power of an organized community that is committed to a peaceful but militant struggle, and to the perseverance of the Vieques community - not for years, but for decades. The organized groups here have contributed during more than half a century, to a level of consciousness and spirit of struggle that has made it possible for this "tiny" community, with enormous solidarity and massive support from all of Puerto Rico, to paralyze the most powerful military force in the history of humanity. The certification is evidence of the power of a people organized and in the streets, of fishermen in the sea, of women and men, youth and elders, people from all ideological sectors - political as well as religious - a community united and committed to justice and peace.
More info from Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, PO Box 1424 Vieques, Puerto Rico 00765
Tel(787) 741-0716 Fax 741-0358, or www.viequeslibre.org
Page last updated: January 28, 2003