Vieques, Puerto Rico: More punitive sentences handed down as the people of Vieques remain defiant

Given the participation of Canada in the militarization of the Caribbean and its participation in sea-to-shore bombing exercises in Puerto Rico (code-namedCaribops), using for one period DU shells from the Phalanx artillery system, we are reproducing the following two items on the resistance being waged by the islanders and the aim of the U.S. Navy in using the island as its own. – TS

US Navy out of Vieques now! 

(July 11, 2001) – ON July 6, eight more people were sentenced at the San Juan, Puerto Rico Federal Court in connection with civil disobedience actions on Vieques. They were among 180 people arrested for trespassing on Navy lands in late April and early May. Among the eight were Vieques resident Mirta Sanes Rodriguez, the sister of David Sanes Rodriquez who was killed by Navy bombs in 1999; Puerto Rican Senator Norma Burgos; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the son of the late Senator Robert Kennedy; and Dennis Rivera, a vice president of the AFL-CIO.

Throughout the proceedings, Chief US District Judge Hector Laffitte repeatedly cut off any defense arguments regarding the reasons for peoples’ civil disobedience. “I’m not going to allow political views, philosophical views, none of that,” he said. Laffitte’s own political views, though, was repeated often. He denounced the protests, which he said have brought 711 defendants through his court in the past year, and said, “It is an obvious concerted activity; it is a movement. There are masked individuals cutting holes in the fence of Navy lands. This is almost chaos. This is almost anarchy.”

As with other sentences in recent months, the jailtime meted out was disproportionate to the charge of trespassing, a Class B misdemeanour. Six of the eight received sentences of 30 days in federal prison. Mirta Sanes Rodriquez received six months probation with Laffitte commenting, “You’ve suffered enough.”

Ms. Burgos, though, was initially given a 40-day sentence. “You’re a lawmaker, not a law breaker. If your actions go unpunished, it will motivate others to do the same thing,” Laffitte said. Burgos responded simply, “There has to be justice for Vieques.” She then asked to be allowed to address the court. Ms. Burgos denounced the court and the judge as serving the interests of the US military and said it was the Navy which should be on trial for its crimes against the people of Vieques. When she refused to be silenced, the judge said she was being “defiant” and added 20 days to her sentence.

Among those in the courtroom for the proceedings were the Reverend Jesse Jackson, whose wife had just been released from jail for taking part in actions on Vieques, and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. Sweeney, in a press conference before the hearing, repeated the stand of the AFL-CIO and its 65 affiliated unions that the bombing must stop immediately and US military leave Vieques. Kennedy and Rivera were defended by US attorney Benito Romano and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Outside, as has marked all proceedings at the court house against those arrested on Vieques, demonstrators called for the release of all those arrested and reiterated the demand, “US Navy Out of Vieques Now!”

The US Navy’s latest wargames on the island concluded on June 30. According to a Navy spokesman, over 70 people were arrested for civil disobedience. Repeatedly the Navy’s bombing was disrupted as protestors succeeded in infiltrating the range itself.

* * *

Vieques: Launching pad for US imperialist aggression

SINCE the Bush administration made its announcement in June that the US Navy would pull out of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in 2003, the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico have unequivocally rejected the move. The latest US wargames from June 18 to 30, after Bush’s announcement, saw no lessening of the determination of the people to get the Navy out immediately. Navy officials in fact report that over 70 people were arrested for civil disobedience, including many again putting their bodies on the line to act as “human shields” on the range itself.

The Bush administration has also been strongly criticized for deciding to pull out at all. On June 27, the House Armed Services Committee held a three-hour hearing in which nearly 20 Congressman attacked Bush’s decision. Appearing before the committee, Navy Secretary Gordon England explained the Navy’s decision to leave Vieques: “One, to dampen the emotion and perhaps the demonstration surrounding the training schedule for June. And, two, seize the initiative and refocus our efforts on the real issue. The real issue is effective training for our naval forces and not Vieques.”

England and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz faced question after question on the issue of US military readiness and preparedness. Committee Chairman Bob Stump said that if the Department of Defense wants the committee’s support, “then it must first prove that the closure of Vieques will not damage military readiness and that a viable alternative is in fact available.”

The US government has long sought to justify its occupation of Vieques and the untold and wanton destruction of the island’s social and natural environment on the basis that the training Vieques provides is required. The issue, though, is not whether the US military needs Vieques, but what does it need Vieques for?

According to the US Navy, Vieques is the only location in the Atlantic where naval units can conduct the Combined Arms training required to deploying to “areas of potential hostilities in support of US Foreign Policy.”

The link between the wargames on Vieques and US aggression worldwide is clear. In August 2000, warplanes from the USS Harry S. Truman conducted bombing practice on Vieques. Six months later, on February 16, those same warplanes bombed targets south of Baghdad, Iraq. When Navy officials announced April 12 that bombing would resume on Vieques in late April, it was for a deployment of the USS Enterprise to the Persian Gulf immediately afterward.

In November of 1998, the Enterprise battle group conducted wargames in Vieques before departing for the Persian Gulf. Upon arrival the battle group began attacks on Iraq, “expending more than 690,000 pounds of ordnances on Iraqi targets in a 70-hour time period,” according to a Navy report. Then in early 1999, the Enterprise battle group launched cruise missile attacks against Yugoslavia.

The Theodore Roosevelt battle group conducted wargames in Vieques in February 1999. From May 12 to June 12, 1999, aircraft from Roosevelt’s airwing flew combat sorties in Yugoslavia. Deputy Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher said the Roosevelt’s performance

“is noteworthy for its many successes: scores of fixed targets destroyed, more than 400 tactical targets destroyed or damaged, in excess of 3,000 sorties without a single loss. … It takes a proper level of resources and the most realistic training we can provide prior to deploying – precisely the type of coordinated, live fire training conducted at the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Testing Facility at Vieques.”

According to a report by the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps,

“The fundamental value of the Vieques facility is proven every day by our forward deployed naval forces. The Aircraft Battle Groups and the Amphibious Ready Group that trained within the last year [1999] ended up flying combat operations over Iraq and Kosovo within days of their arrival overseas. They delivered many of their attacks from high altitude, and their ability to do so sucessfully was directly related to their training at Vieques.”

Nor is the role of Vieques as a launching pad for US imperialist aggression limited to just the past ten years. During the Vietnam War, the military practiced carpet bombing and its napalm program on Vieques. It was also from Vieques that the US prepared for its military intervention in Guatemala in 1954 and the Dominican Republic in 1965, and conducted its final “dress rehersal” for the invasion of Grenada in 1983.

The other common criticism made by opponents of the Navy pullout was expressed by Representative James Hansen during the June 27 hearings. He worried that by “giving up” Vieques, the US military would set a precedent for its numerous military bases and training ranges around the world. “Just wait, Okinawa is next, then Korea and on down the line,” he said.

Representative Hansen seems ignorant of the fact the people of Okinawa and Korea, as well as Hawai’i and so on, are already demanding the US military get out. And the people of the Phillipines and Panama are still demanding the US make reparations for the devastating health and environmental effects left behind when the US military left their countries. The US military bases and bombing ranges worldwide are simply there to serve US imperialism’s aim to dominate the world, backed by its military might. The US imperialists’ need for “military readiness” is no justification for the peoples of the world, especially when any may find themselves the next “area of potential hostilities in support of US Foreign Policy.”

TML Daily, July 11, 2001 – No. 119

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