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Vieques Issue Not Forgotten

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  • Vieques Issue Not Forgotten

    The Record

    Vieques Issue Not Forgotten


    April 10, 2002
    Copyright 2002 North Jersey Media Group Inc.
    All Rights Reserved.

    Some say that now that we are at war in Afghanistan and seeking to fight terrorists elsewhere, this is not the time to be stopping U.S. military exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques . And yet others argue that although they stopped protesting since Sept. 11, now that the bombings have resumed, it's time to demonstrate not only in Vieques , but in New Jersey.

    Some say it's not a patriotic thing to do. Others say Puerto Ricans have shown their patriotism in every American war and that it's time for other U.S. communities if they feel so patriotic to submit themselves to bombing exercises nearby.

    "Getting the Navy out of Vieques has nothing to do with the war," said activist Claudio Mir. "Regardless of whether or not we are at war, the people of Vieques suffer from the bombings. It's impossible to drink a bowl of soup in Vieques without having the soup spill from your spoon when the bombs are falling."

    Mir is one of a group of activists planning a "Peace for Vieques " rally at noon Thursday at the Rutgers University Student Center in New Brunswick. The rally, organized by the Ecumenical Committee in Solidarity with the People of Vieques , will coincide with a visit by Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Maria Calderon, who is scheduled to speak at Rutgers at the same time.

    "This is not a rally against the governor," Mir said, noting that the demonstrators will seek a meeting with Calderon. "It is meant to support the people of Vieques and to repudiate the presence of the Navy."

    At least 14 civil disobedience demonstrators have been arrested in Vieques since the Navy renewed military exercises there on April 1. Many protesters and even Puerto Rican government officials have complained that Navy officers have used unnecessary force, such as shooting gas canisters, to control the demonstrators.

    "The demonstrators in Vieques are protesting in a peaceful way, and using brute force against them is part of a campaign of terror," Mir said.

    In a news conference Monday, Calderon said she has asked the Puerto Rican Justice Department to look into possible action to restrain the Navy from using unnecessary force. She said she also sought intervention from Washington, but she would not specify how.

    In a statement, the Ecumenical Committee noted that the bombings in Vieques "harm people and the environment and hurt the local economy, while doing nothing to increase national security." Quoting various Navy officials, it notes that training in Vieques is "obsolete" and "has little do to with defending the U.S. against terrorist attacks."

    The statement charges that the bombings are harming civilians and that Vieques residents have a higher incidence of cancer and other diseases than other Puerto Ricans .

    In a referendum last July, 68 percent of Vieques voters called for an immediate stop to the military exercises. The Bush Administration has said it is committed to pulling out in 2003, but many Puerto Ricans fear that, with the new war against terrorism, the Navy may try to extend its stay.

    Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, who was arrested for demonstrating in Vieques last year and returned there Friday, said he noticed the Navy is more aggressive now. "Unfortunately, instead of arresting them and treating them like peaceful demonstrators, the Navy was using pepper spray and mistreating them. I'm writing a letter to President Bush to bring this abuse to his attention."