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Sunday, May 22, 2022
SAN JUAN, Sep 27 2001 (IPS) - The political ground is shifting under the campaign to end the U.S. Navy’s use of the inhabited island of Vieques as a bombing range.
The Sep. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, and the wave of public sympathy and international coalition building that have ensued, have left civil society organisations here wondering how to rally Puerto Rican and U.S. public opinion to their cause.
The local health, environmental, social and political consequences of U.S. forces use of Vieques to practice bombing from sea, air, and land has drawn widespread concern and condemnation from international peace and environmental groups.
The majority of voters here also have called for the Navy’s withdrawal, prompting President George W. Bush to announce earlier this year that the U.S. would do so by May 2003.
Activists now fear, however, that the U.S. defence department will use Washington’s “war” on international terrorism to remain on Vieques indefinitely, even as local right-wing groups use the attacks to argue for keeping the Navy here.
“We condemn the opportunism of local politicians who are already trying to use the tragedy to push their small-minded agendas, like their defense of the U.S. Navy’s presence in Vieques”, said Jorge Farinacci, a former political prisoner and spokesperson for the Puerto Rico Socialist Front.
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Its residents have U.S. citizenship and can join the U.S. military but can’t vote in presidential elections, and have no vote in the U.S. Congress, where their delegate has only observer status.
On the day after the terrorist attacks, local anti-Navy organizations met in assembly and decided to declare a moratorium on civil disobedience, at least until they agree on a new course of action appropriate to the new circumstances.
“This is for our security”, said Vieques community leader Ismael Guadalupe. “They’ll shoot first and ask questions later. We don’t want them to shoot a protester and then claim they believed it was a terrorist.”
“We Puerto Ricans are not enemies of the American people”, added Doris Pizarro, spokesperson of the Nuevo Movimiento Independentista, a group seeking independence from the United States. “In Vieques, terror has also been sown among the children and among a whole innocent people.”
“The commitment to peace, exemplified through civil disobedience, international cooperation and the quest for fair political solutions, is the best alternative to face the terrorist threats of the twenty-first century,” she added.
The Socialist Front’s Farinacci assailed Governor Sila Calderón’s public statements to the effect that violence is not the answer while at the same time fully supporting Bush’s stated intention to launch a “war” of retaliation.
“The Puerto Rican people want peace, but they know that it won’t come with military agression and bombings”, Farinacci said. “Peace will only come from a radical change in U.S. foreign policy.”
Ricardo Olivero, a University of Puerto Rico student leader who has organised marches against the U.S. military’s recruitment of students, said he fears the Sep. 11 attacks will lead to more domestic surveillance and repression by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
“They’ll reinforce the policies of constant surveillance against any group that doesn’t agree with the policies of the U.S.”, said Olivero. “Groups the seek peace for Vieques will be particularly affected.”
“We must redouble our anti-military activism and at the same time must be cautious,” he added. “The repressive wave coming our way will touch everyone in the left, or who just appears to be in the left.”
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