2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 21 Jul 2003 13:51:41 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Comité Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques (Committee    for   the
Rescue   and   Development    of   Vieques)
Apartado 1424
Vieques, Puerto Rico 00765
E mail: bieke@prorescatevieques.org
19 de julio de 2003

by David Cline

May 1, 2003 marked the beginning of a new era for the people of the
Puerto Rican island of Vieques. On that date all land under military
control was officially transferred from the Department of the Navy to
the Department of the Interior, ending 62 years of bombing and shelling
as the main military training site, the "crown jewel" of the US Navy's
Atlantic Fleet.

I traveled to Vieques for the celebration with a six person Veterans For
Peace delegation. For more than three years, US veterans have worked
together with Puerto Rican veterans and community groups on this cause
and wanted to share in the joy of this important victory.

The Celebration For Peace For Vieques began on the evening of Wednesday,
April 30 and continued throughout the weekend. The main stage was
located at the former main gate of Camp Garcia across the street from
the Peace & Justice Camp, which has maintained a constant presence there
since the death of security guard David Sanes in April 1999. His death
by errant bombs re-ignited a mass civil disobedience movement that swept
Vieques and all of Puerto Rico as well as many communities in the United

The stage was decorated with a huge banner showing a hand holding the
Puerto Rican and Vieques municipal flags releasing a dove of peace. On
the night of April 30, thousands gathered, waiting for midnight to
celebrate the Navy's departure. Speakers talked about the struggle and
the sacrifices made by so many (over 4000 were arrested and jailed in
the civil disobedience campaign) and, as the clock approached midnight,
the excitement grew.

At 12 Midnight, flares were shot into the air and the crowd surged
toward the gate, once the dividing line where Viequenses couldn't cross.
The gates came crashing down and people with wire cutters began taking
down the fences. People waving Puerto Rican flags climbed on top of the
guard post, a cinderblock building that had once been the base for
military police operations. Soon others pulled out sledge hammers and
began demolishing the cinderblock building, a symbol of the despised
military occupation.

Members of Vieques Horsemen for Peace road up through the once off
limits land, shooting flares and roman candles skyward and shouting
victory slogans. Several abandoned Navy vehicles were discovered,
overturned and set afire. At this point, Puerto Rican police were
ordered to "restore order" and although there were no violent
confrontations or arrests, the police had to retreat several times as
the overwhelming crowd threw water to cool them down.

The following day this incident was played up by the news media with one
Spanish language paper running a cover photo of a burning vehicle and
the headline "They Burned The Peace". Ms. Sila Calderon, the
Commonwealth Governor, denounced the events as the work of unnamed
outside forces and demanded an investigation and arrests.

The truth is that the majority of people who tore down the gates and
guardhouse and burned the vehicles were local residents celebrating
their liberation. It is ironic that when Germans tore the Berlin Wall
down, it was hailed as an act for freedom, when US tanks pulled down
Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad, it was billed as "liberation", yet
when Viequenses celebrated the end of over 60 years of continuous US
military bombing by tearing down symbols of that oppressive presence, it
was called criminal vandalism.

Throughout the remainder of the weekend, celebrations took place at the
liberated former base entrance. Vendors stalls lined the road like a
country fair with rallies and presentations taking place each day and
concerts each evening featuring traditional, bomba, salsa, reggae, rock
and rap music. One day there was a Grand March from the town square in
Isabel Segundo. On another, Ecumenical services were held to commemorate
the victory of peace. On Sunday, Veterans held a ceremony.

I was asked to go with those who had placed a large white cross on the
bombing range after the death of David Sanes in April 1999 in the first
act of civil disobedience, to the bombing range now silent but still
contaminated and littered with unexploded bombs, and helped put up
another cross commemorating the victory.

A number of memorial services took place for those who died from
military toxins and others who lost their lives in this struggle. At a
municipal cemetery, we prayed at the grave of David Sanes with his
sister Myrta.

Another was for Angel Rodriguez Cristobal, a Vietnam veteran who had
been arrested in earlier protests and was murdered at a Federal Prison
in Tallahassee, Florida in 1979. I met his widow and daughter along with
other family members and presented them a "Veterans for Peace for
Vieques" button in honor of him and then participated in a service at
Esperanza (Hope) beach where a bronze bust of Angel looks out over the
water. People shared thoughts of him amid shouts of "Presente" and then
flowers were strewn on the water in his memory.

The Navy's departure is just the first big step in a continuing struggle
on Vieques. The Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques
(CRDV) has long advocated a program of 4 Ds- Demilitarization,
Devolution (return of the land), Decontamination and Development (a
sustainable economy for the benefit of the people).

Some of the former military land is now open as a wildlife preserve and
public beaches but many people still have land claims against the Navy
and two-thirds of the island remains in the possession of the Interior
Department not the government or people of Puerto Rico.

The cleanup of the land and restoration of a safe environment will also
remain a major focus of concern and activism. A recent study by the
Health Department found a 27% greater Cancer rate on Vieques as well as
elevated levels of Asthma, Diabetes and Hypertension, compared with the
rest of Puerto Rico.

The bombing ranges are still littered with unexploded ordinance and are
heavily polluted from many years of the buildup of RDX (Cyclonite)
explosive residue from conventional bombs as well as quantities of
Napalm and Depleted Uranium that were also used there.

The Victory for Peace for Vieques is something to cherish, especially in
these dark times of war and repression both at home and abroad. Vieques
shows that a determined and united people using mass civil disobedience
can overcome even the most powerful of forces. We must continue to stand
in solidarity with the people of Vieques in the battles that lay ahead.

*David Cline is the national president of Veterans For Peace and a
coordinator of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. He participated in the
civil disobedience both on Vieques, PR and in Washington, DC. He is a
disabled Vietnam veteran and lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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