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Date: Wed, 15 Apr 98 14:44:13 CDT
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Puerto Rican Youth Demand U.S. Military Leave Vieques Island
Organization: InfoMatch Internet - Vancouver BC
Article: 32389
Message-ID: <bulk.29518.19980416121748@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Puerto Rican Youth Demand U.S. Military Leave Vieques Island

By Rolland Girard and Ron Richards, The Militant, Vol. 62, no. 15, 20 April 1998

MAYAGUEZ, Puerto Rico - About 60 young people briefly blocked the entrance to the U.S. military base on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques April 5, in a protest organized by the Federation of Pro-Independent University Students (FUPI). "This was good," said Ismael Guadalupe Ortiz, an activist in the fight against the U.S. military presence on the island, in a phone interview following the action. "This was the first time since 1974 that young people organized an activity against the base."

Vieques, off the east cost of Puerto Rico, was first colonized by Spain in 1832. On July 25, 1898 the United States invaded Puerto Rico through the southern port of Gua'nica. With little fighting, the Spanish government, having already lost to the United States in Cuba and the Philippines, surrendered. Puerto Rico, including Vieques, was transferred as a colony from Spain to the United States. Soon after, the invading forces started to make military, scientific, and economic studies of the islands of Vieques, Culebra, and the main island of Puerto Rico. Vieques totals about 33,000 acres.

Ever since their invasion of the country, the U.S. rulers have met resistance from the workers and farmers of the islands that make up the Puerto Rican nation. In 1915 the first sugar cane strike occurred in which four workers from Vieques were killed by cops.

In 1941 the U.S. Congress approved the setting up of a Navy base on the island of Vieques. They started the expropriations soon after. Four thousand people were expropriated from the eastern side and relocated in the center of the island to make space for the Navy in the early 1940s. The population lost their land, homes, harvests and livestock with very little compensation.

Over the years the U.S. military took over nearly 70 percent of Vieques for military purposes. It is especially used as a naval training center. The Navy uses the island as a warehouse for their bombs, and as a place to practice bombings, and disembarkments. The U.S. military has also tested napalm in Vieques. Napalm is jellied gasoline that sticks to human skin. Thousands of civilians were killed or maimed for life in Vietnam by Washington's use of napalm.

The fight against the U.S. Navy bases in Vieques has been part of the fight for independence of Puerto Rico. The U.S. government has responded by imprisoning many of the movement's leaders and violently attacking demonstrations against its military presence and supporting independence. The massacre of Ponce on March 21, 1937, where 21 protesters were killed and some 200 wounded, is the bloodiest example.

Ismael Guadalupe Ortiz is active in the fight to demilitarize Vieques today. He was the past president of the Crusade for the Rescue of Vieques, which was formed in 1978 in response to the rising use of the island for bombing practices. In a March 28 interview here, he told the Militant that in the 1970s the population of Vieques organized several challenges against the Navy maneuvers. Local fishermen, for example, tried to impede the big U.S. navy ships from carrying out maneuvers by crossing in front of them in their fishing boats.

On May 19, 1979, Guadalupe was part of an ecumenical event to protest the presence of the Navy on the island. The police arrested 21 of the demonstrators. "Thirteen of us were jailed, and one of us, Angel Rodri'guez Cristo'bal, was later killed in a U.S. jail in Tallahassee, Florida, on Nov. 11, 1979." On July 26, 1979, El Nuevo Di'a reported that "in the last eight months, the U.S. army dropped 27,200 bombs in the artillery exercise zone of Vieques." After the arrests the Vieques protests died down until 1993 when the Committee for the Rescue and the Development of Vieques was formed.

Guadalupe, who is a teacher, explained: "The Navy wants us to leave the island. When they are preparing to invade a country they first practice in Vieques. We have many people who emigrate to the main island and to the U.S. in part because of unemployment. There is only one General Electric plant on the island, and since the U.S. takes three fourths of the island, it forces people to emigrate. There are only 8,000 inhabitants today." In 1947, the population was 15,000. In 1990, the median income for households was $5,864. Only 59 percent of the homes have telephones.

The Navy has started construction of an enormous Relocatable Over the Horizon Radar (ROTHR) that will allow them to monitor aircraft as far south as Bolivia. The transmitter will be located in Vieques and the receiver in Ft. Allen on the main island of Puerto Rico. Over the last several years there have been numerous protests against the ROTHR in Vieques and other parts of Puerto Rico. The Navy had planned to put the receiver in Lajas, but in face of protests was forced to back off its expansion plans and instead relocate the receiver to an existing military base, Ft. Allen in Juana Di'az.

Carlos Ventura, president of the Vieques South Coast Fisherman's Association, said that the ROTHR will create only 20 jobs in Vieques and by increasing the militarization of the island it will block future development. The people of Vieques are "like 8,000 laboratory rats," he said. "We have the highest infant mortality, the lowest per capita income, and the most cancer in Puerto Rico. We have no industry." Unemployment is well over the national average. Pedro Zeno'n, Cacimar Zeno'n, and Ismael Guadalupe Torres are members of the Federation of Pro-Independence University Students. Originally from Vieques, they are presently studying on the main island at the Mayaguez and Cayey campuses. They gave a presentation at the 24th Congress of FUPI in Mayaguez on the political, social, and environmental impact of the U.S. naval bases on the population of Vieques.

"They practice there just as if it was a war," said Cacimar Zeno'n. "And it is a war against us but we are unarmed."

"Neither the Navy nor the best army of the world will exterminate a people when it is united. We need to take on the fight," said Pedro Zeno'n. "This is needed not only for Vieques but for the whole world. We can win because our struggle is just." In order to be more effective in the struggle, "we need education, not only through books but through actions. We need to stand up." added Guadalupe.

Rollande Girard is a member of the United Steelworkers of America Local 7609 in Miami. Ron Richards is a member of the American Federation of Government Employees in Puerto Rico.

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