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Vieques struggle vs. Navy

'Patriot Act' aimed at protesters

By Berta Joubert-Ceci

Before Sept. 11, the struggle to oust the U.S. Navy from Vieques in Puerto Rico received international solidarity. After hundreds of thousands had marched in the streets there, and Vieques became an issue in New York's annual Puerto Rican Day parade, even luminaries and famous politicians from the U.S. had to go to Vieques and if possible get arrested doing civil disobedience.

Many of those voices are now silent, however. The terrorist U.S. "war on terrorism" and its justification of "homeland defense and security" preclude them from showing support to this just cause.

Tell that to Milivi Adams, whose tiny four-year-old body battles five different cancers, believed to be a result of military waste contamination. Or to the hundreds of children whose behavior is impaired by bombing noise and fear. To the women who cannot deliver their babies in their own land.

Tell that to the thousands who suffer from heavy metal poisoning, heart diseases and many other illnesses believed to be related to the war exercises. And to the youth who have to emigrate, leaving their loved ones, because there are no jobs, no future for them on the island of Vieques. And also to the fishing workers who cannot feed their families when U.S. battleships are in their waters.

This is the time when the people of Vieques and all of Puerto Rico need the most complete and unconditional solidarity. The notion that political dissent is "unpatriotic" makes the struggle against the Navy a very difficult one.

'Patriot Act' used against activists

There are new threats against the anti-Navy activists as a result of the recently passed "Patriot Act." Antonio Benazar, president of the Puerto Rican Civil Rights Commission, says that "the dispositions under this law are so broad that they could be applied against the anti-military demonstrators. Under the law's definition, if you get into Camp García [the restricted Navy shooting range on Vieques], it could be interpreted as putting a life in danger in order to change a policy of the U.S. government." And, under the new law, that's a crime.

A recent dangerous move by the colonial government in Puerto Rico shows its acquiescence to its Washington/Pentagon bosses. Sila Calderón, the current Puerto Rican governor--who won the elections based on her anti-Navy, pro-Vieques platform--recently named a new police commissioner. His credentials indicate that he will make sure the "Patriot Act" definitions apply to Vieques activists.

He is Miguel Pereira, an ex-military officer and previous federal prosecutor who happens to be married to Marlene Hunter, the director of the FBI in Puerto Rico.

His commitment to go after the movement is revealed in a statement to the media about youth who wear masks while cutting the range fence to allow people planning civil disobedience to get into the territory. "Wearing a mask cannot be tolerated, since this is a felony. If you wear a mask in order to commit a crime, even if it is a less serious crime, you are committing a serious crime."

Pereira also threatened all activists who might be considering entering the restricted areas. He vowed that the police will take action when any "property is destroyed and if anybody attempts to intrude into the restricted areas in front of the state police."

This is a clear change of policy. Before 9/11, the Puerto Rican police did not arrest demonstrators in the civilian areas or in the restricted naval zone. U.S. military personnel or FBI agents made all the arrests.

This new attempt to stifle dissent in Puerto Rico can go beyond the Vieques struggle. It is a dangerous precedent that goes against the civil rights of the general population, and in particular against the pro-independence movement. Once again independentistas are targeted as "subversive" and/or "traitors," in a way reminiscent of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s when police and FBI systematically persecuted and kept secret "carpetas"--records--of suspected independentistas.

But the struggle for peace for Vieques is not only for the people of Puerto Rico. Peace for Vieques is also peace for Latin America, the Caribbean and the world. Eighty percent of the U.S.-NATO pilots who brought devastation to Yugoslavia trained in Vieques, as well as the crew of one of the aircraft carriers in the current war against Afghanistan.

Some of the surveillance and counter-revolutionary maneuvers against Colombia are launched from Vieques, where Over-the-Horizon Radar built by Raytheon is supposed to trace every movement of the Colombian guerrillas.

The organizations leading the struggle against the Navy in Vieques need support. Donations of money and materials are needed to carry out the next round of civil disobedience. Contact: Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques at Apartado 1424, Vieques, Puerto Rico 00765; telephone (787) 741-0716, fax (787) 741-0358, email bieke@prdigital.com.

Reprinted from the Feb. 7, 2002, issue of Workers World newspaper

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