Vieques History and Current Struggle
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Tenth Anniversary of the closing of the bombing range in Vieques was marked on May 1, 2013.
…Don’t let another ten years pass without achieving the demands of the Viequenses.
On May 1, 2013, we celebrated the Tenth Anniversary of the closing of the military base in Vieques. For more than 60 years, about a trillion pounds of explosives and toxic substances were dropped on Vieques by the U.S. Navy, NATO and their allies.
“Vieques Vive, La Lucha Continua” (“Vieques Lives, The Struggle Continues”) was formed November, 2012, to organize the commemoration of ten years without military practices. From May 1-4, we held various events not only to remember this enormous victory but also to promote the continuing struggle.
The commemoration started on Wednesday, May 1, with an ecumenical service in the Town Plaza of Vieques. Presentations by speakers and performers followed on the Plaza on Thursday and Friday. A large celebration will culminated the activities on Saturday.
In the Multi-Use Center there was a screening of documentaries and an exhibition of paintings, books and memorabilia about the Vieques peace struggle. To honor this struggle, we installed two large paintings in conmemoration to the struggle and did a cleanup at Camp Luisa Guadalupe.
After decades of protest and a campaign of non-violent, civil disobedience, the US Navy was forced to stop the bombing and close its base on May 1, 2003. These last four years of struggle began on April 19, 1999 when the Navy fired a bomb which killed Viequense David Sanes. We united in a massive movement using the slogans, ”Not One More Bomb!”, “Navy Out”, and “Peace for Vieques”. More than 1500 people were arrested and many hundreds imprisoned for the “crime” of serving as human shields against the bombing.
The closing of the bombing range on May 1, 2003 was a momentous victory where love conquered war. It is an example of participatory democracy, whereby the people of Vieques – with support of Puerto Ricans from the main island and the Diaspora, and thousands of peace loving people throughout the world – defeated the most powerful military force in history without firing a single shot.
Although we celebrate the end to the bombing practices, contamination and neglect continues to afflict our communities. Therefore, the tenth year anniversary gave us an opportunity to renew our commitment to justice, which is represented in the “4 Ds“: the historic demands of Vieques:
Demilitarization – Demilitarization will not be complete until the remaining military installations, the ROTHR radar and the Mount Pirata telecommunications center. Until these are closed, we will oppose attempts to replace civilian workers with military personnel.
Decontamination – We demand that the Navy assign an adequate budget to carry out a complete cleanup of the land and waters that they themselves contaminated with “conventional” arms (bombs, grenades, projectiles) and “non-conventional” arms (napalm, Agent Orange, depleted uranium). We oppose the open detonation of unexploded ordnance (which is the cheapest form of removal) because it just continues poisoning us. We oppose the Navy’s proposal to fence the contaminated area in the West of Vieques because it would establish a dangerous precedent of leaving the contamination in place. The Navy must promote genuine community participation in the process of decontamination, so that the cleanup will be thorough and effective. Puerto Rican and Viequense companies must be granted the lucrative cleanup contracts, which are now being given to U.S. companies. The Navy should provide any training needed by local companies.
Devolution (return of the lands) – We demand the return of all of the land which is currently controlled by the federal government – the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) – and it must be restored to the condition in which it was found when it was expropriated in the 40’s. As we approach ten years since the closing of the base, half of the island continues to be restricted to the civilian population. We demand an end to the harassment by USFWS, including the fines imposed when people enter the refuge to get coconuts and crabs to sustain their families
Development: The type of development that is happening currently – which benefits primarily large scale projects and outside interests – gives little support to Viequenses. We support the Master Plan for Sustainable Development of Vieques which was approved by the Government of Puerto Rico in 2004. This plan was prepared following the directives of the community, and promotes agriculture and fishing, eco-tourism, small guest houses, social interest housing, archaeology, and historic and environmental research, among other things. The federal government is obligated to compensate our people for the health problems resulting from the Navy’s activities. Such help includes a modern hospital, early screening and adequate care for our illnesses. It is vital to establish efficient maritime and land transportation systems that respond to our needs. We support Radio Vieques in the effort to provide a voice for our community.
VIEQUES VIVE, LA LUCHA CONTINUA