Stop the Bombing of Puerto Rico!

Against the Current, No. 81, July/August 1999

Puerto Rico Libre

ON APRIL 19, American F-18 fighter planes, on a routine bombing maneuver over the island of Vieques (a small island of approximately 8,000 inhabitants seven miles off the southeast coast of Puerto Rico belonging to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico), dropped “by mistake” two 500-pound bombs on a guard-post on Camp Garcia, US Navy.

The incident resulted in the death of David Sanet, a security guard employed by a private company, and the wounding of four others.

This tragedy is only the latest incident in a history of U.S. Naval presence on Vieques that extends back to the early 1940s, when the navy expropriated 26,000 acres of land, more than seventy-two percent of the island’s total area.

This land was stolen primarily to use for artillery drills, bombing exercises, and munitions storage. The effects of this expropriation were devastating to the local population. The Playa Grande Sugar Mill, the center of the island’s modest economy, was forced to close, and a severe social and economic crisis ensued.

The U.S. Interior Department planned to alleviate this crisis by relocating the island’s entire population to Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and granting control of the remaining territory to the navy. Fierce opposition quelled these plans, and every additional attempt at relocation over the course of twenty years.

In 1964, the residents of Barrio Esperanza, on Vieques’s south coast, organized opposition to stop the last forcible effort to relocate the remaining population. Opposition hasn’t been limited to a defensive posture, however. The residents of Vieques have banded together in a number of aggressive efforts to halt the U.S. Military’s exploitation of the island.

Fishermen of Vieques have demonstrated repeatedly against bombing and against restrictions limiting their use of the sea. There have been numerous demonstrations to raise public awareness to the catastrophic ecological consequences of the Navy’s island operations.

In 1983, the Governor of Puerto Rico, Carlos Barcelo, added his own voice to the popular opposition by issuing formal charges against the navy for ecological damage caused to Vieques. Today, in the wake of this senseless bombing, the demonstrations continue.

The island’s population has vowed to stage continuous protest, and the fishermen have said that they will fish in restricted waters. The Mayor of Vieques, Manuela Santiago, has drafted a “cease and desist” resolution to permanently halt all military operations on the island.

This resolution, once passed by the Vieques Municipal Assembly, will serve as the consummate declaration of collective opposition to American military presence on the island. Please voice your support for the struggle of Vieques by contacting President William Clinton, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20500. Phone: 202-456-1414, fax: 202-456-6218 or 456-2461.

This appeal is circulated by Puerto Rico Libre:

ATC 81, July-August 1999