Vieques: Hasta La Vista, Navy!

Against the Current, No. 99, July/August 2002

Sara Peisch

THE U.S. NAVY’S latest bout of military practices in Vieques, in April 2002, produced yet another demonstration of the steadfast resistance of the Puerto Rican people, such that the recent round of civil disobedience became one of the most successful since the arrests at the resistance camps in the bombing zone in May 2001.

There wasn’t one minute of the twenty-two days of bombing when the Navy didn’t feel the pressure, as we saw the military provoking violent confrontation with the peaceful protests.

Thirty men and women, crusaders for peace, were arrested in April. Nearly half of them successfully reached the Navy’s inner bombing range, acting as human shields against the bombing.

A Resistance Symphony

The round of twenty-two days of civil disobedience unfolded like a exquisite symphony. In the initial movement, five women from the Puerto Rico Independence Party sounded the coronets on the first day of bombing. In the second movement, the Navy threw tear gas on the civilian population in peaceful protests outside the gates.

A brigade from Mayagüez snuck onto the base, making chopped liver out of the Navy’s security forces. The Navy, overwrought with dread that we would “enter all at the same time,” responded by lacing a retired factory worker and an environmentalist with pepper spray, even in front of the television cameras.

The people of Puerto Rico applauded and celebrated the “trespassers” and repudiated the Navy’s abuses.

When a civil disobedient looks into the face of the arresting soldier, his and her spirit soars with the commitment for peace in Vieques. This commitment isn’t measured by the distance from the fence line or one’s prominence as a public figure.

In the symphony’s next movement, the first brigade entered the prohibited bombing zone. With flares, banners reading “Out Navy,” bags of dried fruit and camouflage Fruit of the Looms, the brigade organized by the Socialist Workers Movement and the Cayo La Yayí Collective foiled the Navy’s plans at the beginning of the second week.

The small brigades continued to enter the bombing zone, by land and by sea. Like Aesop’s lioness with her solitary cub reacting to the vixen’s huge litter, “Yes, just one, but a lion.”

Just so that it’s perfectly clear to the people, to the double-crossing Vieques Commissioner Juan Fernández, to the Navy’s faceless press officer, Sixto Escobar: During twenty-two days, there wasn’t a single moment when the Navy didn’t have to think twice, three and four times about dropping their bombs.

They never fired a shot without first looking for civil disobedients for hours with helicopters, land troops and night vision goggles. The Navy rarely had control of the Vieques bombing range.

At the end of this sublime symphony, the thirty disobedients once again unmasked the hypocrisy of the federal court in San Juan. While the corrupt ex-secretary of the Department of Education, Victor Fajardo, sits at home awaiting trial, the federal judges denied bail to school teachers, a shoemaker and a nun.

These thirty men and women demonstrated once again that the will of the people goes far beyond mediocre politicians, especially those who hide behind the police of Puerto Rico.

April’s civil disobedience showed that the people only need be “alert and available,” as they say in Mayagüez. Hasta la vista, Navy.

ATC 99, July-August 2002