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Protesters tell Bush they won't wait until 2003
Navy out of Vieques now!

by ELIZABETH SCHULTE | June 22, 2001 | Page 14

VIEQUES, Puerto Rico--Protests continued June 18 against the U.S. Navy's practice bombing on the island of Vieques, days after George W. Bush promised to end military exercises by May 2003.

Widespread protests over the last few years from residents tired of 60 years of the Navy's presence forced Bush to agree to the pullout date.

But two years was far from soon enough for the more than 30 activists who broke onto the range to try to block the exercises scheduled for mid-June.

Maria Velazquez, an activist from Mount Carmelo on the edge of the shooting range, said some planned to fire signal flares when planes began their runs.

Jacqueline Jackson, the wife of Rev. Jesse Jackson and co-president of Rainbow/Push Coalition, was among those arrested.

Demonstrations have intensified over the last few years on the island, where U.S. Navy target practice is blamed for widespread environmental contamination and noise-related illnesses.

Opposition escalated in April and early May when more than 180 people were arrested for trespassing.

Police fired so much pepper gas that a child in a car nearby had to be revived after he stopped breathing.

Several demonstrators battled U.S. marshals--armed with pepper gas and rubber bullets--by heaving rocks and fishing weights with slingshots.

Among those arrested during the May protests were high-profile figures like civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Rep. Luis Guttierez (D-Ill.).

Many of the arrested were left in the sun for hours without water and were forced into dog kennels--to send a message about what happens if you challenge the U.S. Navy.

Bush's announcement of a 2003 pullout date was partly aimed at preempting a referendum set for November 6, when most of the island's 9,100 residents were expected to vote for the Navy to leave in 2003.

Navy Secretary Gordon England announced June 16 that the Navy will ask Congress to cancel the referendum, which he called "very bad public policy."

But local politicians are feeling the heat--and have called for their own non-binding referendum next month, in which residents would get to vote on whether the Navy should stay, leave in 2003 or leave immediately.

Most Vieques residents know the Navy's history all too well to trust them to keep their promises.

"We have enough experience to know it's not just that the Navy would leave; it's when they would leave," said Roberto Barreto of Socialismo Internacional, Socialist Worker's sister newspaper in Puerto Rico.

"It's not that they would stop, but that they would stop immediately. It's not that they give back that ship full of uranium; it's that they clean that ship.

The Navy's slogan for the island is "'one-stop shopping,'" said Barreto. "This means that you can do anything in Puerto Rico.

"If you are developing a new experimental weapon, you can go to the range in Puerto Rico and test your weapon. You can rent the island, and you can rent the sea…

"We have too much information to be fooled again. Some people have hinted that we're approaching something of a Puerto Rican Intifada."

Bush's call for a 2003 pullout shows that he's feeling the heat.

But we have to turn up the fire to force him to get his Navy out of Vieques now!

New York City Puerto Rican Day parade


NEW YORK--The struggle to stop the U.S. Navy from using the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for target practice was center stage at this year's Puerto Rican Day parade.

Organizers, hoping to keep the parade's image moderate, tried to keep Vieques activists from having a presence at the June 10 event.

But unionists from AFSCME District Council 37, the health care workers union Local 1199 and others opened their contingents to the activists.

The unions passed out signs saying, "Paz Para Vieques, Peace for Vieques"--which were held up by many parade-goers.

Press reports all noted that the hundreds of thousands who lined Fifth Avenue to watch the parade frequently broke out in chants of "Vieques Sí, Marina No!"

"Our efforts at the parade were an incredible success," Melissa Mark Viverio, coordinator of Todo Nueva York Con Vieques, told Socialist Worker.

"I looked at all the reports in the mainstream press last night and the written press today, and each story or article mentioned that the main message at the parade was the effort to stop the bombings in Vieques.

"This means we were able to impact and influence the parade despite the efforts on the part of the parade committee to silence us."

Luz Santiago, the field services director of AFSCME District Council 1707, said that he thought it was important for the unions to take up the issue of Vieques.

"The goal of unions isn't just for better salaries, but to make the lives of workers better in general," Santiago told Socialist Worker.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani ordered a massively stepped-up police presence for the parade, supposedly in response to the series of sex attacks in Central Park that followed last year's event.

But Vieques activists noticed that the cops took a special interest in them.

"We had a phalanx of cops on other side of the contingent, escorting us through the whole route of the parade," Viverio said.

"When I asked a spectator who was sympathetic to our message if he had witnessed this level of police presence with any other contingent his response was that no, only with ours."

The enthusiasm for the struggle to kick out the Navy shows why George Bush felt pressured to offer a compromise on Vieques in early June--and the potential to step up the mobilization to win immediate withdrawal.

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