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Get the Navy off Vieques!

by HECTOR REYES | August 17, 2001 | Page 14

VIEQUES, Puerto Rico--Finally, after 60 years of abuse, the residents of Vieques were allowed to express their opinions about the U.S. Navy's use of their island as a bombing range.

In a local government-sponsored referendum on July 29, residents voted overwhelmingly--68 percent--for the Navy to leave immediately.

While a referendum agreed upon between former President Clinton and former Gov. Pedro Roselló, and scheduled for November, had only two options--the Navy stays indefinitely or goes in 2003--the local referendum included the demand that the Navy leave immediately.

The option allowing the Navy to stay indefinitely barely received 30 percent of the vote.

News of the referendum traveled the world, with newspapers from London to New York acknowledging the results as an "unequivocal act of self-determination" and a defeat for the Navy.

Meanwhile, blowhards in the U.S. Congress threatened to cancel the November referendum and void President Bush's decision to remove the Navy from Vieques by May 2003.

Once the results were made public, the people of Vieques took to the streets in the rain and spent all night dancing, singing and shouting anti-Navy chants. The next day, more than 300 people marched to the Navy's Camp García gates, carrying a black coffin stuffed with pro-Navy referendum propaganda. The crowd then destroyed the coffin.

Vieques' new mayor, Dámaso Serrano, handed a Navy official a symbolic eviction notice that summoned the Navy to stop its military practices immediately and provide a timetable for cleaning up contaminated land.

"To not satisfy these demands would put in question in the world's eyes the values of freedom and democracy that rule in Vieques and Puerto Rico," Serrano told the crowd.

That same day, the Navy began a new round of military exercises, which protesters once again met with civil disobedience. Nearly two dozen activists from all walks of life were arrested--after successfully disrupting the exercises.

Activists are already strategizing about a response to the next round of exercises, which is rumored to begin in September and include NATO forces.

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