Stop the Bombing
Navy Out
No Weapons in Space

By Bruce K. Gagnon

11th November 1999

On November 4-8 a delegation of four Floridians traveled to Puerto Rico at the invitation of Victor Rodriguez , a leader of the Global Network affiliate called Comité Contra las Experimentaciones Ambientales. The four persons were Joe McIntire (Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice), Don & Matt Lockard (St Augustine) and Bruce Gagnon (Global Network).

The Comité Contra las Experimentaciones Ambientales is the organization that led the protests against NASA in 1998-99 that forced cancellation of the Coqui Two rocket launches in the town of Vega Baja. The Coqui Two were a series of atmospheric experiments by NASA. The rockets released chemicals into different layers of the atmosphere in order to test their effects on communications and radar signals. Protests forced NASA to close down the operation after eight tests even though 11 had been scheduled. (See GN reports from March 1998, April 1998 and March 1999)

Press conferenceBruce Gagnon
The Press Conference

Upon arrival in Puerto Rico our four-person delegation met with several key Puerto Rican activists to discuss the content of a news conference that we would be speaking at the following day. The news conference, held at a beautiful cultural center in San Juan, featured representatives from the Comité Contra Las Experimentaciones Ambientales, el Proyecto Caribeño de Justicia y Paz, Misión Industrial de Puerto Rico, the FCPJ, and the Global Network. The content of the news conference covered the existence of nuclear weapons in Puerto Rico despite denials by the U.S. Navy and the plans to put weapons in space by the U.S. Space Command. The largest paper in Puerto Rico "El Mundo" covered the event and ran a good story with color picture the next day. The top ranked TV station in Puerto Rico, TPR also featured the news conference and ran the story two days in a row.

JuanPress conference
The Press Conference

The next day our delegation, plus a large group from the Congreso Nacional Hostosiano, took the one-hour ferry ride from Fajardo to Vieques. Hundreds of people were on the ferry, some going to a baseball game on the island, other just visiting, but many going for protests against the Navy bombing on the beautiful island. I sat next to New York City Councilwoman Olga Mendez who was part of a 75 person New York political delegation going to Vieques Also on the ferry was an old man named Carmelo who was born on the island and remains one of the leaders in the struggle to stop the 50-year naval bombing of Vieques. He told me how he has trained wasps to attack Marines when they invade Vieques on maneuvers and how he disperses poison ivy dust, which gets into the troops' clothes and drives them crazy.

The Navy controls about ¾ of Vieques. The people live near the center of the small, elongated island with the military bombing ranges on both sides of them. From the port in Vieques we took a 30 ft. fishing boat with two 200 horsepower engines on the 20- minute rough ride to the camps inside the occupied zone. Along the short journey we passed 3-4 other fully loaded boats heading back to the port with Puerto Rican flags flying and people waving to us.

My first reaction when we landed on the beach was awe at the sheer beauty of the water and the rock cliffs and mountains. My second reaction was disgust to see the evidence of bomb parts in the water and on the land. But the most remarkable thing was to see the Puerto Rican flags flying each direction I looked: up on top of one hill where there was a camp; down the beach at another camp; on a far away mountain top, another. People were taking over the island. The Navy must be going crazy!

I was to stay in the new "school" recently built by the Congresso Nacional. The chickee-style shelter with a tin roof was just next door to the small chapel, also newly erected. Immediately after we arrived people began installing the solar electric system that they had carried over from San Juan. Within a couple of hours three compact florescent light bulbs were working.

I learned that day that the U.S. is now saying that it will send in 350 Spanish speaking federal marshals in December to arrest those now occupying Vieques in opposition to Navy bombing. N.Y. Councilwoman Mendez had told me on the ferry that she would return to do civil disobedience if this happened even though she had never before believed in CD as a political tactic.

On the Beach

Just down the beach a camp had been set up by a group of teachers from the village on Vieques. They were cooking fish and offered me food and drink. They told the story about Angel Rodriquez Cristóbal who had been hung just 20 years ago in a Tallahassee, Florida jail after having been arrested for non-violent civil resistance on Vieques. Twenty-one people had been arrested on that occasion, among them a Catholic bishop.

I also learned that 67% of Puerto Rican people receive food stamps. At the same time K-Mart, Sears and JC Penney stores sell more product in Puerto Rico than in 30 other states. It was so clear that the colonization process has had a staggering affect on the people and the environment of the "commonwealth". Puerto Ricans have been made to be dependent on the U.S. and our corporate masters. But in spite of that, the spirit for independence remains strong. The resistance on Vieques is but one example.

The Old CityThe fountain
The Old City and The Fountain

Our friends Victor and Juan Rosario showed us around old San Juan that, except for the cars and the paint on the buildings, reminded me of Havana in Cuba. One huge fountain with several statues of people and nature was a striking symbol of Puerto Rican nationalism. The statue and fountain had been commissioned as a celebration of 500 years since the Columbus discovery. We were told the story about how the artist had revealed that the centerpiece of the statue, a woman on a rock with arms raised to the sky and holding two eagle feathers, was really a celebration of her taking the feathers off the U.S. eagle. Signs of that pesky spirit of independence once again.

I was asked to do a presentation at the school on Vieques about the GN's work on space. With Joe McIntire ably translating, I spoke about U.S. plans for control and domination in space and showed the 20 people present the Vision for 2020 brochure and the poster of a space-based laser weapon with the U.S. flag flying overhead. I talked about the connections between space and Vieques, saying that the U.S. intends to make the whole earth and space above a colony like we have done to Puerto Rico. I later learned that this workshop was the first such event in the school on Vieques. It was an honor to have helped christen the school.

On the Walk

The next day was unforgettable. Victor took our delegation on a long hike, up the mountain top to one camp and then down the beach to another. We visited the camp of a national congress senator from the Puerto Rican independence party who has been on Vieques for the last six months. As we walked here and there we saw the enormous evidence of years of destruction on the island. Bombs -- exploded and unexploded - were everywhere. Wetlands were drained and bombed. Trucks, tanks, and planes were scattered everywhere as targets. One tank is now being used to hold up a tarp for shelter at one hill-top camp. As we looked out over the beautiful ocean beyond Vieques we saw a U.S. navy submarine in the near distance probably sending a warning to the occupiers.

When it was time to leave the island to return home our fishing boat anchor got caught on a bomb on the ocean floor. Our captain very carefully worked the anchor free and you could see the fear on the faces of the passengers. We saw bombs sticking up out of the water near the shore and we saw tiny islands just off Vieques that had been blasted to bits. In fact, endangered coral reefs are being destroyed all around Vieques from the years of bombing by the Navy.

Our friends in Puerto Rico are urging activists from all over the world to join them on Vieques as soon as possible to help block any attempts to remove them from the island. It is very easy to get there and once there all you need is a sleeping bag and some food and water to share. You will be made to feel most welcome on this otherwise tropical paradise. Be sure to bring your bathing suit!

Be sure to bring your bathing suit

If you'd like to go to Vieques just fly into San Juan and take a bus to the port of Fajardo and then for $2 take the ferry to Vieques. Once in Vieques there are regular fishing shuttles to the camps in the occupied zones. Call first and let Robert Rabin from the local Vieques committee know that you are coming. His phone is (787) 741-1717 or (787) 741-8651.

Please help do what you can to offer solidarity to our courageous friends in Puerto Rico.

The contents herein are Copyright 1999, Global Network/Bruce Gagnon, the article may be reproduced for non-profit purposes as long as the source is recognised, otherwise reproduction can be arranged through the Global Network.
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