Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 43               December 1 - 7, 2002            Quezon City, Philippines

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US Military in Puerto Rico, An Occupying Army

By Elizabeth Roebling
Asheville Friends Meeting, Asheville, North Carolina

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[Note:  A well written, moving account by a Quaker of a personal "international solidarity mission to Vieques, Puerto Rico.--dp]

I can support testimony given by Mary Anne Rodriguez that the United States Navy in Vieques regularly releases pepper spray onto peaceful demonstrators.  It is very hard for those of us who have lived, perhaps next to a military facility inside the US, to imagine the different face of the US military in Puerto Rico.

The US military down in PR is an "occupying army" and conducts itself as such. Puerto Rico, although linked to the US by passport and citizenship, maintains its own national heritage -- which is very distinctly Latin -- Afro Caribbean.  While many Puerto Ricans have been happy with the benefits of the relationship with the US and wish to maintain it, Puerto Rico has never voted for statehood, nor is there an English language station on the radio.

I was in PR for four months, reading the Pulitzer Prize winning "San Juan Star" in disbelief, learning the story of the abuse of Vieques, as I listened to the long time US residents down there and the great controversy over Vieques.  Finally, I became convinced after the massive arrests in April of 2001 with the 'groping' of Puerto Rican Senators by Navy personnel and allegations of grave abuse.

I went down in June to get arrested and see the insides of Camp Garcia for myself.  The "dog kennel" which many have described as the holding pen, would house great hordes of huge dogs. It is old, certainly, and of course, it did have a brand new roof on it by June, after Bobby Kennedy and Al Sharpton and just about everybody who was anybody was coming to get arrested.  (I was lucky enough to share the cell with Mrs. Jesse Jackson).

Vieques was NY chic for a while but now that we have the "never ending war" many of the politicos have deserted the cause -- fearing that they might be termed "UnAmerican" -- (I do not include Bobby Kennedy in this as he is a dedicated environmentalist and suffered greatly for his witness).  Yet, what has been done to Vieques and the residents there is the most horrible blot on our nations history -- right up there with the Trail of Tears and Hiroshima.

We (the United Staters) took this land at gunpoint - before their was a constitution in place -- from an island that we captured from the Spanish during the Spanish American War.  We have been using it for live target practice for 60 years.  For years, our government had a policy in place to try to simply get the people to leave -- abandon their lands and heritage -- so they could just bomb away -- but the Vieques people simply will not go.  They have withstood up to 270 days PER YEAR of bombing and shelling -- not only from our own military but from allies as well -- the US used to rent Vieques out to other countries.

This population -- which was originally close to 30,000 but is now just under 10,000 (no hospital, no employment, and the Navy took 2/3 of the land for its own use) -- has been served up a deadly concoction of napalm, Agent Orange, depleted uranium, and VX nerve gas.

It appears that many of the vegetables may be contaminated with heavy metals.  Every household now reports a cancer death.  Over 1000 barrels of unidentified toxins are stored in barrels in 35 feet of water off the coast -- among unexploded bombs.  The barrels are rusting -- gee -- it could be nerve gas -- who knows?  The Navy says it has lost the records of what is in the barrels!

None of these people are enlisted veterans.  They have no medical benefits as veterans.  They have no jobs from the military -- no retirement plans, no ancillary industries.  Even if they successfully stop the bombing in May of 2003 -- without a massive clean-up campaign, it may well be that the "killing fields" that the military has made of Vieques will continue to kill the residents long after the bombing stops.  Yet not one single military exercise in the last 60 years every went forward before it was "practiced" on Vieques. These are the most unrecognized and under-served 'veterans' in all of the United States. 

I was sitting with a group of about 100 people -- including grandmothers and children -- after my release on bail -- with our backs to the gates of Camp Garcia -- watching a video -- when we were gassed.  No provocation whatsoever.  The police said later that the Navy said that someone threw a rock over the fence. Well, the fence surrounds 19,000 acres.  So why gas the Camp?

What astonishes me is that the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico have been able to maintain such a deeply spiritual and heartfelt non-violent resistance for all these years.  It is a great privilege to be able to sit at the Camp table with them.  The San Juan prison is lovely and clean -- the court room is packed with resistors -- there is a constant vigil camp outside the prison.

The next "exercises" are scheduled for January -- anyone wishing to take a midwinter vacation at government expense should consider the San Juan Prison. I myself am contemplating a second stint but I will have to raise enough money to get there and pay someone to stay with my dogs and take care of things at the home front -- have to make sure that there is enough of a public witness to justify the expense.  I was considering taking pledges -- like one of those "walk- a- thons" -- i.e. who would pledge $1 a day for my going to Prison for Peace -- this would help bring publicity to the cause of Vieques.  Any one care to join in this campaign?

Nowhere in the world is the resistance to the power of the United States Military as impressive as it is in Puerto Rico.  We should all go down there for training. May God bless them and keep them.

Fuera la Marina. Paz Para Vieques

Elizabeth Roebling
Asheville Friends Meeting, Asheville, North Carolina

November  2002 Bulatlat.com

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