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New York Daily News

Vieques Bombings, Protest To Square Off: There We Go Again


August 29, 2002
Copyright © 2002 New York Daily News. All rights reserved.

There we go again.

In five days - on Sept. 3 - the Navy will begin bombing the living hell out of the little island of Vieques one more time. This, of course, is not news. It has been going on for the last 60 years.

"Our island is on the verge of being bombed again, violated by the U.S. armed forces, which for more than a half-century have robbed us of peace," said Robert Rabin, one of the leaders of the bombing protests, from jail.

Rabin, a 45-year-old from Boston who made Vieques his home 20 years ago, is serving six months in a federal prison in Puerto Rico. His crime: Entering the firing range where the Navy conducts the military exercises in April to try to stop them.

"And they [the Navy] continue to act against the desires expressed democratically by our people," Rabin said.

Democratically and overwhelmingly, 68% of the island's electorate voted in a referendum for the Navy to pick up and, finally, allow them to live in peace.

As a result, President Bush announced in July 2001 that the Navy would withdraw completely from Vieques by May 1, 2003. But many people are skeptical.

"We have to remind Washington that it must fulfill its promise and leave this island May 1 of next year at the latest," said Oscar Arias Sanchez, a former president of Costa Rica and the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Arias and other personalities arrived on the island two weeks ago and demanded a complete stop to the bombings and military exercises.

They met with several peace activists and Dmaso Serrano, the mayor of Vieques, who spent four months in jail last year for taking part in the peaceful demonstrations against the Navy's presence.

"If by May 1, 2003, the Navy hasn't left Vieques, as President Bush promised," Serrano said, "I am willing to go back to jail to demand from my cell the right of the people of Vieques to live in peace."

The impending maneuvers have outraged and saddened Puerto Ricans, who see them as a step backward in Washington's commitment to withdraw the Navy by next year.

"This is a critical moment for our struggle," Rabin said on a call for new demonstrations against the military maneuvers.

He added: "The Navy looks to take advantage of the 'war' on terrorism and the announced invasion of Iraq - as well as the pro- war position of the Puerto Rican government - to stay in Vieques beyond the touted date of May 2003."

One thing is certain: Demonstrations will resume as soon as the bombing and strafing of the little island begins again. Nothing to show And why not? After six decades of the Navy's presence, the 9,300 people of Vieques have nothing to show for it. Actually, 72% live below poverty level and 50% are unemployed.

Not to mention that Viequenses suffer disproportionately from cancer, cardiovascular diseases and other illnesses.

This is not surprising, given that more than 1,300 warships and 4,200 aircraft used the island for target practice in the past 15 years. And the Navy admitted using shells loaded with depleted uranium in the island bombing, as well as the highly toxic napalm.

On Sept. 3, Viequenses be damned, the Navy will return to the island to bomb the hell out of it for 23 long days.

There we go again.

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