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Some Call Vieques Home 'Disgrace To Their Memory'
Some Call Vieques Home
May 12, 2003
When they go to Vieques, Puerto Rico, they don't go as others do - to see the island that the Navy has bombed for 60 years, or the scene of countless protests, or the site of 1,600 arrests for civil disobedience.
When they go to Vieques, they go home.
Eugenio Rodriguez lives in Lawrenceville. Virginia Navarro resides in Wayne. Carlos Carrasquillo lives in Haledon. But they left their hearts - and many relatives and friends - on that small island off the coast of Puerto Rico.
To them, Vieques is much more than a bombing and artillery range. It's the place where 9,000 civilians live, the place where they were born and raised - where they grew up listening to explosions and fearing environmental hazards.
For them, the news from home has been great lately.
When the Navy finally pulled out of Vieques on May 1 and transferred its two-thirds of the island to the federal Department of Interior - to be used as a wildlife refuge - some in New Jersey felt liberated.
After all, the Navy's withdrawal marked the success of a peaceful protest campaign that helped force the end of 60 years of war games.
Rodriguez, 52, was born and raised on Vieques until the age of 8. Navarro, 49, was born in New York but raised on Vieques. She plans to retire there by the end of this year. Carrasquillo, 44, born in Paterson, spent his teenage years on the island.
They all have family there, and often go back for visits. They live far away, but they still feel their relatives' anguish over living in a war zone.
They speak of houses that had to be constantly repaired, because the bombing vibrations made the walls crack. They express fear about the effects the contamination will have on their relatives' health. They speak of families divided by the Navy's presence there.
"I have cousins who worked for the military and were willing to live with the bombings because they were able to put rice and beans on the table," Rodriguez said. "And I also have cousins who are fishermen and depend on the natural habitat to continue to flourish."
Carrasquillo said his father, Luis, 73, who happens to be visiting him from Vieques, has had three operations for illnesses they blame on the environment's contamination.
"I had to leave Vieques, at least for a little while," Luis said., "because I was tired of breathing gunpowder."
Nevertheless, after demonstrating against the Navy for many years, he said it was frustrating to watch the celebrations on TV when the Navy pulled out. "I became very emotional, and I cried," he said. "I should have been there."
Navarro said watching the news made her sad, "because I wanted to be there for the celebrations." But she was happy for her parents, both of whom have been arrested in civil disobedience demonstrations. "I know what they have been through," she said. "I lived there during the Vietnam era, and at that time we had bombings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner."
And now that the bombings have stopped, New Jersey Viequenses say there is still a battle to be fought - to make sure the federal government keeps its promise to clean up the island's contamination.
"They have an obligation to clean it up, and to give that land back to Puerto Ricans," Rodriguez said, noting that Vieques once had 21,000 residents, most of whom were displaced by the military installations. "The way those people were displaced left some strong sentiments among Viequenses," he added, "And the time has come for repatriation."
'Disgrace To Their Memory'
May 21, 2003
Regarding "Some call Vieques home" (Page L-1, May 12):
While I can understand that the actions of the U.S. Navy on the island of Vieques disturbed many Puerto Ricans and mainland Americans, it was clearly in the interest of national defense. I'd probably react the same way if the Navy decided to make the Jersey shore a bombing range.
Fortunately, the Navy pulled out, and it is hoped we'll see the island cleaned up for its residents.
What the article did not mention in describing protests on TV was the nauseating sight of demonstrators burning the American flag and attacking U.S. property with pick axes.
When I first saw those demonstrations on TV, I thought that I was watching the looters in Iraq. Then I realized that I was witnessing my countrymen burning the Stars and Stripes, a symbol that many young Puerto Rican men fought and died for in several wars. It was a disgrace to their memory.
John F. Grisoni