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2000-04-28

Tensions in Vieques Increase, As Deadline Passes for Protesters to Clear Naval Base

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In Vieques, Puerto Rico, protesters have held their ground now for over a year, as they seek to end 50 years of military exercises and bombings on the island by the U.S. Navy. The protesters have established encampments inside the military camps where the firing ranges are located, and have paralyzed live ammunition exercises for over a year. [includes rush transcript]

For the past few days, the situation in Vieques has been particularly tense. This past Tuesday was the deadline set by an agreement signed between President Clinton and Puerto Rican governor Pedro Rosell for protesters to clear the range and allow exercises to resume. Under the agreement, the exercises would use "dummy" bombs for three years in exchange for a referendum in Vieques over whether to close the range. But protesters have denounced Rosell’s decision to sign the deal. There are now reports that Navy ships are on their way to force the protesters off the range.

Guest:

  • Roberto Rabin, head of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques. Speaking from the encampment known as "Justice and Peace," which is situated just outside the gates of the US Navy’s Camp Garcia, Vieques, where bombing exercises are conducted. Call: 787.741.0716.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we go from Chevron to Pfizer to Occidental Petroleum, and now down to Vieques, Puerto Rico. Juan, we’ve been covering this extensively, the protests that have been taking place. The pressure is mounting. Protesters have held their ground now for over a year, as they seek to end fifty years of military exercises and bombings on the island by the U.S Navy. The protesters have established encampments inside the military camps where the firing ranges are located and have paralyzed live ammunition exercises for over a year.

And over the last few days, the situation has gotten particularly tense. This past Tuesday, deadlines set by an agreement signed by President Clinton and the Puerto Rican governor for protesters to clear the range and allow exercises to resume. Under the agreement, they would use dummy bombs for three years in exchange for a referendum in Vieques over whether to close the range, but protesters have denounced the Puerto Rican governor’s decision to sign the deal. And there are now reports that Navy ships are one their way to force the protesters off the range.

We go now to the encampment known as Justice and Peace, which is situated just outside the gates of the US Navy’s Camp Garcia, where bombing exercises are conducted. For the last year this encampment has blocked military vehicles from entering or leaving the main gate. Roberto Rabin is there, head of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

ROBERTO RABIN: Welcome. Good Morning. Thank you for the invitation.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Roberto, what is the situation right now? There are reports that probably there will be some sort of federal government action sometime early next week. And what’s the situation there now?

ROBERTO RABIN: Well, we are working with a lot of different rumors, a lot of speculation, a lot of information coming from the US press, from the Navy itself, obviously with the intention of confusing even more the situation.

There is a bit of anxiety in the community. People are waiting now for what seems to be inevitable action in the next several days. People are prepared here at the Peace and Justice camp in front of the Navy’s main gate, where, as you mentioned, since the 3rd of December past we have not allowed the entrance or leaving of any military vehicle or personnel. We are ready to go into action and to increase the level of civil disobedience actions, if necessary, and here, as is the case with all of the civil disobedience camps that now ring the entire eastern end of the island of Vieques, where the Navy has its bombing range, where there are about fourteen different civil disobedience camps, including camps by labor groups, Vieques fishermen and families, the Catholic Church, the Protestant churches, teachers’ unions, among others. Everyone is dedicated here to continuing peaceful civil disobedience.

So, again, we are very attentive to all the reports that are coming out of the US press. CNN, ABC, NBC have been giving coverage to the probability that two warships will leave soon from Norfolk in Virginia with about a thousand troops and a few hundred Federal Marshals to come into Vieques and begin to execute the arrest plan to take everybody out of the bombing range to make the bombing range available for US Navy maneuvers and bombing practices.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I talked late yesterday with some Puerto Rican leaders here in New York, and they were drafting a frantic last-minute appeal that was being signed by all the Puerto Rican Congress members and Reverend Jesse Jackson and virtually the entire political leadership of the Latino community in New York, calling on the President to hold back on this and not take this move. But they seemed pretty much resigned to the fact that this was going to occur.

Now, interestingly, the New York Times is reporting today, that many people in the federal law enforcement community really don’t want to do this, because they think that logistically it is going to be a very difficult job, because the testing range is so large and there are so many people out there that it is going to provoke all kinds of unrest in Puerto Rico. What’s your sense of what could occur throughout the rest of the island if the Navy does move in?

ROBERTO RABIN: Not only on the rest of the island of Puerto Rico, but also throughout many cities in the United States, there will be simultaneous large-scale demonstrations of peaceful civil disobedience in Boston, Connecticut, New York, Washington, in Philadelphia, Rhode Island, in Chicago, in Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Texas, and other cities in the United States with large concentrations of Puerto Ricans and other Latinos.

There will be throughout Puerto Rico intense civil disobedience actions particularly directed at other military bases and federal facilities. Here in Vieques, the Navy will definitely face a nightmare. They will face a nightmare of continuous action of peaceful civil disobedience, but very firm action on the part of the community to make it impossible for the Navy to continue with their actions here. People will continue to move into the Navy’s bombing area, despite the Navy’s attempt to block the ocean access routes to the bombing area. Vieques fishermen, we have no doubt, are capable of entering and leaving the bombing area, and we know that people will continuously be moved in by ship, also by land.

The Navy fences run from south to north, both on the western end and on the eastern end. On the eastern end is where Camp Garcia is. On the western end is where the Navy has their Naval ammunitions facility storage area, and also it’s the main contact point with their major base over on the main island of Puerto Rico, Roosevelt Roads. So all along this fence there will be continuous action.

People will continue to move into the bombing area, into the Navy’s restricted land, and the Navy will be forced to continuously arrest people, day and night, for a long time. And the people who will be arrested, if it comes to that, will include bishops, as there are right now several bishops of the Catholic and Protestant Churches of Puerto Rico. It will include important public figures from Puerto Rico, from the United States and other countries. There will be men and women of different ages. People up to ninety years old and more are participating actively in the struggle. So the Navy is going to face, again, a very, very serious and continuous situation of very firm and organized peaceful civil disobedience.

We certainly worry about the Navy’s traditional and historic use of force and of excessive force. We know that the Navy and federal authorities are very capable of provoking incidents and then blaming the people for that provocation, so we are certainly unable to control the situation completely.

We are dedicated here to peaceful civil disobedience, but we know the Navy and federal agencies are very capable of infiltrating here with agent provocateurs. We know that they are capable of creating the type of provocative action that will necessitate response here by people, and so we are prepared for the possibility of some type of violence on the part of the Navy and federal officials.

Statements from people like the Resident Commissioner Romero Barcelo, lying to the Puerto Rican and the US press, saying that he has evidence that there are weapons inside the civil disobedience camps, something that is absolutely not true, is obviously designed by the Navy, by the FBI, with the support of Romero Barcelo and with his participation, to create beforehand the justification for excessive use of violence against the resistance camps.

So, we are prepared, and we have a battery of lawyers. The entire Puerto Rican bar [inaudible], with over five thousand members, are at the disposition of the community of Vieques. There is international support, as well. The actions in support, immediately following any type of intervention by the military or police forces of [inaudible] all over Vieques and Puerto Rico and the United States, but also in Hawaii, the Philippines, Okinawa [inaudible]

AMY GOODMAN: [Inaudible] in Vieques and the latest developments.

ROBERTO RABIN: In Vieques, you [inaudible] people can call (787) 741-0716, and that’s (787) 741-0716, or (787) —

AMY GOODMAN: That’s good enough.

ROBERTO RABIN: Say that again.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s good enough, to give out that one number. I thank you very much for being with us.

ROBERTO RABIN: And the website would be viequeslibre.org.

AMY GOODMAN: Viequeslibre.org. Roberto Rabin, speaking to us from the encampment known as Justice and Peace, which is situated just outside the gates of the US Navy’s Camp Garcia on Vieques, where the bombing exercises are conducted and that they are trying to stop.

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