The raid and the renewed war training, however, sparked a wave of protest actions throughout Puerto Rico and demonstrations in numerous U.S. cities, from New York to Los Angeles to Miami.
Fishermen in Vieques have denounced U.S. authorities for imposing a three-and-a-half-mile maritime restriction zone around the eastern coast. The Coast Guard is now seizing any ship that enters the zone. They have already detained dozens of fishing boats and are barring many fishermen from reaching their fishing traps.
Ismael Guadalupe, spokesperson for the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, reported that fishermen from the northern and southern coasts of Vieques met to plan a protest against this move that denies them their livelihood. They announced that if the Coast Guard does not lift this blockade, they will defy it with their vessels, taking public figures aboard as witnesses.
In another assertion of colonial power, the commander of the Roosevelt Roads U.S. naval base, Capt. James Stark, pressured U.S. authorities to suspend the license of a pilot for a small Puerto Rican commuter airline, supposedly for flying over the Navy's restricted zone. Rolando de Jesús, a pilot for Vieques Air Link, was on a routine flight to St. Croix, Virgin Islands, another U.S. colony. The owner of the air fleet complained that the Navy restriction would force the commuter planes to go 10 miles out of their way.
Protesters also reacted angrily to the two A-4 Skyhawk warplanes that each dropped six "nonexplosive" bombs on the eastern part of the island, which has been devastated by its use for target practice by the U.S. military. They reported that there were still several demonstrators on the range. Several of the protesters who remained after the mass evictions have been removed, but a few have eluded U.S. authorities so far.
'Navy imposed state of siege on us'
The Navy is treating us as if we were a foreign army," said Guadalupe, "as if we were Serbs in Kosovo. They've imposed a state of siege on us and now they announce, as if it were nothing, that they are going to start bombing in areas where they know there are men and women. Their response to our demand for peace has been to come with more war."
The Clinton administration has insistently defended its crackdown on Vieques. U.S. attorney general Janet Reno--who also supervised the commando-style immigration cop raid on a home in Miami just days before the assault on the Puerto Rican island--portrayed it as a "peaceful" operation. Some of those evicted, however, reported that once the media was forced to turn off the TV cameras, the FBI and U.S. marshals treated them with their typical roughness.
As the May 4 raid began, U.S. president William Clinton signed an executive order that sharply raises the penalty for trespass on U.S. military land--from a misdemeanor, which carries a six-month jail sentence, to a felony, which brings a 10-year jail term and a $250,000 fine. The White House justified this move under a U.S. law that authorizes the president to issue such an order in wartime or during periods of national emergency.
Undeterred, a number of protesters have vowed to return.
Thousands protest in Puerto Rico
Meanwhile, thousands of people have engaged in demonstrations, picket lines, speakouts, and other protests around Puerto Rico. Within hours of the mass evictions in Vieques, hundreds of people gathered to demonstrate in San Juan outside Fort Buchanan, the new headquarters for the U.S. Army's Southern Command, reported Militant correspondent Ron Richards. The crowd rapidly grew as caravans of students from the University of Puerto Rico and Sacred Heart University joined, and swelled further at noontime when groups of telephone workers joined on their lunch hour.
At the same time, several hundred people in Vieques marched to where the Puerto Rican police have blocked access to the road in front of the U.S. Navy's Camp García. The police set up the barricade after U.S. cops removed demonstrators at the Peace and Justice Camp at the gates of the U.S. base.
Students shut down their university campuses that day in San Juan, Bayamón, Mayagüez, Ponce, and other cities. Demonstrations were held in front of several U.S. military facilities around the island.
Nearly 5,000 members of the electrical workers union, UTIER, held a four-hour strike to protest the U.S. government's crackdown on Vieques. In response, colonial governor Pedro Rosselló deployed the National Guard to "protect" electrical and water facilities, an action that was denounced by UTIER president José Valentín. Many UTIER members also joined a large demonstration in front of the Federal Building in Old San Juan.
In the United States, some 500 demonstrated in New York City; 200 in Philadelphia; 150 in Boston; 300 in Washington, D.C.; 125 in Orlando, Florida; and 100 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Protests were also held in Chicago; Los Angeles; Tucson, Arizona; Miami; Newark, New Jersey; and Hanover, New Hampshire. A protest also occurred at the U.S. consulate in Vancouver, British Columbia.
In New York, hundreds gathered at Times Square and marched to the United Nations. It was a mixed crowd of youth and workers of all ages. They chanted rhythmically, "Que se vaya la Marina con sus bombas y metrallas" (The Navy must leave with its bombs and machine guns).
"I'm Puerto Rican and I feel these Americans are abusing my country," said John Cintrón, a student at Chelsea High School who took part in the march. "They arrested protesters in Vieques in 1979 and they served time, and now they're doing it again."
In Washington, D.C., demonstrators heard a message from Vieques fishermen's leader Carlos Zenón. Robert Rabin, a leader of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, addressed the protesters through a cellular phone hook-up. "A new stage is beginning in the struggle to remove the Navy from Vieques. The people have shown that our struggle is dignified and peaceful." He urged more public protests in the United States.
Demonstrators chanted "U.S. out of Vieques!" and "Rosselló, traitor, Vieques is not for sale." The chant referred to a deal struck between Rosselló and Clinton in January agreeing to a resumption of U.S. bombing practice in Vieques and a referendum in which Vieques residents would vote on whether the U.S. Navy would stay or leave the island by 2003. The deal includes the promise of $40 million to the islanders, an offer some Puerto Ricans have rejected as an effort to buy them off. Many of the protests throughout the United States were organized by new groups that have emerged in the course of last year's struggle to get the U.S. military out of Vieques and the fight to release Puerto Rican pro-independence political prisoners.
Ron Richards in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Elena Tate, a member of the Young Socialists in New York; Rachele Fruit in Miami; Mark Friedman in Los Angeles; Andy Buchanan in Newark, New Jersey; and Willie Cotton, a Young Socialists member in Tucson, Arizona, contributed to this article.
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