The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 45           December 22, 2003  
N.Y. protesters: ‘Justice for Vieques 12,
free all Puerto Rican political prisoners!’
NEW YORK—More than 50 people participated in a picket line at the United Nations December 4 to demand justice for 12 activists from Vieques. Five of the twelve were being sentenced in a federal court in San Juan that day on charges ranging from trespassing to destruction of federal property.

The charges stem from a May 1 celebration of the U.S. Navy’s departure from the Puerto Rican island. That night, hundreds of residents of the island and mainland Puerto Rico entered the grounds of the abandoned Camp García to celebrate the Navy’s departure from Vieques. This victory was years in the making following a sustained campaign in Puerto Rico, the United States, and internationally to force the Navy out of Vieques.

The picket line at the UN was called by ProLibertad, an organization involved in the fight to free Puerto Rican political prisoners, and the Vieques Support Campaign, and was endorsed by other organizations in the New York area and Puerto Rico.

The protesters—several carrying huge Puerto Rican flags, and the flag of Vieques—were in high spirits as they chanted, “Free the Vieques 12! Free all Puerto Rican political prisoners!” and “U.S. Navy: decontaminate and clean up Vieques!”

The latter refers to the continuing fight by residents of Vieques, and their supporters worldwide, to demand Washington pay for a major clean-up and decontamination of the island. After driving residents off their land, the U.S. Navy occupied two-thirds of Vieques for more than six decades and used it for artillery and bombing practice, along with military maneuvers.

A brief rally was held to update participants on the sentencing. Frank Velgara, a leader of the Vieques Support Campaign, read an e-mail message from supporters of the Vieques 12 who had attended the sentencing hearing in San Juan.

Velgara reported that Judge José Fusté of the U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico earlier that day sentenced five of the twelve who had entered a guilty plea on advice of their counsel.

Nilda Medina, of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, was sentenced to one year’s probation, 200 hours of community work, and fined $2,000; Jesús Delgado, former president of the Teachers Federation in Puerto Rico, got 24 months probation, nine of which he is ordered to serve under house arrest, and was fined $3,000; Néstor de Jesús Guishard, a young Vieques activist, was sentenced to eight months in prison and a year probation; Heriberto Hernández was sentenced to four months in prison, two years on conditional release, and fined $3,000; Manuel Pérez Santiago was sentenced to 12 months on probation and fined $3,000.

“We are here today to call upon the nations of the world to speak out and denounce U.S. colonial control of Puerto Rico and the repressive measures that the United States undertakes to repress people fighting for freedom and self-determination,” said Ben Ramos, ProLibertad youth coordinator. Ramos gave an update on the long-term fight to win freedom for all Puerto Rican patriots held in U.S. prisons, and pointed to the Vieques 12 as the latest in a long list of Puerto Rican activists that Washington has jailed for the crime of fighting against U.S. colonial domination.

Ramos called on those gathered to step up efforts to win unconditional release for five independentistas currently serving long sentences in U.S. prisons: Oscar López Rivera, Juan Segarra Palmer, Haydée Beltrán, Carlos Alberto Torres, and Antonio Camacho Negrón. Two others, José Pérez González and José Vélez Acosta, are held in federal prison in Puerto Rico as a result of the May 1 actions in Vieques. He announced that ProLibertad and other organizations are launching an international campaign to win the unconditional release of all Puerto Rican political prisoners and bring the issues of the military presence in Vieques and Puerto Rico’s colonial status to the UN General Assembly and other international forums. The goal of this campaign, he said, is to win international solidarity for freeing the Puerto Rican patriots from prison and for the independence of Puerto Rico.

ProLibertad has joined the Human Rights Committee of Puerto Rico and the National Boricua Human Rights Network to demand prison authorities schedule surgery for Oscar López, who suffers from bilateral hernias and has been denied treatment for eight months. Ramos reported that the campaign has forced prison authorities to at least say such surgery will be provided, but additional protests to the Bureau of Prisons are needed to force them to schedule the operation immediately. Ramos also reported on the effort to pressure prison authorities to allow Carlos Alberto Torres’s mother, Alejandrina, to visit him. Alejandrina Torres, who herself served many years in Washington’s jails for her opposition to U.S. colonial rule, has been denied visitation rights.

Letters of protest should be sent to Harley G. Lappin, Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons, 320 First Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20534; fax (202) 514-6878.
Related articles:
Justice for the Vieques 12  
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