[News] Puerto Rico - Remembering Vieques: Anti-Colonial Victory in the 21st Century
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Apr 25 13:00:25 EDT 2017
Remembering Vieques: Anti-Colonial Victory in the 21st Century
April 24, 2017 by Rebeca Toledo
teleSUR spoke with Vieques resident and activist Ismael Guadalupe about
Puerto Rico's current and historic battle against U.S. imperialism.
Ismael Guadalupe was a leader in the struggle to get the U.S. Navy out
of Vieques, Puerto Rico. The tactics used by the movement led to a
historic victory in 2003, when the U.S. Navy was forced to close its
military base on the small island and end all exercises and training,
including the testing of bombs.
*The fight against the U.S. Navy in Vieques is a good example of Puerto
Rico’s status as a colony. Could you tell us how Vieques triumphed
*Ismael Guadalupe:* Years after the U.S. Navy expropriated the best
lands in the country, the most important nationalist leader in Puerto
Rico, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos slammed the increased destruction of the
island of Vieques. He described it as the dismemberment of our nation.
Nationalism was experiencing its worst moments of persecution and murder
of activists who fought against imperial aggression with no fear. And so
it was Albizu Campos who set the stage for what happened in Vieques.
In the beginning, the first followers of Albizuism fought against
imperialism using the slogans of the movement. We didn’t grow. We didn’t
unite. We remained alone even though our demands were recognized by
In 1964, as a young 19-year-old, I joined a protest against the navy's
continued attempts to expropriate land from Vieques. University students
organized a march to protest and the messages they used were not the
traditional anti-U.S. slogans.
These new slogans opened the door to alliances with U.S.-aligned groups.
Later, other organizations reclaimed these messages that divided us and
separated us from the people. The Puerto Rican Socialist Party and its
committee in Vieques opened their doors to us in order for us to work
together around our demands.
Although in the beginning, the central demands were against the effects
of military exercises, this later grew with the creation of the
Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques to encompass a set
of demands known as the 4Ds: demilitarization, decontamination,
development and the return of lands. With these demands and new fighting
strategies, we were able to grow, impact and shut down the navy, which
had to close its base where they trained and tested bombs for future
aggression against other countries.
*The Vieques movement was able to unite many groups, **parties**and
personalities in Puerto Rico. As one of the leaders, could you tell us
how you were able to achieve this level of unity, given how difficult it
is to achieve?*
*Ismael Guadalupe: *At different periods, the struggle was led by
different organizations with different leaders. As a wide-spanning,
democratic and participatory struggle, we did away with those distorted
visions of leadership, where the decisions of one person rule over the
decisions of the rest. This led to a unique strategy of fighting against
the navy base.
And so a new organization was created in Vieques: the Committee for the
Rescue and Development of Vieques, with a broader vision of struggle
brought in new leaders from Vieques and the mainland of Puerto Rico.
The committee that was created outside of Vieques included members who
had a strategy for uniting different and diverse sectors, which gave
form to how the committee envisioned the struggle. Different ideologies
and a wide range of organizations joined the committee.
On April 19, 1999, when a young man (David Sanes) who was working at the
navy base died after a bomb exploded at his security post, the people of
Vieques were horrified.
The CPRD united the people and together that afternoon protested at the
entrance to the military facilities at Camp Garcia. The next day the
CPRD called the people to come together in front of town hall and this
began a new stage of the struggle. We decided to organize a civil
disobedience protest suggested by one of the members of the committee to
enter the area by sea and take it over, followed by dozens of fighters.
This action shook Puerto Rico and every party, church, union,
cooperative, association and other groups clamored to support Vieques.
The triumph of this tactic rested in the leadership which utilized its
capacity to adapt to change. It used strategies which were non-violent,
non-verbal, non-physical, but always firm, never taking a step back.
When Sept. 11 and the attacks on the U.S. happened, the CPRD called for
a moratorium on its actions. Believing this was an opportunity to
discredit the CPRD, some groups ignored the call but the people
supported it. Once the moratorium was lifted, we continued to fight
until the navy stopped using our island as a shooting range.
*Vieques won immense global support from countries, organizations,
parties, congressional members. Tell us how you achieve so much support?*
*Ismael Guadalupe: *For decades, the navy had successfully hidden the
situation in Vieques away from the eyes of the world. It was normal for
U.S. interests to hide the violations they committed in Vieques; the
civilian deaths caused by military accidents; the terror of their planes
flying; loaded with bombs over the people; the continuous bombings
shaking homes; the bulldozers destroying homes to build bunkers to store
bombs. Raising awareness of this reality helped build solidarity.
Our participation in social forums, the U.N. Decolonization Committee,
trips to India, Okinawa, South Korea, Palestine, gave much wider
dimension to the fight against military abuse. The participation of
well-known U.S. political figures also played an important role.
Countless figures publicly expressed support for the struggle like the
actor Edward James Olmos and the environmentalist Robert Kennedy, who
both performed acts of civil disobedience and were arrested in Vieques.
Calls by figures like Ricky Martin and other celebrities meant that what
was happening in Vieques could finally be seen.
It was the direction of this movement by the CPDR in Vieques as well as
the national committee in Puerto Rico and New York that made this struggle.
Without a doubt, the work of Cuba and Venezuela at the U.N. in support
of Vieques also made a big difference. Now it was no longer just our voices.
*After the victory in Vieques, what can you tell us about the island
today? How have the people, the environment, the way of life moved
forward? Did the U.S. comply with your demands?*
*Ismael Guadalupe: *Fourteen years ago, on May 1, 2003, the United
States Navy, in response to the fight against them in Vieques opted to
close the base. Today, our seas are free. Our fishermen can fish without
the pressure of shots and their fishing gear is safe from the
destruction of warships.
Now, we do not feel airplanes flying overhead or hear their loud noises
which caused us great worry because they were loaded with bombs. Drunken
sailors abusing and provoking fights with civilians, which often caused
deaths in Vieques, is a thing of the past.
The scene of war we lived in is gone. We are no longer accomplices to
the aggressions against other countries. They no longer train to invade
countries which do not respect their imperialist encroachments. Today
this scenario has disappeared.
But total justice has not come. The United States did not respond to all
of our demands — the total decontamination of Vieques, the return of our
lands and full development. Indeed, the local government has forgotten
about Vieques. The diseases caused by this contamination is still a
worry for our people because the pollution persists.
We have questioned the methodology of the environmental cleanup. The
detonation and open burning of bombs on the ground have increased
pollution, destroying our resources. In other places, they use
detonation boxes where the bombs are detonated inside a box to prevent
the spread of toxins.
Hundreds of Viequenses have died after the navy stopped using Vieques as
a base. They retain more than half of our land. Vieques has been invaded
mostly by United States' capital with the consent of the colonial
government, leading to our marginalization. They have taken over our
beaches and resources.
*For International Day Against Colonialism, we know that Puerto Rico
remains one of the last colonies in the world. Now with the Financial
Oversight and Management **Board **that the U.S. has imposed on the
country, tell us how this is yet another example of Puerto Rico’s
*Ismael Guadalupe: *The fiscal crisis created by the various
administrations of Puerto Rico’s colonial government has been an
opportunity the U.S. Congress has taken advantage of to demonstrate
where true power lies.
With the endorsement of the two parties subservient to the United
States, congress passed the PROMESA law, which in turn approved a Fiscal
Control Board that would make decisions on various aspects of our life
as a people.The role of the administrators would be to implement
measures that would affect the lives of our people.
The decisions that this board can take are aimed at meeting the payment
commitments to the bondholders who are owed millions of dollars. The
passage of laws such as anti-labor laws would take away working class
gains and reduce benefits such as adequate wages, holidays, bonuses and
obviously already approved pay increases.
One example which has kept college students on strike at nearly 11
universities is the elimination of about US$450,000 from state colleges.
There is no doubt that university students, together with trade union
organizations, leftist and even those in the center, are putting up a fight.
The colonial government is subjected like never before to the U.S.
Congress. The laws of being a colony do not give us the chance to find
alternatives to a crisis which is more economic than political because
it has shown us as a colony.
*In conclusion, is there anything else you would like to add?*
*Ismael Guadalupe: *The colonial status suffered by Puerto Rico has
allowed military abuse against not only Vieques and Culebra but all of
Puerto Rico by converting the land and air into part of U.S. war adventures.
Given that the ways of waging war have changed, the use of military
facilities has changed. The use of new technology has made traditional
wars obsolete, giving way to other methods.
Nevertheless, the use of land is still required by the military
industrial complex in order to test the new weapons.
As former President Eisenhower said in the 1950s, wars today are
determined by that military complex. The working class gives their
children and the rich give their investments to the new weapons. These
are the ones who put their senators and representatives in the U.S.
The colony’s struggle to stop the weapons buildup is challenging because
the true power is not in our hands. Countries like South Korea or Japan
are independent but their governments are docile before the United
States because their leaders have been bought out. So other countries
must fight to achieve full independence.
These struggles wherever they are, even on U.S. soil, raise awareness of
the powerful who control the world.
In the colony of Puerto Rico, we have achieved much in this respect. We
received a lot of support from different sectors that expressed
solidarity with the people of Vieques in the face of military abuses. In
striving to eradicate military facilities, we are fighting for a new
world, for a world of peace.
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