A Socialist Labor Party Statement—

Stop Bombing Vieques!

The Socialist Labor Party stands in unequivocal support of the demand of the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico for an immediate cessation to the bombing of Vieques by the U.S. Navy and an end to six decades of environmental ruination and politico-economic domination by the U.S. Navy.

Protesters effectively shut down the Navy’s nearly 60-year-old firing range in April 1999, occupying it after a civilian security guard was killed by stray bombs. Last month, federal agents removed 224 protesters who had camped there over the last year. The Navy resumed bombing with dummy bombs on May 8—only three days after its roundup—despite reports that several demonstrators were still on the range.

Legally, the Navy has the right to resume bombing. A document agreeing to let the Navy resume limited training with dummy bombs was signed on Jan. 31 by President Clinton and Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello. The agreement also stipulates that a vote will be held—sometime between August 2000 and February 2002—allowing residents of Vieques to decide whether the Navy should leave by 2003.

But what is legal and what is right are not infrequently different things—something that was attested to on Feb. 21 when the largest demonstrations in Puerto Rico’s history brought as many as 150,000 people into the street to protest the Clinton-Rossello agreement. The 9,300 residents of Vieques and many of their fellow Puerto Ricans are understandably tired of ruling-class laws and agreements that continue the long-standing degradation of their tiny island.

Dr. Neftalí García, a Puerto Rican environmentalist, in his work “Historical and Natural Consequences of the U.S. Navy Presence in Vieques,” reports that the Navy’s practices have produced serious destruction of the island’s “mangroves, lagoons, beaches, coconut groves and other natural resources.”

This destruction is described in further detail by Rafael Cruz Pérez, a chemical engineer who studied the environmental effects of the artillery practice conducted in Vieques. Cruz, in a 1988 article for Dimensión, the magazine of the Association of Engineers and Surveyors of Puerto Rico, compared the bombing zone to a “battlefield during the First World War, where the ground and a great part of the vegetation have been reduced to dust.” Cruz notes that the area is filled with toxic waste from explosives and heavy metals used in ammunition and other ordnance and scrap metals used for target practice. Some of the tanks and other heavy equipment retired after the Persian Gulf War—including those with depleted uranium armor—have reportedly been used as targets. Unexploded live bombs are no rare find on the range.

Particulate air pollution and ground water contamination from the Navy’s toxic wastes have been detected even in the third of the island to which civilians are restricted, and are taking a toxic toll on the people of Vieques. According to an article in Civil Rights Journal by Bernice Powell Jackson of the United Church for Christ, “The people of Vieques seem to have a much higher rate of cancer than...the people in Puerto Rico, only 18 miles away. Some studies seem to have shown a rate at least 27 percent higher....”

The Navy’s initial expropriation of two-thirds of the island led to the destruction of agriculture on the island. Unemployment routinely runs as high as 70 percent on an island that even transnational capital largely avoids. Not many companies have sought investments on an island that has for nearly 60 years typically undergone 220 days of bombardment every year. Despite promises of U.S. aid, there is still no high school or hospital on the island.

The Navy insists that it cannot do without the firing range, which affords it the opportunity of conducting simultaneous air, land and sea operations with live munitions. If that is true it only demonstrates that its interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the people of Vieques.

Indeed, any institution that depends for its survival on its ability to destroy is antisocial in character and ought to be dismantled. Ostensibly, the armed forces of the United States exist to defend the country—including the “Commonwealth” of Puerto Rico—against foreign invasion and, these days, to keep the peace wherever it is threatened.

Fact is, however, that militarism and militarist institutions, such as the U.S. Navy, are not meant to maintain the peace and defend freedom. They are meant to protect and defend the material interests that U.S. capitalism has in every nook and cranny of the globe. And as the ongoing pulverization of Vieques shows, the military will not hesitate to destroy lands that supposedly enjoy their protection if that is what is needed to fulfill their real mission of preparedness to defend the interests of their paymasters, the rapacious U.S. ruling class.

Puerto Rico and Vieques have “enjoyed” the “protection” of the U.S. Navy since they were stolen from their former Spanish colonial masters more than 100 years ago. In truth, however, the Navy and all militarist institutions of the political state are the greatest threat to the peace and security of the Puerto Rican working class and, for that matter, the working class of the United States itself.

The people of Vieques deserve an end to this atrocity committed upon them and their island, and they and tens of thousands of other Puerto Ricans are demanding an end to it. The Socialist Labor Party wholeheartedly sympathizes with that demand, but calls upon its working class to raise its sights and to take aim at what should be their target—the war-inciting capitalist system.


Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • www.slp.org • socialists@slp.org

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