Vieques Article, New York Times

Oceanwatch at Oceanwatch at
Wed Dec 8 11:51:15 EST 1999

Dear Coral Listers

FYI, this article (copy below) appeared last Sunday in the NY Times.  It says 
Vieques has been debated in PR for at least 28 years, but the vehemence of 
current Navy opposition is apparent in all three factions--the 
pro-commonwealth, pro-statehood and pro-independence forces--all agree that 
the Navy must get out.  That's the driving force.  Sustainability should be a 
priority but to do that you have to push the ecological priorities from the 
local political level.

Cliff McCreedy
><((;>   ><((;>   ><((;>
2101 Wilson Boulevard 
Suite 900
Arlington, VA  22201
phone 703-351-7444
fax 703-351-7472
e-mail:  Oceanwatch at

New York Times
December 5, 1999, Sunday 
National Desk   

Puerto Ricans Gain Ear of Washington But Seek Far More 

Again and again across the decades, the United States marines have stormed 
ashore here on Yellow Beach in a full rain of firepower and won the vital 
mock battleground that has been made of the eastern third of this small, lush 

But not now, and not ever again, according to the resolve of Senator Ruben 
Berrios Martinez, the Puerto Rican lawmaker and Independence Party leader who 
holds the political high ground with a mere pamphleteer's firepower. 

In seven months of peaceful uprising set off by the death of a civilian in a 
wayward bombing run, the senator has led dozens of angry squatters in 
blocking beachfronts of the amphibious training ground for the United States 
Navy's Atlantic fleet. 

The squatters have managed to turn ground zero in the Navy's practice wars 
into a looming bastion of nationalism in Puerto Rico's long struggle for 
definition in the shadow of the United States. 

''It will be a cumulative triumph,'' Mr. Berrios predicted today as he warily 
patrolled the pristine sands of Yellow Beach and rejected the latest 
compromise offer by the Clinton administration to gradually return the 
shell-pocked island to the full control of its 9,300 residents. 

''But now we are on their radar screen and all this is a big triumph in the 
struggle for decolonialization,'' Mr. Berrios said, acknowledging that he was 
as much amazed as determined in having achieved the full and urgent attention 
of Washington. 

This realization of the simmering political power of Puerto Ricans in finally 
being heeded at the highest levels after centuries of colonial subservience 
is being celebrated heartily across the main island of Puerto Rico, eight 
miles to the west, as much as here on this verdant sliver that the Navy has 
used as it pleased since World War II. 

''Navy Out!'' signs dot the rich kaleidoscopic scene of San Juan as Gov. 
Pedro J. Rossello and other Puerto Rican political leaders across the 
spectrum echo the firmness of Mr. Berrios, the San Juan politician who first 
chose the path of civil disobedience. Now, he and his fellow squatters can 
grin in their storm-tattered tents at the fact that while he was quickly 
arrested and roundly condemned by the Puerto Rican Legislature when he took a 
similar protest course 28 years ago, his action this time was avidly blessed 
by the Legislature as a legitimate and necessary function of lawmaking. 

In 1971, Mr. Berrios lasted only five days before being imprisoned for three 
months. ''And now, seven months on the beach is a small kind of victory,'' he 
said in an interview, citing an array of changed circumstances. These include 
the vast tide of Spanish Americans now inheriting political power across the 
United States, he noted, and a growing international realization that if 
Washington can creatively help Britain clean up its colonial baggage in 
Northern Ireland, why should it not see as well to the lingering grievances 
of Puerto Rico in its own sphere. 

This point was brought home to many Puerto Ricans last month when the leading 
European heads of state voted as members of the Socialist International not 
only to support the Vieques cause but also to choose Senator Berrios as its 

Surveying his wind-whipped camp at the foot of the Navy's Vieques observation 
post, the senator insisted that the simple scene of resistance had the power 
to revive the independence cause, a minuscule movement eclipsed in the four 
decades since Puerto Rico became a commonwealth of the United States, a 
status that Puerto Rican voters have favored repeatedly in plebiscites. 

''This is a metaphor, a prelude of what is going to happen in Puerto Rico as 
a whole soon,'' Mr. Berrios said. ''Because the United States cannot live 
with a remnant of 19th-century empire like Puerto Rico. It's not being true 
to its history nor its future.'' 

The resistance campsites have been growing along with the visits to Vieques 
by institutional leaders hurrying to catch up with an issue that polls show 
is engrossing a large part of the Puerto Rican population. It is one of the 
few issues on which Puerto Ricans of all political persuasions -- 
pro-commonwealth, pro-statehood and pro-independence -- seem to be united. 
This week the Roman Catholic hierarchy signaled its own show of force, 
issuing parish appeals for solidarity behind Vieques even as a Navy battle 
group led by the aircraft carrier Eisenhower retreated from the training 
grounds under orders from Washington. 

Another Vieques squatter, Fernando Martin , a law professor at the University 
of Puerto Rico who is vice president of the Independence Party, exulted, 
''The issue of this little island has taken more of President Clinton's time 
and, I dare say, anxiety than the whole Puerto Rican issue has received from 
all the presidents from McKinley up to now.'' 

President Clinton's latest proposal, to return Vieques to local control 
within five years, repair the 52-square-mile island with $40 million in aid 
and have the Navy fire only ''inert'' ammunition, not live salvos, was 
rejected by Puerto Rican political leaders as inadequate. Inert rounds would 
rain down with all the power of ''inert'' lead bullet heads, islanders 

''It is another trick,'' a fisherman muttered here in Esperanza village amid 
the usual daily catch of rumors and speculation on the will of Washington. 
''Clinton is lulling us so they can sneak in federal agents to arrest the 
squatters,'' the fisherman insisted at the dockside before setting out for 
the protest camps on the circuitous choppy water route around the Marines' 
land sentinels. 

At critical turnings along the southeast coast, squatters waved at the 
passing boat from huts jerry-built from wooden Navy target boards and other 
detritus of the seven-month standoff. The news media of Puerto Rico, and 
lately the world, course through the whitecaps to feed a story that has 
seized the commonwealth. 

''There is this overwhelming consensus throughout Puerto Rico that has never 
existed before,'' said Robert Rabin, the director of Vieques's El Fortin 
museum, which is rich in the history of five centuries of foreigners' claims 
of empire in Puerto Rico. ''This is a historic moment for Puerto Rico,'' Mr. 
Rabin said of the civil disobedience galvanized by the once unthinkable 
notion of resisting the claims of the United States war machine. ''Hundreds 
of people across the spectrum -- fishermen, housewives, schoolteachers, 
political leaders -- are united by an issue for the first time.'' 

Various Pentagon officials have insisted that the Vieques war-games theater 
cannot be duplicated elsewhere and its loss would result in substandard 
training for American forces. But Mr. Berrios, 60, a scholar in international 
law who was educated at Harvard and Oxford Universities and Georgetown Law 
School, cites arguments to the contrary from authorities like Senator Daniel 
Patrick Moynihan, the retiring New York Democrat who trained here as a young 
sailor and was first fascinated by the power politics of Washington and San 
Juan. Mr. Berrios even cites the marginal note of sympathy for Vieques from 
Mr. Clinton, disclosed by the White House in response to a letter from Mr. 
Berrios. ''This is wrong,'' Mr. Clinton jotted in describing the ''colonial 
commonwealth'' status of the island. 

Here on Yellow Beach, with the guns safely silenced, Mr. Berrios clings to 
that jotting more than to the latest formal proposal in the administration's 
effort to solve this onetime backwater problem that now occupies radar 
screens far beyond the Navy's beachfront post. 

''Are the planets in alignment?'' Mr. Berrios wondered with a big smile. He 
questioned whether Mr. Clinton would stand by his personal inclination in the 
face of Navy complaints and resistance. ''If they agree to leave with not one 
more bomb to fall, we win,'' Mr. Berrios said, snug in his protest camp. ''If 
they arrest us, they lose.'' 

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