The Guardian May 31, 2000


Eyewitness report from Vieques

by Wilfredo Estremera

As the ferry from Fajardo, Puerto Rico, approached Vieques I felt as though 
I had been here before although this was my first time. Emilio, a Puerto 
Rican from Hartford, Connecticutt, pointed out one of the observation posts 
in the bombing zone. 

Both of us recognised Vieques from videos on the struggle to free the 
island from the US Navy.

I was part of a delegation organised by the Interfaith Foundation for 
Community Organising/Pastors for Peace. We were going to camp in the firing 
zone in solidarity with the Puerto Rican struggle for peace in Vieques.

Once the ferry docked in Isabela Segunda, the main town in the 
municipality, we were taken to the bombing zone by a fisherman in a very 
fast boat. This was so that the US Coast Guard would not stop us. The Coast 
Guard has threatened to impound the vessels of fishermen who bring in 
people and supplies to the camps.

I spent six days in the Ecumenical Camp set up by the different churches in 
Puerto Rico. At night it was a pleasure to sleep in the cool night by the 
sea.

In the daytime being there was difficult. The hot sun would beat down on 
you. Because of the bombing there are no trees. The only shade you have is 
either in a tent or the shade of your hat.

You already feel the heat at 8 am. By noon you feel as though you're 
melting. We bathed and washed in the sea. The fresh water we had was used 
only for making coffee, rice or drinking.

In six days I came to doubt my ability to last there long. The people who 
were there for months in those conditions have to be considered heroic. 
There are people that have been there for almost a year.

The six days there were not boring. There was always something happening, 
even at night. We would listen to the news on portable radios and discuss 
it.

We visited other camps. I went to the camps of the Fishermen's Association, 
Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, Independence Party, 
Hostos Congress and the university students.

There were two religious services daily in the Ecumenical Camp. But they 
were a different type of service.

They spoke of social justice, that the issues involved were not going to be 
solved once people go to heaven, that they had to fight for justice in the 
here and now, and that it was not a question of individual sacrifice but a 
collective one.

On May 1, the religious service honoured workers, not just in Puerto Rico 
but all over the world. It was noted that this holiday is celebrated all 
over the world, but not in the country where it started, the United States. 
The service celebrated the struggles of the US working class.

We were aware that US authorities might come for us at any moment. We knew 
that there might be attempts to provoke us. We were committed to no 
resistance. We were told that they may try to insult us or hit us so that 
they can justify the use of force.

We knew that there were people like former Puerto Rican governor and now 
Resident Commissioner in the Congress, Carlos Romero Barcelo (the Jesse 
Helms of Puerto Rico), that were telling the press that we were terrorists 
and armed. (After the arrests, Romero Barcelo told the press that he was 
sorry that it all happened without violence and broken heads.)

They came for us at about 6 am. There were US federal marshals, the FBI and 
Marines, all heavily armed.

They tried to speak with the leadership of the camp but no one would speak 
to them. This seemed to bother them a lot.

They lined us up, handcuffed us and put us into jeeps to transfer us to 
military trucks. We were held in makeshift concentration camps until they 
flew us to Roosevelt Roads Navy Base by helicopter.

At Roosevelt Roads they brought in a woman with a lot of forms. They 
announced that they were going to take our names and addresses and then we 
could leave the tent.

We left the tent without telling her anything, leaving her alone. She was 
obviously frustrated and went to discuss the situation with an officer.

They sent in an officer to make an announcement. We never heard what he 
wanted to say because we drowned him out with singing and chanting: "US 
Navy out of Vieques."

It was 2:30 pm when they finally released us. We had planned on staying and 
picketing the entrance to the base.

Imagine my surprise to see hundreds of people already at the base entrance 
demonstrating and greeting us. We didn't think there would be anyone out 
there. Our emotions ran high.

After our release I was looking at some of the tropical plants in a garden 
near the base. The owner of the house came out and approached me.

He asked if I was one of the people that had camped out in the bombing 
zone. I said, "Yes". He said, "Thank you".

I looked around at the homes in the area around the base. Many of them flew 
Puerto Rican flags outside.

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People's Weekly World

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