The terrorist attacks of September 11th have marked a turning point in our history and our country. Falling about a mile away from our homes here in Hudson County, the destruction claimed thousands of lives and we extend our condolences to the families of those who died and thanks to those who mounted a heroic rescue effort. Along with all other American citizens, we demand justice and want the culprits hunted down and held accountable for these horrific acts against so many innocent lives.
The September 11th attacks have also marked a turning point in our struggle for peace for the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Out of respect for the lives lost in the September 11th attacks, hundreds of whom were Puerto Ricans, the people of Vieques observed a 30-day moratorium on civil disobedience. The Navy’s response was to conduct another round of bombing and war exercises in September. Since September 11th, certain members of Congress sought to undo the commitment made by President Bush to stop the bombing no later than May 2003. Simultaneously, the Navy announced that it will postpone until next year the scheduled November 2001 official referendum on Vieques that is supposed to elicit, yet again, the views of the voters in Vieques on the Navy’s presence. To date, the voices of the people of Vieques, evidenced by the landslide victory for peace in the July referendum, have yet to be respected.
The United States is now involved in a war in Afghanistan; a war that may last years but will undoubtedly cost many lives. The military training conducted in Vieques is clearly irrelevant to the strategies being used to fight this conflict. It has been called “obsolete” by many military officials. And the preparedness that Vieques seeks to bestow on the U.S. military did nothing to make the country more secure on September 11th.
Since 1999, the Hudson County Committee in Support of Vieques, Puerto Rico has stood steadfastly for peace. Peace for Vieques and a halt to 60 years of military exercises within a population that has opposed it repeatedly. We fully understand that it would be an injustice not to seek to bring the criminals and terrorists who committed the 9/11 attacks to justice.
Similarly, it would be an injustice for the U.S. Navy to continue its bombing of this inhabited island and its continued destruction of its ecosystems. The ecological damage suffered by Vieques and the economic stagnation that affects its residents is a product of this continued bombing along with years of broken promises by the U.S. Navy.
We understand that we risk being labeled as unpatriotic for speaking the truth in the face of conformity, for challenging the official view of reality. But we cannot stand idle while we see wartime opportunists come in and seek outrageous bail-outs for corporate America, seek continued and obscene tax-breaks for the very rich, ignoring once again the needs of the working people who disproportionately suffered the worst of the 9/11 attacks and who will be on the front lines of the military efforts in response. In the words of journalist Don Hazen we are looking for real leaders at this time in history: “our Paul Reveres, warning of the dangers ahead, our Tom Paines, insisting that dissent is American, our Sojourner Truths, telling us what it takes to be free and our Martin Luther Kings, speaking truth to power.”
Puerto Ricans have historically responded valiantly in wars for the United States. We have lost the blood of thousands of our brothers and sisters in all wars since World War I. Indeed, on a per capita basis, Puerto Ricans have garnered more distinguished medals of military service than virtually every state in the Union. We have, as they say, paid our dues.
Standing for peace is not anti-American. Standing for peace for Vieques does not mean we turn our backs on our military forces. It means that we value and protect American citizens as we support the cause of justice. It means that we have seen enough and that the risk to the innocent lives on Vieques by continued Naval bombings cannot be justified. Not in 1999, not now, and not in the foreseeable future.
Democracy was not canceled on September 11th but democracy will not survive if we act uncritically. Democracy spoke in July 2001 when Vieques voted for the end of the military bombing. We must heed its call.
Juan Cartagena and 20 others on behalf of
the Hudson County Committee in Support of Vieques, Puerto Rico