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    Saturday, June 30, 2001 Navy Bombings of Vieques Re-Energize Political Protest Songs By AGUSTIN GURZA, Times Staff Writer     Politics and pop music make
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 3, 2001
      Saturday, June 30, 2001

      Navy Bombings of Vieques Re-Energize Political Protest Songs

      By AGUSTIN GURZA, Times Staff Writer

          Politics and pop music make stimulating bedfellows.
          The most powerful and inspiring artists seem to emerge
      during times of
      social change, when music becomes a vehicle to express a new
      vision or affirm
      deep convictions. During the '60s and '70s, artists such as Bob
      Dylan in rock
      and Ruben Blades in salsa infused their music with values that
      changed the
      world--racial equality, social justice and opposition to the war in
          In Latin America, young singer-songwriters started the New
      movement, la nueva cancion, making music with a message in
      native or
      folkloric styles. In New York and Puerto Rico, salsa artists sang
      street life and ethnic pride, with such superstars as pianist
      Eddie Palmieri
      playing for the mostly black and Latino prisoners at Sing Sing.
          That era, however, became a relic as music of all kinds turned
      away from
      social concerns. In the Latin field, salsa became sappy and the
      New Song
      faded as performers took on homogenized identities for a global
          But now, boom!
          That's the sound of U.S. Navy bombs exploding on the small
      island of
      Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico. It's also the sound of new
      songs bursting across the island in recent months.
          This is not the kind of cause that grips the nation, like civil
      or Vietnam. But the drive to stop the bombing on Vieques shows
      how at least
      one corner of pop music can regain its social energy.
          For years, activists have been demanding a halt to six
      decades of
      American military exercises on the island of 9,400 inhabitants.
      The movement
      gained momentum in 1999 after a stray bomb killed a civilian
      security guard.
      Earlier this month, President Bush announced a Navy
      withdrawal within two
      years, but protesters were not appeased.
          Salsa singer Ismael Miranda, of Fania All Stars fame, recently
      reasserted the call for the Navy to get out now. "Every time I get a
      on the radio or in a concert, I mention it," the singer said.
          The Vieques issue has rallied Puerto Rico's artistic
      community and
      sparked a renewal of the old spirit of music with a cause.
          * Veteran Puerto Rican vocalist Danny Rivera was recently
      arrested along
      with other protesters for trespassing on the Navy's firing range.
      The singer
      was sentenced to 30 days for his civil disobedience. He's being
      held at the
      federal prison in Guaynabo outside San Juan, a site of continued
      protests--punctuated by music, of course.
          * Salsa star Miranda joined forces with local folk (jibaro) artist
      Andres Jimenez for a recent CD titled "Son de Vieques," a
      socially conscious
      collection that includes an angry indictment of people who
      plunder the
      environment for profit. (The CD itself is extremely hard to find on
      mainland, but the tune "La Naturaleza" (Nature) is included on a
      called "Puerto Rico," released on the Putumayo World Music
          * Before coming to California for its debut L.A. appearance
      Friday at
      the Conga Room, the group Plena Libre rode in Chicago's
      Puerto Rican parade
      on a float decorated with protest banners. Along the route, it
      played songs
      calling for the Navy to get out of Vieques, to the bouncy native
      rhythms of
      the bomba and the plena.
          Some observers see a nascent renewal of the New Song
      movement, which has
      a rich tradition in Puerto Rico with artists such as El Topo
      (Antonio Caban
      Vale), Roy Brown and Haciendo Punto en Otro Son. It would
      come none too soon
      for the musical reputation of Puerto Rico, whose artists are
      blamed for the
      dreadful salsa romantica of the 1980s, a bland form that
      featured pretty-boy
      singers and washed-out rhythms.
          In the good old days, Victor M. Rodriguez, associate professor
      Chicano and Latino studies at Cal State Long Beach, was
      listening to
      politically conscious music at coffeehouses around the
      University of Puerto
      Rico in Rio Piedras. He's delighted to see the music of his native
      returning to its roots, now through the children of older artists,
      the son of Danny Rivera.
          "The artists of my generation are reconnecting with the
      activism which,
      because of their commercial success, they had left behind," said
      who will host a lecture and film about the Vieques disobedience
      camps on
      Saturday at the Long Beach campus. (For more information, call
          The new generation of Puerto Rican artists, heard on the
      soundtrack of
      the film he plans to screen this weekend, has refreshed the old
      protest song
      by using styles more relevant to its generation, including rap and
      Rodriguez noted that some members of the rock en espanol
      group Fiel a la
      Vega, who have also been arrested in the protests, are sons of
      the leaders of
      the Puerto Rican independence movement.
          "If this was only a nostalgic trip, I don't think it would have the
      impact it has had," said Rodriguez.
          The protest movement has united artists who are worlds apart
      Balladeer Ednita Nazario, salsa singer Andy Montanez and pop
      composer Robi
      Rosa, who wrote Ricky Martin's big hit "Livin' la Vida Loca." Marc
      Jose Feliciano and Martin himself have all gotten into the act.

      * * *

          "This is the only issue which has brought consensus to all
      sectors in
      Puerto Rico," said Gilberto Santa Rosa, one of the island's
      leading salsa
      singers. "I participated in a very large march [against the
      bombing] along
      with what seemed like all of Puerto Rico."
          But protests may not necessarily spark record sales. Santa
      Rosa said he
      has turned down songs about Vieques because the stylish
      salsa singer could be
      perceived as exploiting the cause.
          Still, some hope the artistic spirit of the current cause will
      the moment.
          As one college student told a mainland American reporter
      visiting the
      University of Puerto Rico recently: "This is the Vietnam of my
      :de los Christian Peace Teams

          Richard C. Williams,  #21470-069, Unit 1B
          Metropolitan Detention Center Guaynabo
          PO Box 2147
          San Juan, Puerto Rico  00922-2147

          Harold A. Penner,  #21471-069, Unit 1B
          Metropolitan Detention Center Guaynabo
          PO Box 2147
          San Juan, Puerto Rico 00922-2147

      de Mayaguez, Puerto Rico

      Ramon Diaz Zambrana 21663-069
      Metropolitan Detention Center Guaynabo
          PO Box 2147
          San Juan, Puerto Rico 00922-2147
      We Bombed In Vieques

      By Mary McGrory
      Sunday, July 1, 2001; Page B01 Not so long ago, Vieques was a
      dot in the
      Caribbean, a small, pretty island that the U.S. Navy has been
      quietly bombing
      for 60 years. Now, thanks to an indecisive decision by President
      Bush, a
      pigheaded performance by Navy brass, and brutish, not to
      mention jackbooted
      behavior by Navy police -- many of them strip-search specialists
      -- Vieques
      has become world famous.
      It is a rallying point for advocates of civil rights, human rights and
      environment. It has become a flashpoint between right and left. It
      activated members of two prominent political dynasties, the
      Cuomos and the
      Kennedys, and it could be an issue in the New York governor's
      Next Friday, in San Juan, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who joined
      thousands of
      Puerto Ricans in protest of the naval exercises, will be tried in
      court. He will be represented by none other than former New
      York governor
      Mario Cuomo, the lately silent golden voice of the Democrats.
      Cuomo's son
      Andrew is married to Kennedy's sister Kerry. Andrew is a
      candidate for
      governor, and New York's Republican governor, George Pataki,
      is heavily in
      sympathy with the Vieques protest. Kennedy is charged with
      trespassing. He
      will be tried with two confederates, Dennis Rivera, president of
      the largest
      health care union in the country, and actor Edward James
      Olmos. All three say
      they were treated like dogs by Navy police and actually put in dog
      overnight and deprived of counsel on the grounds that they were
      not arrested,
      only "detained."
      None of the hullabaloo can be helping the Bush administration
      with its
      all-out overtures to the Hispanic vote. The House Hispanic
      Caucus, after
      publication of New York Times columnist Bob Herbert's vivid
      account of the
      manhandling and abuse inflicted on peaceful protesters, met
      recently on the
      Hill. One victim was Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who was literally
      around by Navy policemen even though a video shows him
      following all orders.
      One uniformed zealot put a foot on the congressman's neck and
      told him to put
      his face in the dirt. When some protesters told the guard that
      Gutierrez was
      a congressman, the guard laughed.
      Karl Rove, the crafty strategist who helped steer Bush into the
      Oval Office,
      is particularly proprietary of the Hispanic vote, but he was plainly
      between new friends and old: The right can't stand uppity little
      commonwealths that have the nerve to tell the military they don't
      want the
      racket of bombs and shells -- or the ensuing contamination.
      inconclusive conclusion about Vieques was issued during his
      stop in Goteborg,
      Sweden, on June 14. What the president said, in effect, was that
      using the
      island for target practice was a rotten thing to do to friends and
      -- and that we're going to keep doing it for only two more years.
      Those who
      were getting arrested to stop the bombing now were no more
      infuriated than
      those who never want it to stop at all.
      The tone of the public debate was set by the far-right senator
      from Oklahoma,
      James Inhofe. He called Puerto Rican protesters "ungrateful,
      myopic and
      misinformed." He later characterized the protesters as
      publicity-seekers or frustrated New York City political activists."
      exhorted the people of Vieques to be like the people of Fort Sill,
      welcome military installations in their midst. Fort Sill contributes
      to the local economy. The Navy firing range in Vieques does
      nothing in the
      way of providing jobs.
      Rep. James V. Hansen (R-Utah) chimed in with another jarring
      quote: He said
      on NPR that he didn't think that Puerto Ricans should get any
      treatment. "They sit down there on welfare and very few of them
      paying taxes,
      got a sweetheart deal."
      Perhaps the most unseemly and surely the most untimely
      display of all came at
      a House Armed Services Committee hearing, where members
      pounded on the new
      secretary of the Navy, Gordon England, the way the Navy planes
      pound on the
      landscape of Vieques. It was England's task to defend the
      witless Bush edict.
      He was accused of practically everything but treason for letting
      Ricans believe they are entitled to the citizens' right to petition the
      government, which is enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and at the
      heart of the
      holiday we celebrate this week.
      No one defended Bush's decision. Nor did anyone mention that
      Navy authorities
      could easily find substitute sites, or that the amphibious
      landings it wants
      to practice there are obsolete. There's no storming ashore any
      more, because
      the increased range of missile batteries makes it impossible to
      decant troops
      on the beach. Retired Adm. Eugene Carroll, who is, lamentably,
      leaving the
      Center for Defense Information, knows all about it. It doesn't
      seem too much
      to expect Armed Services Committee members to check such
      basic information
      Rep. Gutierrez says that what he did on the beautiful island of
      Vieques was
      totally in the American tradition, going back to the Boston Tea
      Party. "That
      was civil disobedience," he says defiantly. Congress should
      read the
      Constitution over the holiday.
      Puerto Rico Update, Number 32, Spring 2001   
      Disarming the U.S. Military Hub in Latin     
      The Vieques-Iraq Connection                  
      by Luis Monterrosa        
      When U.S. warplanes from the USS Harry S.    
      Truman bombed targets south of Baghdad on    
      February 16, it was one in a long string of  
      such bombing attacks conducted by U.S. and   
      British forces that, according to the Gulf   
      News of Dubai, have killed 311 Iraqis since  
      December 1998. Exactly since six months      
      before the February attack, the same USS     
      Harry S. Truman conducted its final bombing  
      practice runs -- in Vieques, Puerto Rico.    
      (Embedded image moved to file: pic18467.jpg)
      And when Navy officials announced April 12   
      that bombing would resume in Vieques in late
      April, it was for a deployment of the USS    
      Enterprise to the Persian Gulf immediately   
      Since the 1940's, Vieques has served as a    
      dress rehearsal in the U.S.' global theater  
      of war. In recent times the cast has  
      included the U.S. military, NATO and South   
      American and Caribbean allied forces,        
      although the protagonist has always been the
      U.S. Navy. U.S. military bombing exercises   
      have made Vieques the sneak preview of the   
      U.S. military's foreign acts of aggression.  
      During the Vietnam War, for instance, the    
      military used Vieques to practice carpet     
      bombings and its ignoble napalm program, the
      jellied gasoline used against the Vietnamese
      people. It was also from Vieques that the    
      United States prepared for its military      
      intervention in Guatemala in 1954 and the    
      Dominican Republic in 1965, and conducted    
      its final rehearsal for the invasion of      
      Grenada in 1983. In this way, the military   
      has created an involuntary, mutually      
      destructive relationship between Vieques and
      countries subject to U.S. military foreign   
      policy. Since the beginning of the Gulf War  
      in 1991, the most salient of these           
      relationships between Vieques and the        
      outside world has been with Iraq.            
      About 50,000 troops train on Vieques every   
      year, including virtually all naval and      
      Marine troops entering combat in the Gulf    
      War. According to Admiral Diego Hernández,   
      U.S. forces' "success" in Iraq is due to the
      troops' extensive dress rehearsals in        
      Vieques. The U.S. bombings' destruction of   
      Iraq is well known. Less known is its        
      destructive precursor relationship to        
      Vieques. As Roberto Rabin, of the Committee  
      for the Defense and Rescue of Vieques        
      recently acknowledged, "If [the U.S.         
      military] did it in Iraq, you know they  
      practiced it first in Vieques."              
      According to a July 1999 study conducted by  
      the Secretary of the Navy, entitled The      
      National Security Need For Vieques, forward  
      deployed naval forces engage in military     
      activity on average every five weeks,    
      necessitating a constant tuning of their     
      military apparatus. Two U.S. carriers, USS   
      good examples of this.                       
      In November, 1998, the ENTERPRISE battle     
      group trained in Vieques and left for the    
      Arabian Gulf. Shortly upon arrival, the      
      battle group began military operations,      
      "expending more than 690,000 pounds of       
      ordnances on Iraqi targets in a 70-hour time
      period," according to the Navy study. In  
      early 1999, the ENTERPRISE battle group also
      launched a Tomahawk missile land attack on   
      Kosovo. The ENTERPRISE, which also conducted
      training in Vieques in December of 2000, is  
      currently slated to deploy to the            
      Mediterranean and Persian Gulf in May of     
      this year.                                   
      After practicing on the Vieques range in     
      February of 1999, the THEODORE ROOSEVELT     
      battle group also engaged in the NATO Kosovo
      operation. From May 12 to June 12, 1999,     
      aircraft from ROOSEVELT's airwing flew more  
      than 2,500 combat sorties, launching nearly  
      a thousand precision guided munitions at     
      Yugoslavian and Kosovar targets. Referring   
      to these military operations, the Commander  
      U.S. Second Fleet and Commander U.S. Marine  
      Corps Forces Atlantic illustrate Vieques'    
      utility: "Every facet of naval training      
      refined on the Vieques range complex was     
      immediately demonstrated under stress." The  
      skills acquired by the Navy in Vieques       
      included high altitude, single and multiple  
      aircraft bombing sorties using guided        
      According to Jay, L. Johnson, chief of naval
      operations, and Gen. James L. Jones,         
      commandant of the Marine corps, "The         
      fundamental value of the Vieques facility is
      proven every day by our forward deployed     
      naval forces. The Aircraft Carrier Battle    
      Groups and the Amphibious Ready Group that   
      trained at Vieques within the last year      
      [1999] ended up flying combat operations  
      over Iraq and Kosovo within days of their    
      arrival overseas. They delivered many of     
      their attacks from high altitude, and their  
      ability to do so successfully was directly   
      related to their training at Vieques."       
      During the last decade the U.S. has    
      consistently propped up the Iraq threat to   
      justify its continued bombing exercises in   
      Vieques. In light of widespread protest      
      against the military's presence in Vieques,  
      the U.S. Navy has set the stage for its      
      theater by attempting to put the argument    
      for Vieques in the context of the evil       
      antagonist -- Saddam Hussein. In March of    
      this year, Rear Admiral Richard Naughton of  
      the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON was quoted on AP   
      wires with his dramatic quip ""The No. 1     
      thing that would make Saddam Hussein happy   
      would be to parade an American fighter pilot
      down the streets of Baghdad."                
      High-altitude bombings have become the       
      signature method of U.S. military            
      operations. As Michael Ignatieff has pointed
      out, "If pilots fly high, they can't         
      identify targets accurately and the risks of
      horrifying accidents increase. Flying low    
      improves accuracy but the risk to pilots is  
      significantly increased." For example, when  
      U.S. and British warplanes launched ten      
      missiles on targets in southern Iraq in      
      August 2000, they missed several, killing a  
      civilian and injuring twenty, according to   
      Agence France Presse. But preventing U.S.    
      casualties has become a mantra for the       
      politics in Washington of U.S. military      
      action overseas.            
      "Our interest was in addressing the question
      of the safety of the pilots that are flying  
      those missions," Defense Secretary Donald    
      Rumsfeld said of February attacks on         
      Baghdad, and added "that the Navy munitions  
      did not find their targets precisely."       
      According to an internal UN Security Sector  
      report, during one five-month period, 41 per
      cent of the victims of bombings were         
      civilians. The places hit were farmland,     
      villages, fishing jetties, and barren        
      valleys where sheep graze. In January 2000   
      an American missile hit Al Jumohria, a       
      street in a poor residential area, killing   
      six children and injuring sixty-three    
      people, a number of them badly burned.       
      Navy officers also cited the military's      
      Kosovo operations for why it must bomb       
      Vieques. Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Deputy
      Chief of Naval Operations stated that        
      "events in Kosovo should remind us of the    
      value of the forward presence provided by    
      combat-ready Carrier Battle Groups and       
      Amphibious Ready Groups... The THEODORE      
      ROOSEVELT Battle Group commenced highly      
      successful strike operations three days  
      after entering the Mediterranean and only 10
      days after beginning her regularly scheduled
      The ROOSEVELT battle group's performance,    
      said Lautenbacher, "is noteworthy for its    
      many successes: scores of fixed targets      
      destroyed, more than 400 tactical targets    
      destroyed or damaged, and in excess of 3,000
      sorties without a single loss...It takes a   
      proper level of resources and the most       
      realistic training we can provide prior to   
      deploying -- precisely the type of           
      coordinated, live fire training conducted at
      the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Testing Facility  
      at Vieques."                                 
      As The Washington Times explained last year:
      "In December 1998, the USS Carl Vinson       
      battle group was in combat within eight      
      hours of arriving on station in the Persian  
      Gulf, firing cruise missiles against Iraq.   
      The last seven carrier battle groups         
      deployed have seen combat in such places as  
      Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Vieques        
      prepared them."                              
      On June 25 - 27, 2000, five ships of the USS
      GEORGE WASHINGTON Carrier Battle Group       
      trained in Vieques prior to deploying to the
      Mediterranean and Arabian Gulf that summer.  
      The training included ship-to-shore gunnery  
      as well as air to ground bombing exercises.  
      According to the Navy, Vieques is the only   
      location in the Atlantic where naval units   
      can conduct the Combined Arms training       
      required prior to deploying to "...areas of  
      potential hostilities in support of U.S.     
      Foreign Policy."                             
      It is clear that as tiny an island as        
      Vieques is, it serves as the military        
      springboard for the most powerful military   
      force in all of history. In this sense,      
      Vieques is a symbolically important place    
      for peace and demilitarization in the Middle
      East and anywhere that U.S. foreign          
      interests bring war. Its significance lies   
      in how a vibrant movement from a small       
      island has, together with supporters from    
      Puerto Rico and around the world, formed a   
      phalanx of justice that is nonviolently      
      marching closer to ousting a belligerent and
      colossal military brute.                     
      Sources: "Navy drops napalm on Vieques," in:
      Edwin Meléndez and Edgardo Meléndez, The     
      Colonial Dilemma, 59; Wall Street Journal,   
      peacehost.net/EPI-Calc/Vieques.html; Roberto
      Rabin interview, 4/4/01; Commander, U.S.     
      Second Fleet, National Security Need for     
      Vieques, 7/15/99; San Juan Star 1/14/01;     
      Miami Herald, 11/15/99; The Washington Times
      5/21/00; Navy web site: (                    
      www.navyvieques.navy.mil/news14.htm); The    
      Guardian Daily. 3/4/00; Chris Allen-Doucot;  
      Princeton Packet, 2/12/99; Associated Press,
      3/29/00, 5/21/00; Ignatieff, NY Review of    
      Books, 7/20/00; Journal of Aerospace and     
      Defense Industry News. 12/10/99; Vice        
      Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr.           
      Fellowship of Reconciliation                 
      Puerto Rico Campaign        
      Produced by the Fellowship of Reconciliation
      Task Force on Latin America and the          
      2017 Mission St. #305, San Francisco, CA     
      Tel: (415) 495-6334, Fax: (415) 495-5628,    
      E-mail: forlatam@...                 
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