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View Point

By Kyle Kajihiro

Thursday, March 2, 2000

Struggle in Vieques
mirrors Kahoolawe

I disagree with the Star-Bulletin's editorials on the military bombing of Vieques in Puerto Rico. While some have dismissed protests against it as the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome, the issues are more profound, going to the heart of human rights.

Last August, I visited Vieques with an international peace delegation. What I saw mirrored the experience of Hawaiians, and the toll that militarism and colonialism has taken on Hawaiian lands and culture.

Vieques' stunning beauty and vibrant community were especially striking next to the devastation of the bombing. Thousands of projectiles littered the landscape. Beaches, dry-land forests and wetlands once teeming with fish had become a toxic wasteland, strewn with the skeletons of tanks and planes.

Unlike Kahoolawe, 9,400 residents live on Vieques and are affected by the bombing. Contaminants, including depleted uranium and heavy metals, migrate on the wind to populated areas, where they turn up in the drinking water or form thick clouds over the town. Many suspect that these contaminants cause the abnormally high cancer rate in Vieques, as much as 28 percent higher than in the rest of Puerto Rico.

Militarization has crippled economic development on Vieques. With three-fourths of the island occupied by the Navy, there is little land to farm. Bountiful ocean resources are off limits to fishermen, and the visitor industry is stifled by military restrictions and hazards.

On Jan. 31, Puerto Rico's pro-statehood Governor Rossello capitulated to the Navy and agreed to allow continued bombing of Vieques with inert ordnance until 2003, with promises of a $40-million aid package. The plan also calls for a referendum in Vieques on whether the Navy may resume live-fire training.

As an enticement, the United States promised an additional $50 million if voters approve the use of live bombs. But the people of Vieques did not fall for this.

A broad coalition in Vieques denounced the plan for not offering a real choice, and declared Rossello's reversal a betrayal. Newspaper polls showed 84 percent of Vieques residents would evict the Navy.

The movement in Vieques is really about self-determination. As the champion of human rights, the United States should be first to honor Vieques calling for peace, freedom and a healthy environment. However, it continues to press for access to Vieques like an obsessed suitor, indicating that it would even use force to get its way.

The struggle in Vieques has implications for Hawaii. Despite the return of Kahoolawe, military occupation of Hawaiian lands at Makua, Pohakuloa, Mokapu and elsewhere continue to violate kanaka maoli rights.

The people of Vieques are demonstrating how a small community can protect itself when its members unite and work in solidarity with a broader movement for justice. Vieques helped to expose the destructive impacts of foreign military bases around the world.

IN the "David vs. Goliath" struggle in Vieques, the United States will continue to make blunders until it recognizes that Viequenses are motivated by a love for their people and land.

One sign I saw in Vieques stated, "Vieques is not for sale." Let's hope that President Clinton gets this message.

Kyle Kajihiro is program coordinator of the
American Friends Service Committee -- Hawaii Area Program.

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