We're pleased to see the recent news coverage of protests against continued U.S. bombing on the beautiful island of Vieques in Puerto Rico, where more than 9,000 people live squeezed between a military testing range and a dangerous ammunition storage site. Although President Bush has announced that the Navy will leave Vieques in 2003, that is not soon enough.
Opposition to the bombing has grown since 1999, when a stray bomb killed a civilian. There is increasing documentation of high infant mortality and cancer incidence from the air and water pollution that results from the weaponry testing and storage, and dismay at the destruction of the marine resources that previously provided the livelihood of the islanders.
The resumption of bombing has led to nonviolent occupation of the bombing range, with hundreds of arrests of prominent political and human rights leaders acting as "human shields." Harsh prison sentences have been given for the misdemeanor offense of trespassing, and there have been allegations of mistreatment of the prisoners.
Among those arrested was Assemblyman Jose Rivera. We remember his inspiring visit to Buffalo on May 22, 2000, when he generously agreed to lead a town meeting on these issues, hosted by the Western New York Peace Center.
Rivera described his years of work in bringing the issues in Vieques to public attention through council resolutions, town meetings and local actions in New York City. He showed personal videos of the island, and met with community organizations. His visit showed how a political leader can inspire and educate in the community.
Because he was willing to act peacefully on his ethical convictions, Rivera has been sentenced to 40 days in prison. He has been joined in standing up for justice by many other leaders of the Hispanic and African-American communities.
These news items might seem distant from Western New York, but the basic issues are the fundamental rights to safety and healthy living conditions, and the necessity of government openness in responding to legitimate problems. Perhaps it is not so different from issues here in Buffalo, such as Hickory Woods.