The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 25           July 28, 2003  
FBI frames 12
Vieques activists
In Puerto Rico
(front page)
A defense committee based in Puerto Rico has launched a campaign to demand the U.S. government drop frame-up charges against 12 people active in the movement that forced the U.S. Navy to stop its bombing practice on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. The 12, arrested by FBI agents June 25, face up to 20 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to destroy federal property.

The U.S. government accuses them of acts of vandalism during a victory celebration by residents of Vieques on May 1, the day the Navy ended its military operations there.

Among those arrested are Nilda Medina, a well-known leader of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques (CPRDV), and Jesús Delgado, president of the Federation of Teachers of Puerto Rico.

They were indicted by a federal grand jury, supposedly on the basis of videos and photos taken by the Puerto Rican police. The U.S. government has a long history of using grand juries to railroad Puerto Rican independence activists and unionists.

“This is a frame-up,” said Medina after she was released on bond. “The federal government wants to criminalize the movement.”

For six decades the residents of Vieques, with broad support among the Puerto Rican people, waged a fight against the U.S. Navy, which had evicted them from their lands and used the small island for bombing practice and war maneuvers.

The death of local resident David Sanes by an “errant” Navy bomb in 1999 set off a renewed wave of protests. This mass movement, with demonstrations, picket lines, mass civil disobedience actions, and international protests, finally led the U.S. government to cut its political losses and agree to withdraw the Navy by May 1 of this year. The Navy turned over the land to the U.S. Department of Interior—over the protests of Vieques residents, who demand that control of the land be returned to them.

The Navy pulled up stakes April 30. That night residents celebrated outside the entrance of the abandoned Camp García base. At midnight they pushed down the perimeter fence and poured through the gate.

The big-business media and U.S. officials, however, violence-baited the demonstrators, trying to smear the Vieques movement to undercut the political impact of its victory.

Since then FBI agents have harassed community members on the island they claim were involved in “destruction of federal property.” U.S. cops have been snooping and taking notes from parked cars in front of private homes, according to CPRDV leaders .

On the night of June 20, FBI agents raided the committee’s organizing center in front of Camp García. The cops left a search warrant on the floor signed by U.S. judge Aida Delgado. Along with the search warrant was a receipt telling the judge that the FBI was looking for “concealed” items such as “a Vieques map, documents such as photos, pictures, address and phone books, and any other property that constitutes evidence of the commission of a criminal offense.”

In a predawn raid on June 25, five FBI agents along with Tactical Operations Unit cops showed up at Medina’s home. “We were asleep and heard the pounding on the door and shouts of ‘FBI! FBI!’ When we went outside they took Nilda away,” said Deborah Santana, speaking to the press.

As word of the arrests spread, a crowd of supporters gathered outside the U.S. court in San Juan, where some of the detainees were released on $5,000 to $10,000 bond. Four were denied bail.

U.S. prosecutors have accused the 12 of “conspiracy” to destroy a guard post and setting fire to a Navy boat and a Humvee. If convicted, they face between five and 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, said U.S. prosecutor Humberto García.

The CPRVD has continued to “organize and mobilize the community to pressure government agencies—Puerto Rican and federal—to carry out a complete environmental cleanup, the return of all the land to the people, and sustainable development in the hands of the Vieques community,” said the group in a statement.

“That is why the FBI has unleashed this repression against our organization.”

A committee to defend those arrested June 25 has been formed. Protests demanding all the charges be dropped have taken place both in Puerto Rico and New York.  
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