Mennonite Church USA
Vieques is a small tropical island (19 x 4 miles) off the east
coast of Puerto Rico. During the early 1940s, the U.S. Navy began
using it as training ground for the war against Hitler. The military
forced more than one-third of the 13,000 people living there
to leave the island so their land could be used for a bombing
range. Soldiers mistreated the Viequenses, including raping women
and fighting with teenagers. When the war ended, the Navy did
not leave as anticipated. Since then the military has practiced
on Vieques for invasions into Panama and for the Persian Gulf
War. The Navy controls more than half of the island. Opposition
to the Navy on Vieques has continued since WWII.
In July of 1999, two stray bombs
hit an observation post and killed a civilian guard, David Sanes.
Since then both residents and international supporters, including
members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, have nonviolently blockaded
the entrances to the base, causing the Navy to cease bombing.
However, bombing resumed in May 2000 after protestors were forcibly
removed from the bombing range. The current government of Puerto
Rico has used many legal and diplomatic means to try to bring
an end to the military exercises on Vieques.
Currently the 9,300 residents
who live about ten miles from the bombing range, suffer from
both economic and environmental damage after years of bombing.
Residents earn a living through farming and fishing. Toxic metals
from bomb residue have been found in their fruits and vegetables,
and many feel these have caused increased occurrences of cancer.
The Navy restricts fishing and their ships destroy lobster traps.
Between 100-200 civilians hold jobs with the military, most of
them at minimum wage. A local group, the Committee for the Rescue
and Development of Vieques, has planned for appropriate development
of the island once the Navy leaves.
Regrettably the June 14 White
House announcement that the bombing range will be closed and
removed from U.S. Navy control in 2003 does not incorporate an
immediate end to its use by the U.S. and other NATO countries.
It also does not answer present health concerns or promise to
clean up the environment. Because of this, Puerto Ricans have
called for continued nonviolent actions to stop the bombing exercises.
In March of 2001 Puerto Rican
Mennonite Church delegates took a bold stand and declared that
their silence about the U.S. Navy's bombing of Vieques has supported
the oppression of the island's people. On May 11, 2001 they asked
MCC to request that congregations write their government representatives
asking for a cessation of military exercises on Vieques. This
resolution is presented in response to this request from our
sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico.
Therefore be it resolved that
We as Mennonite Church USA commit
- Send a letter of support and
encouragement to the Mennonite Church in Puerto Rico;
- Send a letter to the U.S. government
making our perspective known, and expressing our desire to stand
with our Puerto Ricans brothers and sisters.
As delegates, we commit ourselves
- Pray for Puerto Rican Mennonites
that God will show them how to minister to all the people of
Vieques, work with the military personnel on the naval bases
on the Puerto Rican mainland, and develop peace work with the
children and youth of Puerto Rico;
- Write notes of encouragement
to our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico;
- Support the work of Christian
Peacemaker Teams as they witness on Vieques;
- Write as individuals and official
leaders to our government representatives; and
- Acknowledge that we are part
of the military complex abusing the people of Vieques because
we pay taxes that support the military.
We ask our U.S. government leaders
- immediately stop military exercises
- Clean up contaminated land so
children can play safely, farmers can grow healthy crops, and
fisherman can fish in unpolluted water;
- Remove the Navy from the island;
- Financially and strategically
support the reconstruction work of the Committee for the Rescue
and Development of Vieques.
May God grant peace and justice
to the people of Vieques, and may God grant us the courage to
speak and act when we are called to be God's hands in the world.
was initiated by the interim Council on Faith, Life and Strategy
and fashioned by MC and GC peace and justice staff in consultation
with Mennonite leaders in Puerto Rico and Christian Peacemaker
Teams. Adopted by Mennonite Church USA Delegate Assembly, Nashville,
Tennessee, July 7, 2001. Minutes, pp. 45-46.
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