Since its takeover of Puerto Rico in 1898, the U.S. government has treated it as a colony, using its land for military purposes whenever it wanted. The Puerto Rican islands of Culebraand Vieques were used for bombing practice, uprooting people from their homes, mutilating the countryside, causing a number of deaths. A long campaign of protest finally ended the bombing practice in Culebra in 1975, although residents complain that the toxic waste from the years of misuse still has not been cleaned up. Activists carried out a similar struggle on Vieques, as described in the following statement1 by a Vieques school teacher in 1979. The speaker, Ismael Guadalupe Ortiz, who had organized one of the first protests in Vieques against the U.S. military in 1964, was arrested after giving the address. In 1999, a Navy bomb killed a civilian guard on Vieques, David Sanes. Four years later, in 2003, the movement to free Vieques finally forced the U.S. military to end its use of the island for military practice.From Voices of A People's History, edited by Zinn and Arnove
My name is Ismael Guadalupe Ortiz. I am thirty-five years old. All my life I have lived in Vieques. For the past thirteen years I have been a high school teacher in the public school system of Vieques.
Many years ago, I began to fight for the right of my Viequense brothers to live in peace. Since 1978 I have been one of the directors of the Crusade to Rescue Vieques. This organization, that includes Viequenses of diverse political ideologies, religious philosophies, and various social positions, have carried on their shoulders the responsibility to unite in order to be most effective in our snuggle against the U.S. Navy. When I speak of the struggle against the U.S. navy in Vieques, and what the presence of this armed force represents on our land, I am speaking of something concrete.
The violation of our land by the U.S. Navy began before I was even born. When I was born, La Isla Nena was already physically occupied and divided by this navy that today presumes to bring us here as the accused.
Today, I come here not as the accused, I come as the accuser. I accuse the U.S. Navy and the court of the U.S. in Puerto Rico, of conspiring to commit against all Viequenses, one of the greatest abuses ever brought against a people in our America.
I am not exaggerating. I accuse the U.S. Navy and its legal arm, the federal court, of expropriating and throwing into the street, thousands of human beings that live on these lands, and that now, this navy claims is theirs. Who are the witnesses that I will call to prove my accusation? To begin with, my own parents [Narciso Guadalupe Guadalupe and Mercedes Ortiz Maldonado] were victims of this expropriation. To continue, I call hundreds of Viequenses who are still alive to attest to how it was in the 1940s. Women who had to give birth in cane fields, because the birth coincided with the passage of the bulldozers that were knocking down their houses. Of men and women who woke up without a piece of land to cultivate for their or their family's sustenance.
I am not going to limit myself to generalities and damage to property. I am going to talk of lives, of precious Viequense lives that have been lost, and continue to be lost, as a consequence of the abuses and crimes of the U.S. Navy on our island of Vieques. I personally know and remember more than a dozen Viequenses who died or were assassinated at the hands of drunken marines or by bombs left on our land by this navy who today I accuse as a criminal. All Viequenses remember the death of Chulto Legran, a twelve-year-old boy, victim of one of the many bombs that the navy left on our soil. This occurred in 1953. The elders tell us how the body of Alejandro Rosado was found on the lands occupied by the navy, buried with his head down and his feet up. This occurred in the early 1940s. The assassination of Felipe Francis Christian in April 1954 is still fresh in our memory. The elders tell us about the deaths of Anastasio and Domingo Acosta, father and son, victims of the navy's bombs. Juan Maysonet, Helena Holiday, and many more form links in the chain of victims, of flesh and blood, and of names and surnames.
We remember also the so-called riots of 1952, 1958, 1964, and 1968 that were no other than hordes of drunken marines who fell upon our civilian population like savages.
All these crimes have gone unpunished. The criminals roam free, and not this court or any other court has judged them. Nonetheless, today you judge me for getting together with my brother Viequenses in the Crusade to Rescue Vieques to fight against these injustices committed by the North American navy in my island of Vieques.
In addition to these crimes against individuals, there is the collective crime against the 8,000 Viequenses that live on this island. They have taken 26,000 of the 33,000 acres that we had for our economic development and have prohibited us from fishing in our waters, the source of sustenance for hundreds of Viequenses, and our free air and land transportation has been impeded by this North American navy that occupies our territory by force.
Viequenses are a people imprisoned between two bases, between the storage of explosives and bombing and shooting that little by little takes thousands of Viequenses away from their island in a forced exile.
We could continue speaking about the serious problems caused by unemployment, of an education system that offers nothing to children and young Viequenses, but I will not go on.
Suffice to say, that as a Viequense, as a Puerto Rican, and as the father of two children, I feel legitimately proud to be at the side of my people at this time. That my children will be able to say that I am a prisoner because I do not want Vieques to be for them what it was for me. That I do not want for them, or any other child of my small island, to be a land bombed and shot at wildly at the whim of foreigners. That I do not want for them to have a drunken marine corps, humiliating and abusing them on their own land. That for my children and for their little friends, the abuses of today will be a thing of the past, or perhaps a lesson in a schoolroom about what happened in Vieques, and never to let it happen again anywhere else. This is why I fight.
My crime is to walk on the land where I was born and have lived all my life. My crime is to fight along with my Puerto Rican and Viequense brothers against the abuses and injustices the United States navy represents. It is for these crimes that I am being tried in this court that represents the interests of the government of the United States in Puerto Rico and consequently the interests of the navy of that government. This is the same court that some days ago decided that the right of the navy to shoot and to bomb is more important than the right of 8,000 Viequenses to live in peace. This foreign court has no moral or legal authority to judge me. As a Puerto Rican, I will not find justice in the court of the invader that today attacks my people.
This court can today send me to prison, but outside remain thousands who will continue the struggle, which is the struggle of all the people.
1 Testimony of Ismael Guadalupe Ortiz on Vieques, Puerto Rico (October 2. 1979). Text first printed in Spanish in Arturo Metendez Lopez, La Batalla de Vieques (Bavamdn, Puerto Rico: COPEC. 1982). Translation courtesy of Ismael Guadalupe Ortiz,