Residents celebrate liberation and victory; land still under U.S. control
On May 1, more than 9,000 residents of Viéques, Puerto Rico, celebrated the official end of Navy bombing exercises of their island after more than 60 years. A delegation from the UCC was on hand to witness the event. "Primero de Mayo—the First of May—was a day of liberation and victory for the people and for those in solidarity with them," says the Rev. José A. Malayang, Executive Minister of the UCC's Local Church Ministries, "in bringing to an end the use of the lovely island of Viéques as a naval shooting range."
In the past decade, many protestors, including civic and church groups from the United States, traveled to the 22-mile-long island, six miles off the eastern end of Puerto Rico, to protest the bombing. Among the protestors in 2000 was the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC General Minister and President. "We saw first hand the damage wrought by 60 years of military practice," he said at that time, "especially the use of the military bombardment of the eastern end of the island without regard for the persons who once called this bombing range home."
National attention focused on the situation in 1999 when, on April 19, two Marine F-18 Hornets from the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy dropped two bombs that went astray during U.S. war games, killing David Sanes Rodriguez instantly and injuring four other people.
The May celebration included dozens of locals and residents from Puerto Rico's main island, many wearing shirts reading "Celebration of Peace on Viéques," who clapped and cheered when Gov. Sila M. Calder-n arrived at Isabel Segunda's town square to the sounds of a steel band.
Calder-n said the Navy's exit marks the beginning of an era of peace and tranquility for Viéques. "This is a triumph for all of the people of Puerto Rico," she said, "as well as our brothers and sisters in the United States."
"There is jubilation," says Delbert Lancaster, the UCC's minister for affirmative action. "But there is also a realization that the land is still under U. S. control. There is still work to do."
"Thank God, these people are strong, says Juanita Helphrey, UCC minister for racial justice. "Thank God, supporters and activists believed. Thank God for overpowering the thoughts and actions of "powers and principalities."