Local singer-songwriter Lourdes Perez has become outspoken in the fight against the US bombing range in Vieques, Puerto Rico.
For most Austin residents, the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, is too far away to matter. Not so for Lourdes Perez, who has been working with other musicians and activists to halt the American military's bombing practice on the tiny island, which has a population of about 10,000. Protests over the bombing range boiled over in April of 1999, when a Marine Corps F-18 dropped two 500-pound bombs off-target, killing a civilian security guard and injuring several others. That incident led to ongoing protests -- including the occupation of the bombing range by activists -- which stopped the bombing for a year. On May 4, U.S. marshals cleared out the protesters, but more than 400 people have been arrested since then for trying to re-enter the training ground.
The issue has become a populist rallying cry in Puerto Rico. In February, about 50,000 protesters took to the streets to denounce the bombing range, which has been used to train pilots and test various weapons, including napalm, since the beginning of World War II, when the U.S. Navy appropriated about two-thirds of the 33,000-acre island for the bombing range. Island residents have long demanded that their land be returned, but the Navy has steadfastly refused.
Perez, who left Puerto Rico in 1983, has been living in Austin since 1988 and has become one of the city's most acclaimed singer/songwriters. Last year, she flew to Puerto Rico to meet with some of the Vieques residents who have been fighting the bombing range. "These are citizens of the United States who, given the colonial status of Puerto Rico, can't participate fully in the decisions made in this country," Perez said, adding that Vieques has higher cancer rates than other areas of Puerto Rico. Unemployment on the island approaches 50%. Austinites and other Americans should care about Vieques, Perez said, because "people wouldn't allow the construction of a bombing range on Long Island. Why do we allow it in Puerto Rico?"
Even if the protesters are successful in stopping the bombing range, though, the area is unlikely to be used by civilians again any time soon. The unexploded ordnance and depleted uranium on the bombing range will remain deadly for many years and will have to be cleaned up unlikely, given current budgetary constraints on the Pentagon. For more info, call the Organization of Concerned Texas Artists and Activists for Vieques, (OCTAAV) at 442-5986, or go to www.iacenter.org/puerto_rico.htm.