No. 69, May 11-17, 2000

About AGR

Vieques protesters
vow to fight on

By Susan Soltero

Vieques, Puerto Rico, May 5 (ENS)— As the Vieques anti-bombing protesters arrested on US Navy lands Thursday arrived today by ferry to the arms of their anxious families, many promised they would be entering restricted lands again — no matter the consequences. They vowed to stop the bombings at all cost.

In fact, they insist bombings will not be possible in the short term since seven of their own members are still hidden in two secret camps on the target range. Among them are the two sons of fisherman and community leader Carlos Zenon.

Two hundred protesters were removed from US Navy lands Thursday and taken to the main island of Puerto Rico. There they were warned that they face arrest if they re-enter the target range.

The US Navy owns two-thirds of the island of Vieques, seven miles off the east coast of Puerto Rico. Since 1941 the Navy has used the area off the eastern tip of Vieques for target bombing and amphibious landing practice — often with live bombs. Unexploded ordnance lies strewn across the land and on the ocean bottom, and barrels of toxic substances in two sunken ships are leaking out into the sea.
For anyone who has been to the area where they camped out for 387 days, the protesters’ attitude is not surprising.

Protests in support of the Vieques effort to get the US Navy to stop bombing the island have been taking place across the country. The fact that the Navy had the area off limits for 60 years has guaranteed that the beaches are beautiful. And for a year, plants and animals have reclaimed the area. But the beauty is only on the surface.
The water is littered with unexploded bombs that pose a threat to any recreational boater. And tests on sand at the site have shown that a total of five heavy metals and cyanide are present at levels that pose a threat to all life forms.

The tests were conducted in July of 1999 by the Pace Analytical Services Inc. of New Orleans which is part of the “Contract Laboratory Program” of the Envirnomental Protection Agency (EPA).

Of the 11 heavy metals and cyanide found in three areas within the bombing range, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, and nickel are at levels that require immediate remedial action by the EPA.

Subsequent tests performed by the University of Puerto Rico show heavy metals present in plants taken from the area. Sixty years of bombing have taken a heavy toll.

And yet, these protesters are determined to risk arrest and risk short term exposure to these toxins to make sure the bombings do not start again.

The Navy says as far as it’s concerned, the area is clear of protesters. And they hope they can begin exercises as soon as possible, although they would not say when they would actually begin nor why they have not yet started.

Under the agreement reached between Governor Pedro Rossello and President Bill Clinton, exercises will be held for only 90 days in a year, and they will now be held with inert bombs.

Inert bombs are also called dummy bombs or practice bombs. Practice bombs are used to simulate the same ballistic properties of service type bombs. They are manufactured as either solid cast-metal bodies or thin sheet metal containers that can be filled with wet sand or cement to obtain the necessary weight. Full-scale practice bombs have the same dimensions, weight factor, and configuration abilities as the service bombs they simulate.

The full-scale practice bombs currently in use are in the Mk80 series. The bottom line: inert bombs have no explosives, no chemical agents, no big bang.

The noise level will certainly diminish if training begins again. But opponents of any continuation of military activity on Vieques say the bombs will still cause extensive damage.

The coral reefs will continue to be destroyed, critics say, not just when bombs fall, but also as a result of friction created by wave action when bombs are left in the water over a period of time.

The bombs are made of metal, and metal is subject to rapid corrosion in the salty soil.

While some bombs will be dropped, others will have to be shot out.

“Everyone knows propellants are highly toxic, not only to residents in Vieques, but also to those exposed on ships,” said Jorge Fernandez Porto, environmental consultant for the “Comité Pro-Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques.”

“Besides,” adds Fernandez, “the Navy has said that they will not use live ordinance. That is not the same as saying they will be using inert bombs. The language is not specific and they can still use substances such as depleted uranium, napalm and other agents that are non-explosive.”

Finally, but perhaps most important, heavy bombs that drop like dead weight from planes or that are shot from ships will still raise a cloud of dust.

“A study performed in 1978 by the Navy and subsequently confirmed by engineer Rafael Cruz Perez on wells that were to be used for drinking water showed the wells were contaminated through the air ducts that feed into the well and could not be used,” says Carlos Rodriguez, a marine biology professor at the University of Puerto Rico.

“Since the dust is highly contaminated and prevailing winds take it directly into the town, fugitive dust is a major problem,” Rodriguez concludes.

The Navy is now in the process of organizing the first groups who will train on the island. They have promised to notify the Puerto Rican government before they actually begin bombing, even though they have made that promise in the past and not complied.

They will also be making security runs to be absolutely sure there are no protesters in the area.

In the meantime, protesters have not lost hope that public pressure and rumors of hidden camps will be enough to keep them at bay for now.

Thousands rally for Mumia Abu-Jamal

New York, May 7— The Theater at Madison Square Garden was sold out three days in advance of a 3-hour rally here today to demand a new trial for African American journalist and radio commentator Mumia Abu-Jamal. The multinational, mostly youthful crowd was brought to its feet as speaker after speaker denounced the railroading of Abu-Jamal to death row in Pennsylvania. “Mumia is all of us,” said Monica Moorehead, a co-chair and organizer of today’s event. “(He) is the defining figure in the racist, criminal justice system today.”

Well known figures like actors Ossie Davis and Ed Asner, attorneys Leonard Weinglass, Dan Williams, Johnnie Cochran, and Ron Kuby, as well as former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and comedians Dick Gregory and Marga Gomez, all appeared. The event was a major step in the struggle to break through the campaign of silence, vilification and lies against Mumia in the mass media, where if his case is mentioned at all, he is usually referred to as a “convicted cop killer.”

Larry Holmes, speaking for the Millions for Mumia/International Action Center campaign which organized the event, roused the crowd with an appeal to turn this coming summer into a “freedom summer campaign, like the freedom summer when youth traveled to the South to break the back of racist segregation in the 1960s.” Holmes said, “Our first task is to pack the courtroom in Philadelphia when Mumia comes for a hearing in federal court. Then we have to organize to be at both the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, July 29-30, and in Los Angeles at the Democratic National Convention in August.”

Among the many other speakers at the event were: Kathleen Cleaver, attorney and former leader of the Black Panther Party; Sonia Sanchez, a nationally acclaimed poet and professor at Temple University; Leslie Feinberg, a transgender author and co-founder of Rainbow Flags for Mumia; as well as popular hip hop artists Will Villainova and Mos Def. A number of the speakers at the rally reviewed the growing evidence that suggests that Mumia was denied even the most basic constitutional rights to legal representation and a fair trial.

Also appearing were the family of Patrick Dorismond, the Haitian man recently killed by New York City police, and other families of victims of police brutality. A youth contingent also took the stage, with speakers from Evergreen College and Antioch College, where Mumia was invited to be the commencement speaker in 1999 and 2000, respectively.

Sarah Sloan, a youth organizer for the International Action Center, spoke of the need for militant action to challenge the power of the Prison Industrial Complex, racism and police brutality, just as those who challenged institutions like the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, both in Seattle last year and in Washington, DC this April. Speakers also addressed the demand to get the US Navy out of Vieques, Puerto Rico, as well as the struggle to send Elian Gonzalez and his family home to Cuba.

Outside the Garden, a group of about 50 police from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and the Fraternal Order of Police picketed the rally, calling for Mumia’s execution. While some of the media in New York City focused more on the police picket line outside than on the inside rally of thousands, organizers of today’s event characterized it as a tremendous victory and a major step forward in bringing the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal to the broader public.

Source: International Action Center

Union leaders
meet with WNC legislators

By Robert Brown

Asheville, May 4-- Large delegations of unionists from Western Carolina University (WCU) and the University of North Carolina-Asheville (UNCA) met with North Carolina legislative delegates Martin Nesbitt and Wilma Sherrill on the UNCA campus on Thursday, May 4. They were joined by an organizer for UE 150, the NC Public Service Workers Union.

The union is organizing similar meeting across the state to emphasize – in this election year – the broad-based problems state workers are encountering which can be addressed at the state level. These include:
1) The need for a living wage. A single mother of three spoke clearly of the difficulties of raising such a family with a take-home pay of $987 a month, and the difficulties of dealing with red tape surrounding assistance programs.
2) The threat of privatization. Workers in situations threatened by privatization were joined by other staff in pointing out a number of drawbacks — in addition to the loss of jobs — to this atomization of a work force: the lack of access to off-campus resources, the limitations of a “contract mentality” when an extra effort is required, and the hard-to define losses of replacing friends and coworkers with outsiders.
3) Discrimination. Discrimination for any reason — race, age, sex, disabilities, or any other of a long list — is opposed by the NC Public Service Workers Union.
4) Collective Bargaining. UE 150 calls for a law guaranteeing public employees the right to negotiate a contract with their employer.
5) Ensure Compliance with the Family Medical Leave Act. Years after Clinton’s Family Leave deal, there remains a lack of clarity about its status in North Carolina, and workers’ rights if it is denied. UE 150 calls on the NC General Assembly to pass state legislation that guarantees workers family leave and other protections.

The meeting was friendly and informative. Nesbit and Sherrill repeatedly referred to the state employees as the “front line” of state government, and showed a broad and deep knowledge of most issues and problems on the table, offering solutions for some problems, and where to look for a solution for others. On one issue, however, the legislators offered no hope whatever: collective bargaining.

According to Union officials, North Carolina ranks a lowly 30th nationally in what it pays its state employees. In fact, both legislators at the meeting expressed concern that so many state employees qualify for food stamps. At $17,000 a year, some state employees earn barely half the $31,000 needed for a living wage.
A union organizer says that the UE 150 / NC Public Workers Union is doing “very well” in their efforts to organize state employees. Thirteen of the state’s university system campuses have active chapters of the Union; 40% of the state representative’s districts have union members, and 30% of the senatorial districts have union members. The union is growing rapidly, especially in situations where downsizing and layoffs appear imminent, such as Dorthea Dix Hospital in Raleigh.

The group meeting in Asheville had these specific proposals for the legislators: a) maintain ongoing contact with UE 150; b) participate in a panel of sympathetic legislators in a statewide lobby day for workers in June; c) introduce all or part of the UE 150 legislative agenda in the upcoming or future sessions of the General Assembly; and, d) send UE 150 a letter addressing the legislative issues and affirming willingness to maintain contact with the union. With a few reservations, the legislators agreed to these requests.

The union stresses that the current legislative effort is prompted by the electoral cycle, the rapid state-wide growth of the union, and governmental fiscal and management policies which can be addressed at the legislative level. The day-to-day work of the union — dealing with abusive management, the struggle for decent wages, safe working conditions, job security, and respect in the workplace — continues twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, wherever there is a worker who will fight.


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