Rabin is a founding board member of the Committee For the Rescue and Development of Vieques, the principal grass roots community organization in the struggle that stopped the US Navy from bombing there in May 2003. Rabin was arrested three times during the 1999-2003 civil disobedience campaign and spent 6 months in the US Federal Prison in Puerto Rico after his arrest in April, 2002. He also directs the Vieques Historic Archives and the Fort Count Mirasol Museum for the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture on Vieques.
Here we interview Robert Rabin from the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques on why they are coming to Scotland and what their experience has been of fighting an imperialist power in their own backyard.
UXB: It's two years now since the people of Vieques managed to oust the US from your country, what's happened in that time?
RR: Constant work on issues of decontamination/health, getting the land back from the US federal government and pushing for sustainable/participatory social and economic development. The US Congress ordered - through the 2002 Military Appropriations Act - that jurisdiction over ex Navy lands on Viequwes be handed to the Fish and Wildlife Service of the US Dept. of the Interior . The Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques prepares for a long struggle, like the one that finally stopped Navy bombing and presence here, to get the land cleaned up, back in the hands of our community and create a process of democratic, holistic social/economic development. The dramatic and 'news worthy' actions of the civil disobedience campaigns... the conflicts and violence by Navy and other US and Puerto Rican repressive forces... has given way to a not so glamorous but equally 'life and death' struggle in this post bombing phase...
The CRDV works a lot with youth... leadership building skills... education and capacity building activities (conferences... workshops.. etc.) to help us all understand the technical issues involved in this part of the struggle for peace here. We are trygin to regroup our forces both on and off Vieques to continue our work with organizations faced with similar issues ... to share our experiences and learn from others in Okinawa, Phillipines, Marshall Islands, Panamá, Brasil, the US and in PR.. who have important lessons for us in these new areas of work toward peace and justice.
UXB: For people who haven't been following this, what's the Scotland-Puerto Rican link?
RR: From April1999 to May 4, 2000, our people took over the US Navy's bombing range on Vieques, setting up 15 civil disobedience camps that impeded Navy from resuming bombing here. During that period, the US Navy requested the British military allow them to use the bombing range at Cape Wrath, Scotland. Scottish, Irish and British peace activists carried out a civil disobedience action during US Naval practice in Cape Wrath...entering in the bombing zone and placing flags of their countries and also a Puerto Rican flag, in solidarity with our struggle in Vieques.
This act had enormous symbolic impact on us and since then we have maintained communication... principally vía the internet, with peace organizations in Scotland/Ireland/England.
UXB: Why are you coming to Scotland?
RR: We hope to share our experiences working to end militarism here and learn from groups in your region about similar actions as well as efforts for clean up of military toxics and help for victims of military contamination; we also come in solidarity with the international movement against the war in Iraq... and against war ... as a means to resolve conflict
UXB: Your group is called the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques? You've done the rescue - how's the develeopment going? What are the new issues in this phase?
RR: (see first question) Working with experts from Puerto Rico's universities and international experts in conversion of military to civilian economies, we developed - simultaneously with the protest - a proposal for sustainable development of a Free Vieques. The Guidelines for Sustainable Development of Vieques (a 300 page document publised in February of 2003) produced by the Professional and Technical Group in Support of Sustainable Development for Vieques (GATP) in coordination with the CRDV and other Vieques groups that worked with us on this project (Vieques Womens Alliance, Fishermen, Teachers, University Students, among others)... were officially adopted by the Municipal and Central Governments as the basis for the Master Plan for Sustainable Development on Vieques.. finally approved in December, 2004.
Now the work is to have the Master Plan implemented, against the strong opposition of developers, speculators and Puerto Rican politicians with a traditional vision of development that calls for foreign investors, large scale tourism projects, golf courses. etc. The CRDV promotes the creation of community controlled educational/eco tourism projects: renting rooms in family houses; small hostels, bed and breakfast; small hotels with local capital and in hands of local families, cooperative projects of transport, tour guides, and other workers in this industry.
The realities are intense speculation and planning for large scale projects in hands of outside investors.. OUr struggle in this area is to stop the bulldozers from building projects in detriment to democratic/Viequense controlled economic development.
We hope to begin soon some models of community tourism...
UXB: What health issues do communities face?
RR: According to the PR Health Dept and the Univ. of PR's School of Public Health, Vieques has a 27% higher cancer case rate than the rest of Puerto Rico; studies (hair, blood, faeces, etc.) indicate dangerously high levels of heavy metals and other military related contaminants
in our population... as well as in the food chain.. (crabs, fish, etc.)... studies in the 1980's show high levels of RDV (cancer causing element of explosives) in drinking water cisterns...in the civilian sector... we are demanding complete studies : to date, the PR gov't has done very mediocre work in this area, has not released info to the public...
Exacerbating this situation is the horribly insufficient health facilities on Vieques and lack of cooperation by Health Dept. to improve facilities/treatment for cancer patients, diabetes.. etc. Transportation between Vieques (where there is no hospital) and the main island where Vieques patients must go for treatment/diagnostics... medicines.. etc.. is a serious problem because of long time government neglect, the US Navy control over the shortest connecting route (6 miles instead of the 18 miles nautical route we were forced to use for over half century)... this situation increases the difficulties for our health crisis...
UXB: In the end, why did the US navy leave Vieques?
RR: The navy left for several reasons:
1. it was costing aprox. 11 million dollars a year extra to carry out their military manoeuvres....
2. The unrelenting campaign of non violent civil disobedience brought world attention to this issue... and negative world opinion toward US military
3. we worked systematically to build strategic relations with economically and political significant Puerto Rican and other Hispanic groups in the US to get the Vieques issue on the electoral table.. as an issue important to the millions of Latino voters in the US among other reasons.