SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Members of the United Methodist Council of Bishops came together from different corners of the globe, and spent a week of November together, in a unified effort to join local Puerto Rican residents of the local island of Vieques in prayer and worship and to call for an end to U.S. Navy occupation and weapon testing on the land.
In response to their weeklong effort, U.S. President George Bush declared with a set resolution to end all bombing exercises on the island of Viques by summer 2003. The bishops praised the U.S. President for his efforts and continued to encourage him to take responsibility for ensuring "the demilitarization of the naval base, the decontamination of the land, and assistance in developing (the) infrastructure of the island."
The bishops also lauded the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico, grass-roots Puerto Ricans and Gov. Sila Calderon for their dedicated efforts and activism in together working toward a common goal of economically, socially and spiritually revitalizing the island.
Bishops from CIEMAL, as well as a consortium of Methodist churches from all over Latin America and the Caribbean, came alongside pastors and various leaders of the Puerto Rican community, joining Members of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, a council dedicated to overseeing activity throughout the U.S., Africa, Europe and the Philippines, on Nov. 2 and Nov. 6. It was the most recent show of support, where various groups came together to push the U.S. in ending the 60 year military occupation of the island.
"We are here in solidarity with you and believe that this (Vieques) is holy ground." The United Methodist Bishop Elias Galvan of Seattle was speaking to peace workers, while standing across the street from the Navy¡¯s Camp, and standing underneath a banner that read "Paz Para Vieques", which means "Peace for Vieques".
The group of bishops was given testimony of the declining economy, public health and livelihood of the small island, by its local residents who reported that the U.S. occupation of nearly three-fourths of Vieques has had only negative effect on the native land.
"My first negative contact with the Navy was seeing the military men take over our towns, get drunk and (urinate) on our sidewalks," recalled Victor Emeric. Emeric, vice mayor of Vieques, said military occupation increased brought with it an increase in alcohol abuse, prostitution and street violence. "I was born and raised here, and this is our struggle," Emeric said. "More than 4,000 people have lost their land and have had to leave the island because they had no way to make a living."
Local residents of Vieques say that military testing on the island has brought the incidence of cancer 25 percent higher than the rest of Puerto Rico, and that military presence has also negatively affect all sectors including business, education, health social services.
Carlos Zenon, a Methodist layman and citizen of the U.S. province of Puerto Rico, expressed his U.S. support. "I have children and other family living in the United States. I support efforts to end terrorism, to protect the land."
"But when you drop bombs and poison the air so that children are dying of cancer in their homeland, that is also terrorism," he added.
Zenon and Bishop Juan Vera Mendez of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico commended the Rev. Rev. Lucy Rosario-Medina, pastor of Sam Culpeper Methodist Church, for her dedication and pastoral support to the individuals and families of Vieques. "Her whole life is dedicated to the service of the people in Vieques," Vera said about Rosario who was arrested in 2001 for civil disobedience and sentenced to 140 hours of community service.
Bishops from all around the world who heard of the joint effort taken placing in Vieques, gave encouragement and praise to the organizers and participants. "To hear people still sing songs of victory is powerful," said Bishop Alfred Johnson, United Methodist bishop from New Jersey.
The complete text of the United Methodist Council of Bishops' statement on Vieques follows:
RESOLUTION ON VIEQUES
The United Methodist Council of Bishops, meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, November 3 through 8, 2002, was honored by a visit of the Honorable Governor of Puerto Rico, Sila Maria Calderon. Addressing the Council, she expressed her gratitude for the Council's solidarity with the people of Vieques and informed us that President George W. Bush has promised her to end bombing by May 2003.
Whereas, the Council of Bishops has raised its voice in support of an end to using Vieques as a naval bombing range, and
Whereas, groups of bishops have visited Vieques on November 2 and 5, 2002, personally encountering the beauty of the place and the suffering of the population, and
Whereas, President Bush has promised an end to the use of Vieques for bombing practice by the Spring of 2003,
Therefore be it resolved that the Council of Bishops is committed to the call of our Lord to be peacemakers and to seek "the things that make for peace" (Luke 19:42), and
We commend the President of the United States for his decision to end the bombing in Vieques, and encourage him to take responsibility for insuring the demilitarization of the naval base, the decontamination of the land, and assistance in developing infrastructure of the island, and
We congratulate the people of Puerto Rico and especially Governor Calderon on this occasion, expressing our hope for a quick and complete realization of the President's decision, and
We pledge our support to the Methodist Church in Puerto Rico in its efforts to bring about demilitarization, decontamination, return of the land, and redevelopment of the Island for the sake of the residents of the Island of Vieques and their future.
By Daniel K.