This week the candidates for governor of Puerto Rico's three political parties arrived at a new consensus on Vieques, thanks to the unwitting encouragement of Chief Judge Héctor Laffite of the American court in Puerto Rico. Carlos Pesquera of the statehood party and Sila Calderón of the commonwealth party ended months of baffling silence regarding the political persecution to which Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) members have been subjected by federal authorities. They joined PIP gubernatorial candidate Rubén Berrios and fundamentalist minister Jorge Raschke in calling for an end to the punitive measures that have kept four PIP members - a Protestant minister from Mayagüez, a young candidate for mayor of Trujillo Alto, a fellow legislator from the House of Representatives and me - in federal prison for the past five weeks awaiting trial for what constitutes a petty offense of trespassing.
It is important to keep the "how and why" in proper perspective to understand that this bodes well for the cause of peace in Vieques.
We are in jail because we refused to post bail. In a case like this setting bail could be justified if the defendants posed some danger to society or if they were likely to abandon the jurisdiction. But a federal magistrate, evidently under orders, acted differently. Knowing what everyone in Puerto Rico knows that we are committed to non-violence and that as independentistas, we believe that it is the U.S. Navy that ought to leave because of the danger it poses to Puerto Ricans in Vieques, the bail was set as a threat: Surrender your principles or be punished on account of them.
Sixty years of the Navy's abusive behavior in Vieques are by now well documented. The president of the United States knows this. "This is wrong" he wrote on the letter he received on the subject from Rubén Berríos over a year ago through a mutual friend. The governor of Puerto Rico also knows this based on a multi-sector commission report that officially evaluated the Vieques situation and ascertained public opinion on the matter. Thus the demand for the immediate and permanent cessation of all military activity in Vieques became the principle policy adopted by him on the basis of the explicit will our people.
On the wings of the moral strength of this policy, the governor assumed an apparently combative stance. "Don't push it" was his cry to the U.S. Congress. But a few months later, a presidential directive in fact pushed it, and his cry melted to a rhetorical whimper. Clinton's undemocratic disregard for the will of the Puerto Rican people and the governor's pusillanimity made it apparent that there was no remedy at law to enforce our people's will of "not one more bomb." The only moral alternative to Clinton's unholy alliance with the Navy was the one adopted by the PIP from the beginning: peaceful civil disobedience.
After more than a year's defiance by Rubén Berríos and others who served as human shields in Vieques' firing range, hundreds of Puerto Ricans - including more than 120 PIP members - have entered the restricted zone to dramatize the irrational immorality protected by law. Puerto Ricans are excluded from Puerto Rican soil, yet the Navy - whose commanding officer had the gall to criticize many of us for not being from Vieques, when the Navy is not even Puerto Rican - can continue to pollute the environment and cause harm to the life and health of Puerto Ricans.
To enforce immoral laws on behalf of an abusive Navy, more than a legal system is required. There must be henchmen ready to act as willing executioners to try to intimidate the public. A "hanging judge" willing to throw peaceful people indefinitely in jail for a petty offense is essential.
The Navy found the man in whose mind there were only two options. Chief Judge Laffitte could try over 120 civil disobedients for a petty offense and sentence them arbitrarily to anywhere from one week to two months. Or he could opt for a more elegant method: to first throw the independentistas in jail after setting a bail he new we would not post, and then much later at trial he could let us "go" for time served. And the latter is exactly what happened with the dozens of PIP members accused of exactly the same misdemeanor.
But the actions of the Navy's executioner produced unforeseen results. Judge Laffitte's ideological bias and political prejudice against independence advocates exposed the Navy's arrogance and disrespect for the Puerto Rican people. The U.S. government's discourse on human rights and self determination was made to sound hollow and hypocritical. And a social democrat like Rubén Berríos and an evangelist like the Rev. Raschke brought about a cease-fire in mudslinging between Pesquera and Calderón so that, in the course of one afternoon, this week they achieved a consensus to stop the Navy's abuse of those of us who defend the moral cause of peace in Vieques.
Undoubtedly, civil disobedience for the demilitarization of Vieques and the decolonization of our country compelled a flawed judicial temperament to execute perverse unwritten sentences against the independence movement. To have endured the past five weeks of political imprisonment, however, is a small price to pay for the awakened awareness that will forever change the way Puerto Ricans approach the world that beckons us beyond colonialism.