This resolution was approved by the Mennonite Church USA delegate assembly in 2001. It was one of three resolutions against forms of violence. The other two were against the U.S. government’s “Plan Colombia” counter-narcotics campaign because of its destructive effects; and against the death penalty. The Vieques Resolution concerned U.S. military activity on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques was initiated by the Mennonite Church USA’s interim Council on Faith, Life and Strategy and fashioned by Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church peace and justice staff in consultation with Mennonite leaders in Puerto Rico and Christian Peacemaker Teams. The resolution was approved without dissent.
Vieques is a small tropical island (19 x 4 miles) off the east coast of Puerto Rico. During the early 1940s, the U.S. Navy began using it as training ground for the war against Hitler. The military forced more than one-third of the 13,000 people living there to leave the island so their land could be used for a bombing range. Soldiers mistreated the Viequenses, including raping women and fighting with teenagers. When the war ended, the Navy did not leave as anticipated. Since then the military has practiced on Vieques for invasions into Panama and for the Persian Gulf War. The Navy controls more than half of the island. Opposition to the Navy on Vieques has continued since WWII.
In July of 1999, two stray bombs hit an observation post and killed a civilian guard, David Sanes. Since then both residents and international supporters, including members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, have nonviolently blockaded the entrances to the base, causing the Navy to cease bombing. However, bombing resumed in May 2000 after protestors were forcibly removed from the bombing range. The current government of Puerto Rico has used many legal and diplomatic means to try to bring an end to the military exercises on Vieques.
Currently the 9,300 residents who live about ten miles from the bombing range, suffer from both economic and environmental damage after years of bombing. Residents earn a living through farming and fishing. Toxic metals from bomb residue have been found in their fruits and vegetables, and many feel these have caused increased occurrences of cancer. The Navy restricts fishing and their ships destroy lobster traps. Between 100-200 civilians hold jobs with the military, most of them at minimum wage. A local group, the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, has planned for appropriate development of the island once the Navy leaves.
Regrettably the June 14 White House announcement that the bombing range will be closed and removed from U.S. Navy control in 2003 does not incorporate an immediate end to its use by the U.S. and other NATO countries. It also does not answer present health concerns or promise to clean up the environment. Because of this, Puerto Ricans have called for continued nonviolent actions to stop the bombing exercises.
In March of 2001 Puerto Rican Mennonite Church delegates took a bold stand and declared that their silence about the U.S. Navy’s bombing of Vieques has supported the oppression of the island’s people. On May 11, 2001 they asked Mennonite Central Committee to request that congregations write their government representatives asking for a cessation of military exercises on Vieques. This resolution is presented in response to this request from our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico.
Therefore be it resolved that
We as Mennonite Church USA commit ourselves to:
- Send a letter of support and encouragement to the Mennonite Church in Puerto Rico;
- Send a letter to the U.S. government making our perspective known, and expressing our desire to stand with our Puerto Ricans brothers and sisters.
As delegates, we commit ourselves to:
- Pray for Puerto Rican Mennonites that God will show them how to minister to all the people of Vieques, work with the military personnel on the naval bases on the Puerto Rican mainland, and develop peace work with the children and youth of Puerto Rico;
- Write notes of encouragement to our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico;
- Support the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams as they witness on Vieques;
- Write as individuals and official leaders to our government representatives; and
- Acknowledge that we are part of the military complex abusing the people of Vieques because we pay taxes that support the military.
We ask our U.S. government leaders to:
- Immediately stop military exercises on Vieques;
- Clean up contaminated land so children can play safely, farmers can grow healthy crops, and fisherman can fish in unpolluted water;
- Remove the Navy from the island,
- Financially and strategically support the reconstruction work of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques.
May God grant peace and justice to the people of Vieques, and may God grant us the courage to speak and act when we are called to be God’s hands in the world.
Adopted by Mennonite Church USA Delegate Assembly July 7, 2001, meeting in Nashville, Tenn.
Preheim, Rich. “Victims at Home, Abroad, Unborn” The Mennonite 4 (17 July 2001): 8-9.