Political Sentences
Published on Friday, May 18, 2001
Political Sentences
by Hans W. Perl
San Juan, Puerto Rico, midnight, Wed/Thurs - 9/10 May 2001 - This (Wednesday) morning I went to the federal court - the U.S. District Court - on Calle Chardon, in Hato Rey, by bicycle, to take some photos and to join the protest demonstration supporting Ruben Berrios and the five people arrested with him in the Vieques 'restricted zone', who were being tried today for trespassing.

For most of the five days they were in the Vieques restricted area, Berrios and his companions were in the bombing zone proper. I think Berrios and his group spent more time hiding out in the actual bombing zone than anyone, with the possible exception of Vieques Mayor D'amaso Serrano. Recall that since a 500-pound live bomb released by a U.S. Navy F-18 killed David Sanes, a civilian security guard manning Observation Post number 1, just over two years ago, the Navy has been forced to use non-explosive ordnance. Impacts of 500-pound dummy bombs and heavy naval artillery rounds are still quite violent, spreading shrapnel over large areas.

Berrios and his companions, as in other previous appearances before the federal court, had already declared at the bail hearing Tuesday, 01 April, they do not recognize the jursidiction of the U.S. court in Puerto Rico, and had been denied bail. It is reported that Magistrate Castellanos said that as the defendants do not recognize "his" jurisdiction, he does not recognize their right to bail. (Legally, logically, this is obviously baloney. One published report described Castellanos as having made the remark while having a "tantrum." Separately, it is notable that Chief Judge Laffite chose to go on vacation, for the first occasion leaving a magistrate to try Vieques demonstrators.)

To my dismay, my camera jammed after I took a single shot. (The camera is a Nikon FM-2 single-lens reflex, highly regarded as a backup for professional photographers on tough assignments.)

At the moment, huge loudspeakers mounted on the back of a truck were blasting forth a message from Sen. Fernando Mart'in, of the PIP, who was describing Berrios and his companions to be in good spirits as they were about to be remanded to the federal prison in Guaynabo. He urged the protesters to move now to the vicinity of the federal prison, to continue the long vigil there in support of the prisoners.

Three tall spindly TV-link towers were sending video and audio to their respective broadcast studios. Messages from the huge loudspeakers had just announced that Ruben Berrios and one of his companions - repeat 'offenders' - had just been sentenced inside the imposing building across the street from where some four- or five-hundred protesters stood or marched - to serve four months in prison. Berrios' other three companions had just been given two-month sentences.

As the message from the loudspeakers ended, the protesters began singing La Borinque~na (original version), holding PIP flags and clenched fists in the air. Giving up on the camera, having tried all the tricks I know, I released it, allowing it to dangle from my neck by its strap, and I moved a few steps to join the group of protesters.

Now, in the midst of the protesters, I too raised my clenched hand, as they sang. With green-and-white PIP flags fluttering in the cool breeze, in bright sunlight, and uniformed police officers, standing between us and the court building, looking on, the protesters came to the last line of the song: "La libertad, la libertad... la libertad, la libertaaad!"

When the song ended there was a palpable, erie, silence.

It is notable that for the first time in my life I am witnessing demonstrations where the local police officers, and the government as well, are overwhelmingly partial to the protesters. A group of local federal employees participate in protests. I am told at least one retired Navy admiral supports the protesters and the pro-Vieques movement. Of course, one recalls, U.S. District Judge Carmen Consuelo Vargas de Cerezo, a former chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico, recused herself on 12 May 2000, just before Ruben Berrios was to be tried on that occasion, with a strong public statement supporting the Vieques protest movement.

The sentences meted out by the U.S. District Court in previous cases involving Vieques 'trespassing' have been blatantly arbitrary, varying from individual to individual not according to what the person has done, but - apparently - according to how famous the person is, and which of various judges is seeing the case - ie, apparently according to public relations considerations and personal notions of what is appropriate.

High-ranking politicians, famous actors, a world-champion boxer, got off lightly when a hundred or more protesters were cleared en mass from the restricted zone on 04 May 2000, after spending a year there to force a halt to the bombardments. (We'll see what happens now, in the wake of the latest arrests, to U.S. Rep. Gutierrez, of Chicago, when he's tried, if he's tried. He was reportedly beaten after he was taken into custody - unusual treatment for a high ranking U.S. official, who presumably outranks those who were beating him, and who represent his own government. I understand he looks 'very Latino' - perhaps the reason he was treated badly. Norma Burgos, now a Puerto Rico senator, formerly the Puerto Rico Secretary of State, after her arrest, was subjected to a humiliating search of body cavities. Though that 'search' was conducted by a female law-enforcement official, there are said to have been male law-enforcement officials present. On past occasions, detained women were reportedly subjected to body-cavity searches by male law-enforcement personnel.)

Perhaps you know, President Bush has recently stated publicly the U.S. Navy must leave Vieques. There is a rumor the Navy is defying the president.

A group of Amnesty International human rights investigators are reportedly on their way here to investigate alleged violations of human rights by law-enforcement (military and civilian) personnel in the wake of the latest arrests.

Now there is a permanent vigil at the federal prison in Guaynabo. People are camping out there. Cars go by on the highway sounding their horns and blinking their lights in support. The number of campers may possibly grow from hundreds to thousands in coming weeks.

1430 hours AST, Friday - 18 May 2001 Yesterday and today (Friday) news is emerging that Magistrate Castellanos is calling for Manuel Rodr'iguez Orellana, a prominent PIP leader and one of the three attorneys in Ruben Berrios' defense team, to be charged with criminal contempt. Castellanos is reported to have issued a request to Chief Judge Laffite that the charge be filed. The utterance by Rodriguez Orellana while the court was in session, at the end of the trial of Ruben Berrios, taken from today's (Friday's) :

"Su Señoría, sólo para que el acta refleje que las sentencias que el tribunal acaba de imponer son sentencias políticas".

(my translation:) "Your Honor, only so that the record reflects that the sentences just imposed by the court are political sentences."