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
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
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
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
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
Perhaps you know, President Bush has recently stated publicly the
U.S. Navy must leave Vieques. There is a rumor the Navy is defying
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
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".
"Your Honor, only so that the record reflects that the
sentences just imposed by the court are political sentences."