Jesse Jackson urges halt to Vieques bombing

The Rev. Jesse Jackson opened a two-day conference on Puerto Rico Friday with a talk that included a call for the United States to halt its military bombing exercises in the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

"We took the land, moved the people from the land and then used the land for bombing against their will," said Jackson, the founder and president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. "Vieques' bombing does not make us more secure; it makes us more resented. We do not need to bomb Vieques."

Jackson said that Vieques' environment is being destroyed, its population is suffering from a high incidence of cancer and the bombings have shattered windows in schools, leaving children traumatized. He reminded the audience of 250 people that Puerto Ricans are American citizens.

"This is suspension of democracy in the name of, 'We got to have it. We know it's not right, but we got to have it,'" he said.

President Bush has said that the Navy will leave Vieques in 2003, but protesters have demanded an immediate end to the bombing. Jackson's wife, Jacqueline, spent 10 days in jail this summer after being arrested during a protest in Vieques.

The conference is being organized by an interdisciplinary group of undergraduate and graduate students from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the departments of Spanish, Portuguese, sociology and history as well as the Princeton Theological Seminary. By calling the conference "Puerto Ricans: Second-Class Citizens in 'Our' Democracy?", the organizers hope to initiate a dialogue about what it means to be Puerto Rican in this millennium. Panels on Friday and Saturday will address issues such as migration and education, as well as the historical context for what has happened in Vieques. For a complete schedule of events, visit the Web site of the Program in Latin American Studies , which is sponsoring the conference.

Jackson also spoke about the ongoing struggle for civil rights in this country, and he hailed young people for their contributions to the cause. "It is your energy and ideas that will carry us above the limits of politics .... When you come alive, the whole world changes."

And he implored the United States to help people all over the world get access to the prosperity this country enjoys.

"We are a great and blessed nation, but to be the great nation we are called to be, we cannot pursue policies in isolation," he said. "We cannot be an island of prosperity in an ocean of poverty and pain. We must talk the talk and walk the walk of our principles."

The lecture was moved from McCosh 50 to Dodds Auditorium after a bomb threat was received. McCosh was searched, and no bomb was found.

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601