I am here to be tried by a judicial court of the United States for the crime of defending my country, Puerto Rico, and for defending democracy, freedom, human rights, and peace. Yet I am not the defendant in this trial.
As I did thirty years ago, today I stand before this Court"whose jurisdiction I do not recognize"because in Vieques I have followed the dictates of my conscience and affirmed values that belong to a higher level of what is ethical and moral, principles that must prevail over any legal system that violates them. As in Culebra then, today I stand charged of complying with the Laws of the Fatherland. The difference with Culebra, however, is that today I stand with the people of Puerto Rico, with its banners of faith and its respect for nature and the environment. For the first time in a century, from different perspectives, with the most diverse accents and inflections, shocked by the tragedy of Vieques, we Puerto Ricans stand united before the United States to pose a fundamental demand. Our differences as to how and when to enforce Vieques’ rights, profound though they might be, cannot and should not hide the importance and implications of that transcendental achievement. At the root of the problem with Vieques"as with the deeper problem of our political relationship with the United States"lies the refusal of the American government to respect the will of our people. The overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans demand that the Navy leave Vieques, but the Navy does not respect our will. The overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans require that we overcome the present relationship, subordinate to the laws and the discretionary sovereignty of the United States, but the U.S. Congress refuses to act.
Vieques is Puerto Rico. Vieques is the crudest and most dramatic demonstration of a state of political subordination that violates the most elementary principle of democracy: respect for the will of a people. Moreover, it negates our right as human beings to peace, life, health, and self-determination.
Vieques has had the effect of unmasking and challenging that reality before our people, the United States, and the world. Because of that, I am not the real defendant in this case. What is on trial here is the system that degrades Puerto Ricans and contradicts the principles that the United States claims to defend.
To overcome this situation of distress, we must build upon the uplifting consciousness achieved in Vieques. Interests that are most diverse must be harmonized. We must brush aside the things that divide us and work together on that which unites us.
Even though not everyone in Puerto Rico is free of fault, this is not the time to point fingers. Because honesty and fairness demand it, we must acknowledge the legitimate contributions of all who have cooperated to achieve peace in Vieques. Furthermore, to the extent that Vieques has set the standards for rationality and respect for diversity, for the courage, the generosity, and the resistance necessary to confront the deeper problem of our political inferiority, to that extent we shall overcome it. That is why Vieques is the prelude, the metaphor, for our people’s struggle for full political dignity. That is why our History now becomes before and after Vieques.
Much remains to be done; but the days of militarism in Vieques are numbered "as are those of colonialism. Very soon, the will of our people, together with civil disobedience, will bring peace to Vieques, not war. Its waters, its beaches, its open sky will exist for the artistry of its fishermen, for the laughter and playfulness of its children, for the love and labor of its men and women.
And Puerto Rico shall be decolonized. Thanks to the ordeal viequenses have been through, Puerto Rico has achieved full consciousness of its dignity and self-worth; and when such things happen, the people know what to do and there is no force in the world powerful enough to curb its will. That is why Vieques shines on Puerto Rico. That is why Vieques today is Puerto Rico tomorrow.
If hope can begin to vanquish hatred in Ireland and in South Africa, with their ancestral conflicts of race and fanaticism, in Puerto Rico, where through centuries we have bounded dreams and sorrows to forge a unique Caribbean and Latin American heritage, History will lead us"impelled by Vieques"toward the Great Recolciliation of the Fatherland. As we have been, so shall we be.
Whatever sentence this Court may choose to impose will merely further underscore the undemocratic and obsolete nature of the prevailing regime in Puerto Rico. To move from the beach in the Navy’s firing range that imprisoned me for a year, to a prison behind bars does not intimidate me; it would honor me! The harsher the penalty, the stronger our will to fight. There is no prison that can suppress my spirit nor that of my people! If, on the contrary, this Court should choose to impose merely nominal penalties, in fact opting to set me free, the moral bankruptcy and the lack of legitimacy of a system that not even its own court can continue to sustain will become evident. It would prove that it has been forced to respect the strength and the ideals that unite our people in Vieques and that, for more than a year, kept the most powerful Navy in the world at bay.
Regardless of whether I am jailed or whether I am set free, the conscience of our people will be raised even more and bring us closer to Puerto Rico’s decolonization, to democracy, to human rights and peace. I have fulfilled my duty to my Fatherland. Let this Court comply with its own.