Woman Vieques Protesters Endure Body Searches

WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)-Women protesting the U.S. Navy's firing range on Vieques, Puerto Rico, testified last week that arrested women demonstrators were subjected to humiliating body searches, groping and ethnic slurs by Navy guards.

Elderly Velda Gonzalez, vice president of Puerto Rico's senate, told a hearing of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Tuesday that she was subjected to a “humiliating body search from head to toe, under my blouse, raising my arms and spreading my legs wide open and violently squeezing my private parts, including my breasts.”

Most of the major media did not cover the hearing, wrote Juan Gonzalez, columnist for the New York Daily News. The writer is not related to the senator. He added that the Pentagon has not investigated the charges.

Sen. Gonzalez, arrested with others on April 28, is in her 60s, recovering from breast cancer, and walks with a cane. She was joined by Puerto Rican senators Norma Burgos, the islands former secretary of state, and Yasmin Mejias Lugo.

Gonzales testified that she was searched in the presence of 20 men and that the searches were videotaped.

“It must have been fun to watch how a senior woman like me was being humiliated and morally raped,” she said.

Other women testified they were subjected to several invasive body searches and forced to relieve themselves, while handcuffed, in portable toilets with open doors so that they could be watched. Burgos, a conservative Republican, said some sailors used ethnic slurs and refused to give them medications and water. “Don't pay any attention to them, they're just like Mexicans,” she quoted one guard as saying.

A Navy spokesman in Puerto Rico, Frank Worley Lopez, denied that the Navy permits body cavity searches or that it violated anyone's civil rights, columnist Gonzalez said. Lopez said all detainees were searched for weapons, razors and other dangerous objects.

About 180 people were arrested in late April and early May for occupying the firing range on Vieques.