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Navy Wraps Up Exercises
Navy Presence Divides Vieques
Calderon: Bombing Is Betrayal
Navy Resumes Bombing
DOD To Examine Alternative Approaches To Vieques
Calderon Disagrees With Judicial Decision
Navy Wraps Up Exercises As Government Sharpens Battle Skills
May 1, 2001
VIEQUES (AP) - The U.S. Navy wrapped up its latest round of military exercises Tuesday, while protesters and the Puerto Rican government sharpened their focus in the battle to oust the military from its prized bombing range on Vieques.
Delayed by bad weather, Navy destroyers and fighter jets blasted the range with inert ammunition for a fourth day, their last day of training before they head for the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf, said spokesman Lt. Jeff Gordon.
He wouldn't say whether the Navy plans another round of maneuvers on the disputed island in the future.
"The problem with this round of exercises has been that the current administration has actively tried to prevent the maneuvers," Gordon said. "We've also spent a lot of time looking for protesters on the range."
The Puerto Rican government has tried to block the Navy exercises by filing a lawsuit in federal court, saying the military maneuvers violate new noise ordinances. The government, which is still awaiting a decision on the lawsuit, says it will continue to look at its legal options.
"The end of this week's bombing by no means ends the situation," Gov. Sila Calderon said Tuesday. "Until the Navy agrees to permanently halt all military exercises, I will continue to fight tirelessly for the human rights, health and welfare of the people of Vieques."
Another group of 12 protesters was arrested Tuesday afternoon for trespassing on the Navy's restricted area in Vieques.
New York leaders were among those arrested, including Rev. Al Sharpton, assembly member Jose Rivera, town councilor Adolfo Carrion, and New York Democratic Party President Roberto Ramirez.
More than 180 protesters have been arrested since Thursday. Many were charged Monday with trespassing and ordered to pay bail ranging from $3,000 for first-time offenders on Vieques to $10,000 for those convicted in previous protests.
Among them were environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Mexican-American actor Edward James Olmos, New York labor leader Dennis Rivera, and New Progressive Party Sen. Norma Burgos.
On Monday, the Navy relinquished its 8,100 acres in the west, as part of an agreement reached last year with the White House to quell rising tensions. It gave 4,248 acres to the Vieques municipality, 3,100 acres to the U.S. Department of the Interior, and 800 to the private Puerto Rico Conservation Trust.
But protesters - who have put themselves in the line of fire of the inert bombs to delay exercises daily since they began Friday - continued demonstrating, calling for the Navy to leave for good.
Navy Bombing Of Vieques Continues
April 30, 2001
VIEQUES -- A U.S. Navy cruiser and fighter jet blasted a firing range Monday in military exercises that were delayed for hours as officials scoured the area for protesters putting themselves in the line of fire.
Lt. Jeff Gordon, a Navy spokesman, said no protesters were found on the range on Puerto Rico's Vieques island and that, once the all-clear was given, maneuvers began at 1 p.m., four hours after their planned start.
A protest leader, however, said some activists might still be on the range. Between 40 and 60 protesters infiltrated the fenced-off training ground earlier Monday, Robert Rabin said.
The delay was caused in part because of reports that some protesters had buried themselves in the 900-acre firing range, which is littered with unexploded bombs and shells from six decades of live-fire exercises despite periodic cleanups. ``This is incredibly dangerous,'' said Roberto Nelson, another Navy spokesman.
But Gordon said no buried protesters were found, and Rabin said there were no reports that any of the protesters that entered the range Monday had buried themselves.
A total of 136 protesters have been arrested for trespassing on the range in an effort to halt the shelling, which began Friday.
Environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and other protesters arrested since Thursday night were held in a federal prison in San Juan, waiting to face charges of trespassing on federal property.
Outside the prison, people carried posters and flags that read ``Stop the bombing now.'' Some posters had pictures of those arrested and declared, ``We're proud of the protesters.''
At the University of Puerto Rico's main campus, 35 students blocked the entrance to an Army Reserve recruitment office, and some of the protesters beat up two U.S. Army officials trying to enter. The soldiers suffered minor injuries, police said.
Navy supporters on Vieques, meanwhile, said the protests were being fueled by people from the main island.
``The ones who come to make trouble are the ones from outside,'' said Hilda Christian, a 60-year-old hotel receptionist.
She said the Navy helps the economy of Vieques, where unemployment is particularly high, and she said she worries that if the Navy stops using Vieques, U.S. aid will dwindle. Christian also said she thinks the Navy contributes to the security of Puerto Rico.
Navy's Presence Divides Vieques Some Back Military Despite Bombings
Richard Chacon, Globe Staff
April 30, 2001
VIEQUES - As a young girl growing up on this tiny, laid-back island, Matilde Rosa remembers a time when Navy bands marched proudly in local parades and carnivals.
She remembers seeing her first Santa Claus arrive aboard a Navy helicopter to the cheers of dozens of local children. And she recallsthe days when the Navy's PX and officers' club were open to local residents.
But those days are long gone.
Rosa, a 46-year-old mathematics teacher and the leader of a small group of pro-Navy activists, now finds herself belonging to an overpowered and muted minority of residents who support the Navy's presence on Vieques , while many of her fellow Puerto Ricans have taken up a passionate crusade to push the Navy out for good.
"I don't understand all this anger, except to think that it has come from people who aren't really from here," Rosa said yesterday sitting in the living room of her two-story home, a few miles from where hundreds of anti-Navy protesters continued to picket against a controversial bombing exercise. "The Navy isn't a perfect neighbor, but it's been good to many families here, including some of those who now call themselves protesters."
They may lack the backing of Hollywood celebrities, high-ranking politicians, and media-savvy environmental groups which have portrayed the Navy as a monolithic enemy as dark and evil as Darth Vader, but there are some people on Vieques who want the sailors to stay.
After the Navy suspended exercises yesterday to honor the beatification in Rome of a Puerto Rican man, a fleet of Navy ships and fighter jets is expected to resume bombing exercises today. The maneuvers involve dropping dozens of 500-pound dummy bombs and firing 5-inch shells on a Navy-owned target range at the eastern tip of the island.
The protesters, who insist that the bombs harm residents' health, are expected to step up their demonstrations and civil disobedience acts against the Navy in an attempt to disrupt the exercises. Authorities have arrested 136 protesters who have breached the Navy's 9,000-acre restricted area.
The island is about 21 miles long and 5 miles wide at its widest point. Although the Navy owns about 70 percent of the land, the bombing range occupies about 3 percent of the land.
Among those who have been detained and are expected to appear today before a federal magistrate in San Juan are environmental lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr., US Representative Luis V. Gutierrez, Democrat of Illinois, and actor Edward James Olmos.
Lawyers for some detainees complained yesterday that their clients were being crammed into small, overcrowded cells. In one incident, witnesses reported a scuffle between Gutierrez and military police after the congressman was arrested Saturday. A Navy spokesman confirmed the altercation, saying Gutierrez had been uncooperative.
But beyond the spectacle of protesters chanting anti-Navy slogans and security agents in riot gear firing pepper spray, it is clear that the debate over the Navy's presence has deeply divided friends, families, and neighbors on this island of 9,300 residents.
"My heart breaks to see how Vieques has changed because of this fighting," said Camilo Mares, a 55-year-old Vieques native who considers himself neutral in the debate. "Sure, we had our disagreements, but we always resolved them. Now, I'm afraid that this is changing everything about us."
Luis Sanchez, a 33-year-old security guard at the Navy's Camp Garcia and president of another pro-Navy organization, said he no longer talks about the issue with his relatives because it has become too divisive. "Family unity is very important for us," he said. "Although we don't all agree on this issue, we've learned not to let it come between us."
Antibombing demonstrators dismiss Navy supporters as puppets for an entity they say has caused irreparable harm to the island during the 60 years of bombing exercises. Navy opponents, who include the local mayor and Puerto Rico 's governor, Sila Maria Calderon, argue that noise and chemicals from the blasts have contributed to higher levels of cancer and other illnesses.
Sanchez and other pro-Navy residents, however, say that the protesters are mostly outsiders or recent arrivals looking to foment controversy.
They also attribute any existing health or environmental problems more to negligent politicians who run this US commonwealth than to the sailors who train here.
"The Puerto Rican government receives millions of dollars in federal aid, but Vieques gets very little for infrastructure, tourism, or health programs," Sanchez said.
Anti-Navy activists point to last year's elections - in which 60 percent of Vieques voters elected a mayor and governor who oppose the bombings - as proof that most people here want the Navy to leave. But the bigger test probably will come in November, when a referendum on the matter will be held for island residents.
"I think then it will become clear that a solid majority of Vieques residents are against the Navy's presence," said Wilfredo Estrada Adorno, a pentecostal minister who opposes the bombing maneuvers. "I respect people who openly support the Navy, even if I disagree with them. But it's time to admit that the Navy has become a bad neighbor."
Navy Bombing Is Betrayal, Puerto Rico's Governor Says
By ANDREW JACOBS
April 29, 2001
SAN JUAN, P.R. As Sila M. Calderón hopscotched across this island during her successful campaign for governor last year, she promised that, if elected, she would end the Navy's bombing runs on the island of Vieques that have so inflamed the nationalistic passion of Puerto Ricans. It is a promise that helped make her the first woman to become governor of this commonwealth, but one she has not been able to keep.
In the last two days, as hundreds of protesters gathered in Vieques, where the Navy is holding military maneuvers, Governor Calderón remained at La Fortaleza, the Governor's Mansion here in the capital, largely out of sight, keeping a frenzied press at bay.
But today, in her first interview since the Navy resumed exercises on Friday, the governor said she felt as angry and betrayed as fellow Puerto Ricans.
"I'm so sorry it has come to this," she said, sitting in her office in this 16th century palace. "It has been a very difficult time for us."
While Governor Calderón refrained from attacking the Bush administration for its unwillingness to stop the military maneuvers, she did not hide her disappointment, saying that she had believed the Navy would abide by an accord reached in January. That agreement, between the governor and Richard Danzig, the secretary of the Navy at the time, called for a halt to shelling until preliminary findings of a health study of Vieques could be reviewed by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
The study, by a panel of Puerto Rican researchers, showed a high incidence of cardiac problems among Viequenses.
In February, in a meeting with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Governor Calderón said she was told that the accord was still valid under the Bush administration. The discussions were going so well, she said, that she decided to withhold legal action seeking an immediate closing of the bombing range though she had promised to pursue such a course during her campaign.
But in announcing its decision two weeks ago to resume training on Vieques, the Pentagon dismissed the health study and said the more pressing issue was military readiness. Opened about 60 years ago, the firing range is the only site in the Atlantic where simultaneous bombardment from sea, air and land is possible. To Navy officials, the 900- acre bombing area is irreplaceable.
Under a deal reached by her predecessor, Gov. Pedro Rosselló, the Navy was allowed to continue training with inert ammunition for three years. In exchange, Vieques residents are to decide in a referendum in November whether they want the Navy to leave by May 2003 or stay indefinitely.
But after visiting Vieques and learning about health problems among its 9,400 residents, Ms. Calderón decided that to wait three years was too much. Today, she recalled meeting with about 300 residents at a community center. When those in the room were asked how many relatives had cancer, Governor Calderón said, nearly everyone raised a hand.
"You don't have to be a genius to see that something is happening there," she said. "People are dying."
The study showing a high incidence of a cardiovascular ailment in Vieques and a possible link to the noise of explosions fortified her decision to disregard Mr. Rosselló's deal with the United States.
"These are very poor people and someone has to speak for them," she said. "It is my obligation to speak for them."
Governor Calderón said she hoped that a federal judge in Washington would decide to halt the Navy maneuvers. Hearings on the case begin next month. The judge, Gladys Kessler, denied the Puerto Rican government's request for a temporary restraining order last Thursday but she voiced support for the underlying health concerns.
Despite her vocal stance against the Navy, Ms. Calderón criticized protesters who tore up the fence at Camp García in Vieques on Friday. "All eyes of the world are on Puerto Rico," she said. "We should show them we are peaceful people."
Mindful of the growing public outrage here and its possible impact on Washington Governor Calderón made it clear that her opposition to the Navy's presence in Vieques should not be construed as anti-military or anti-American. "This is not an ideological issue, nor is it a political issue," she said. "This is about human rights."
Navy Resumes Bombing On Vieques
April 27, 2001
VIEQUES, Puerto Rico (AP) -- The U.S. Navy resumed military exercises at its prized range on Vieques island Friday, dropping inert 500-pound bombs in defiance of protesters who reported cutting through fences and breaching the zone by boat.
Through the night, federal marshals and Navy guards scoured the firing range on the outlying Puerto Rican island, but arrested only five people. Other activists may be in the restricted area, but the firing range itself is free of protesters, Navy spokesman Lt. Corey Barker said before the exercises began.
Those arrested will be prosecuted for trespassing on federal land, the Navy said.
Scores of other demonstrators who say the bombing harms islanders' health bowed their heads in prayer during vigils that lasted into the early morning, seeking divine intervention to prevent exercises.
Just after 9 a.m., five Navy A-4 fighter jets dropped nine 500-pound dummy bombs on the range on the eastern tip of the island, Barker said. That would be followed shortly by ships offshore firing inert five-inch shells onto land, he said.
A day earlier, a federal judge turned down a last-minute complaint by the Puerto Rican government aimed at blocking the naval maneuvers.
``This is a sad day for Vieques,'' Roman Catholic priest Nelson Lopez said as he led a prayer in the town of Isabel Segunda.
Lopez said he was hopeful: ``If the Berlin Wall fell, so can the U.S. Navy.''
Navy guards sprayed pepper spray during the night at a group of protesters that tried to cut through fences.
``My dog will bite you!'' one Navy guard yelled.
Overnight, some violent protesters hurled stones at a Navy vehicle, shattering the windshield, and others set ablaze a field of grass in the military zone, the Navy said.
Navy officials -- who insist training on Vieques does not harm the island's 9,400 people and is vital for the national defense -- was bolstered by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler's ruling Thursday.
But reservations expressed by the judge in Washington also buoyed protesters. Kessler said she found disturbing aspects, including ``an implied promise'' from Navy officials to postpone the drills until the Department of Health and Human Services completed a review of studies linking the noise to islanders' heart problems.
The complaint, against the Navy and its top officials, contended the bombing could harm islanders' health and would violate a new local law against noise pollution.
Before the exercises resumed, Puerto Rico's Gov. Sila Calderon said attorneys would press on, adding ``I have no doubt that we will prevail.''
In San Juan, the capital, more than 6,000 people waving blue-and-white Vieques flags held a peace rally on Thursday. Then about 400 traveled by car in a caravan to the eastern port of Fajardo and boarded a ferry to Vieques, where they arrived to chants of ``Navy Out!'' after midnight.
Cars and trucks sporting slogans such as ``Peace'' circulated on the island with flags flapping out windows.
Among protesters reported on the training ground were prominent opposition Sen. Norma Burgos and Myrta Sanes, sister of security guard David Sanes, whose April 1999 death by bombs fired off-target on the range provoked an explosion of public anger and anti-U.S. sentiment.
Protesters invaded the range after the security guard's death, preventing exercises until they were forcibly removed by U.S. marshals in May 2000.
Under an agreement with the White House, scaled-back exercises resumed using only inert ammunition.
But opposition swelled again after Calderon won elections in November, repudiated the agreement and demanded an immediate end to the bombing.
About 15,000 sailors and Marines were to participate in the exercises, which involve the Norfolk, Va.,-based aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and about a dozen cruisers and destroyers.
DOD To Examine Alternative Approaches To Vieques
April 27, 2001
As notified to the government of Puerto Rico , the Navy is proceeding with a short training exercise at the naval training range on Vieques by its forces en route to the Arabian Gulf. While there, our forces, along with those of our allies, will be conducting surface patrols and flying combat missions for the protection of vital American interests in that region.
The Department of Defense is committed to seeing that our men and women in uniform are properly trained to meet their missions. At the same time, the Department of Defense shares the concerns of all U.S. citizens including the citizens of Puerto Rico and the people of Vieques about the potential effects of training on the health and safety of our citizens and the environment. The Department of Defense will ensure that all military training conducted by its components is in full compliance with established federal law and regulation, and is protective of the environment and the health of local populations. In accordance with previous agreements, the Navy will not be using live ordnance for training; it will continue to support the health studies underway; and it is prepared to work with Governor Calderon and the government of Puerto Rico to ensure that the Clinton-Rossello agreement benefits the residents of Vieques , those who fish in the nearby waters, and the island's envir! ! ! onment.
Further, the Navy will continue to examine alternative approaches to training that would permit it to reduce the need for Vieques to the absolute minimum necessary beyond May 2003.
As before, we look forward to the continued cooperation of the people and government of Puerto Rico in providing adequate security for the Navy to conduct the training that is so critical for the safety and proficiency of our armed forces. For the time being, the effectiveness of our deployed naval forces and the safety of our men and women in uniform depend on the continued limited use of the Vieques naval training range.
Calderon Disagrees With Judicial Decision Over Vieques
April 26, 2001
SAN JUAN (AP) - Gov. Sila Calderon said Thursday in an afternoon press conference that she disagrees with the federal judge's decision that allowed the U.S. Navy to renew their scheduled military practices Friday on Vieques.
"I disagree with the decision, but I respect it because I am a person of law and order," said Calderon, adding that Washington D.C.'s U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler's decision also helps advance the Puerto Rico government's case.
According to Calderon, the fact that Kessler assumed the case's jurisdiction is an achievement for the Viequenses cause.
"The judge also declared that an implicit agreement existed to discontinue the military practices until the health studies were concluded and expressed that there is no doubt that the sounds from the military practices violate the Noise Prohibition Law that I signed and the federal Law of 1972," she added in a press conference.
The governor said her government will continue with the judicial case in Washington because "I have no doubt that we will prevail."
On Tuesday, PR government filed a complaint in Washington D.C. against the Navy and its top officials to halt this week's exercises, contending the bombing could harm islanders' health and would violate a new local noise pollution law.
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler dismissed the complaint Thursday. But said she found disturbing aspects, including "an implied promise" from Navy officials to postpone the drills until the Department of Health and Human Services completed a review of studies linking the noise to the viequenses' heart problems.