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Should the Navy Hold Off Vieques Rock Throwers with Tear Gas?

April 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 
They Said, She Said, He Said! - Shed a Tear for the Protestors!

In an April 6th incident, a group of about fifty protestors of the current U.S. Navy training on the Island of Vieques were dispersed with CS gas (tear gas) after what the Navy termed "threatening action" against its security personnel. "They threw rocks and debris at our vehicles," Navy spokesman Lt. Corey Barker told the Herald. A Reuters dispatch from the scene reported that "demonstrators were observed taunting the sailors before the gas was used." Puerto Rican Police Col. Cesar Garcia disputed the Navy accounts. They are provoking the situation," he said, referring to the Navy’s gassing of protestors. On the other hand, observers on the scene saw the police doing little to control the aggressive behavior of some protestors. No arrests of rock throwers have yet been made.

Puerto Rico’s Governor, Sila Calderon, repudiated the launching of CS gas canisters to disperse the crowd, calling it "unacceptable" and saying that she had communicated her indignation to the U.S. Navy through Rear Admiral Kevin Green, the commander of Navy operations in Puerto Rico. She also promised to register her displeasure to the highest levels of the U.S. Government. A spokesman for his office indicated that it was Adm. Green and not the Governor that had initiated the call and that in it he suggested that she instruct the police under her authority to maintain better control over demonstrators in the future. The Navy discounted any "high-level intervention" from Washington or anywhere else. In a statement reported by the Associated Press, Gov. Calderon characterized the conversation with Green differently. "I told the Admiral that it is impossible for the U.S. Navy to always be right and for the Government of Puerto Rico to always be wrong."

In a press statement subsequent to the incident, U.S. Navy characterized the conduct of the demonstrators as "’assaults’ against naval personnel." In a further clarification to the Herald, Lt. Barker stated that the rock throwing is an on-going problem, not isolated to the April 6th incident. "They (the protestors) throw stones, shards of glass, spark plugs and various other sharp items at Navy personnel on the base. Sometimes they use high-powered sling-shots to gain more distance and force." He said that, so far, 13 sailors have been struck by the projectiles, with two requiring medical attention. So concerned is the Navy for the safety of sailors at or near the perimeter fence that there is a standing order for the use of body armor and Kevlar (riot) helmets.

The Navy and U.S. Marshals Service acknowledge the use of CS gas and pepper spray as a method to deter violent demonstrators and will not preclude its use in the future on Vieques. The Navy acknowledges, however, that they are seeking ways to ameliorate the conflict. Adm. Green’s office states that he has spoken with Police Superintendent Miguel Pereira and with Gov. Calderon in an effort to find "a cooperative approach to reduce the violence and protect the safety of all involved."

This Week's Question:
Should the Navy Hold Off Vieques Rock Throwers with Tear Gas?



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