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Calderon Condemns Violence…100’s Walk Through New Refuge… P.R. Shares Jurisdiction On Vieques Land…Celebration Turns Chaotic…Navy Transfers Property…Berrios Returns To Vieques…DNER, FWS Dissuade Entry To Vieques Danger Zones… Gov. Prioritizes Cleanup, Return Of Navy Land… Rossello Confident Of ’04 Victory

Calderon Condemns Violence

May 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SALINAS (AP) — Gov. Sila Calderon ordered Thursday the identification and processing of the people who played a role in the violent incident that occurred in Vieques on Wednesday night in which military property was vandalized.

She also condemned the disturbance that occurred just as she was addressing the hundreds of people who gathered in front of the now natural reserve during the acts of celebration of the U.S. Navy’s departure from what was their target range for more than six decades.

"I want, as a Puerto Rican, as governor of Puerto Rico, and in the name of all Puerto Ricans, to reject and condemn with all I have those people who violated the law and participated in acts of vandalism," said the governor, who led Thursday an activity to hand over housing in Salinas.

She said she instructed Police Superintendent Victor Rivera Gonzalez to identify and obtain the processing of those responsible for the disturbance.

She also emphasized that the police agreed with federal authorities Thursday to provide security on the land that the Navy occupied and to intervene or arrest those who commit crimes.

Calderon also described those responsible for the incident as "a subversive minority" that does not represent the Puerto Rican people, whom she described as "respectful and pacifist."

She also regretted what occurred.

"At the moment in which peace returned to Vieques, a group of people tarnished and committee treason against the spirit of peace, harmony, and reflection that was being commemorated," the governor said.

She also expressed satisfaction with the condemnation by Vieques Mayor Damaso Serrano, who distanced himself from the acts of violence.

Hundreds Walk Through New Vieques Refuge

By Ricardo Zuñiga of Associated Press

May 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

In a scene that would have been impossible to imagine before, hundreds of people walked through what was a military training facility, and since this morning is a natural refuge under the custody of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS).

People, including visitors from the mainland, entered the facilities in cars, motorcycles, horses, but most of them walked a pathway that goes through the 3,100 acre land which was transferred Wednesday from the Navy to the FWS.

Other people were carrying beach towels, and backpacks, and in spite of the intense heat and mosquitos, people seemed happy during the hike.

In the meantime, nearly twenty officers of the Police anti-riot unit observed the crowd walking through the main entrance.

Police officers were deployed in the area to avoid more destruction of federal property after violent incidents were registered on Wednesday night, when demonstrators broke equipment and set motor vehicles on fire.

Among the hikers were Yabureibo Silva, 14, and his friend Luis Colon, 10, who were taking a swim at the Red Beach, named Caracas Beach by the Viequenses. "It was great," exclaimed the boy who visited the beach three years ago. Red Beach was one of two beaches certified by the U.S. Navy as safe for the public. The remaining land was closed to the public, since there are contaminants and live ammunition lye in the area.

Some vehicles arrived at the Observation Post where a civilian officer died in 1999 after a bomb fell in the area accidentally. Environmental activist Alberto de Jesus (Tito Kayak) raised a Vieques flag in the structure.

In the meantime, politicians and civic leaders gave speeches from a small stage installed near the entrance of the land formerly known as Camp Garcia to a reduced audience.

Puerto Rico Shares Jurisdiction On Vieques Land

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

May 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

VIEQUES — Following the violent incidents in the early hours of Thursday, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico requested and was granted concurrent jurisdiction on the land transferred by the U.S. Navy to the U.S. Department of the Interior, meaning that local police agents now have the authority to arrest anyone they see acting in violation of the law, Police Superintendent Victor Rivera said.

"Let it be clear, anyone who enters those lands to cause damage and destroy federal property will be arrested," Rivera said.

Still, Rivera said authorities are already compiling evidence to arrest and charge those responsible for the violent incidents that occurred after midnight at the entrance of what until Wednesday was known as Camp Garcia and now is a U.S. Fish & Wildlife reserve.

Damage was estimated at over $400,000. A reservoir tank that was burned down had an estimated cost of $240,000, Rivera said. He added that the Navy left behind the two vehicles that were destroyed for the municipality.

On Thursday, following the midnight deadline for the Navy to turn over the more than 16,000 acre target range to the Department of the Interior, demonstrators tore down the fence and destroyed everything in sight.

Rivera tried three different times to control the chaos, but his earlier decision to deploy fewer agents for the event left him with few options to put an end to the riot.

As of Thursday afternoon, however, riot squad units are in Vieques and will remain in the municipality for as long as Rivera believes it necessary in case further violent incidents occur.

Rivera insists that the situation got out of control because there were no security committees set up by the event organizers. He added that the decision to allow alcoholic beverages to be sold in the area was also to blame for what occurred.

The closing of the target range used by the Navy for over 68 years was the cause of celebration for many. But the fact that the land was turned over to federal authorities and not the local government left a bitter taste among island residents.

Still the decision for some was no cause for the violent incidents that occurred.

"This is an issue of peace, therefore we disapprove and condemn the violent acts that occurred there," Vieques Mayor Damaso Serrano said.

Vieques Celebration Turns To Chaos

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

May 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

VIEQUES - What began as a peaceful celebration of the official closing of the U.S. Navy target range quickly turned violent as protesters tore, destroyed, and set fire to everything in their path.

In a matter of minutes, the mob tore down the metal fence, destroyed the concrete structure that served as U.S. Camp Garcia’s entrance, and set fire to three military vehicles.

Chaos took over the scene and neither Gov. Sila Calderon nor Police Superintendent Victor Rivera were able to control it.

Rivera’s decision to drastically cut police presence in Vieques for the closing of the target range could have played against him as less than 100 agents present at the site were not enough to handle the over 800 demonstrators.

The chief of police blamed organizers for allowing alcohol consumption at the site as some of the most violent offenders were visibly drunk.

Rivera tried three times to send in his riot squad but was forced to retrieve them.

Calderon, who arrived at the site one hour behind schedule, took the microphone to say that those who were acting with violence were not representatives of the Vieques cause.

"This has been a struggle of peace not of violence," Calderon said.

Calderon, who was invited to participate in an ecumenical service to commemorate the end of military practices in the target range, was quickly rushed away from the site after the insults by the crowd against her grew louder.

By the time Calderon spoke, 1:30 a.m., things had already gotten out of hand.

In fact, signs of possible turmoil were evident at 11 p.m. when anti-Navy leaders, lead by Ismael Guadalupe, walked toward Camp Garcia’s main gate to place a banner across it.

"This gate will only be opened by the people who struggle for it," read the banner.

Guadalupe and the leaders who have maintained the anti-Navy movement in Vieques for decades and more intensely since the accidental killing of civilian guard David Sanes argued that it was up to them to enter the site first. They noted that the gates would be open Thursday morning when more people who had been arrested for trespassing arrived on the island.

Municipal employees and organizers of the main event thought otherwise.

Navy Officially Transfers Property To The U.S. Dept Of The Interior

May 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

The U.S. Department of the Navy transferred 3,100 acres of land on the eastern end of the island municipality of Vieques to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DI) as required under federal legislation approved during 2001 and 2002.

Under the law, the DI is required to develop the land for use as a wildlife refuge, and the former target-range area, which has been identified as dangerous, will be closed to the public. The federal agency allocated $2.3 million to protect and conserve these natural resources.

According to a press release posted in the military website, the Navy will be responsible for demolishing and removing all temporary facilities and structures. It will also be responsible for the environmental cleanup of the area, and will have participation in decision-making process for the long-term. The land, formerly known as Camp Garcia, served as a training facility for over six decades.

The final extent and cost of the cleanup is linked to land use plans being developed by the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), under the DI, in compliance with the National Wildlife Refuge Act.

FWS possess seven refuges in Puerto Rico located in Cabo Rojo, Rio Grande, Culebra, and Vieques.

Berrios Returns To Vieques

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

May 1, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

VIEQUES — Puerto Rican Independence Party President Ruben Berrios, who set up camp in the U.S. Navy’s restricted zone for nearly a year and later was arrested twice for trespassing, returned to the municipality on Thursday.

"This is victory for the people of Vieques. Today is Vieques, tomorrow is Puerto Rico," Berrios said.

Berrios headed a march of several hundred from the town’s public square to what is now dubbed "Zona Libre 1 de Mayo," the area where the Navy’s Camp Garcia’s main gate used to be.

It was the first time that Berrios and many others were free to walk into what is now a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Reserve.

While addressing the crowd, Berrios said the closing of the Navy target range was a victory for the people of Puerto Rico and noted that it was now time to demand the land from Ceiba’s Roosevelt Roads.

"It is now time to use Ceiba for the benefit of Puerto Rico. The more than 10,000 acres of land is for us, Berrios said.

DNER To Ban Entrance To Contaminated Areas In Vieques

By Ricardo Zuñiga of Associated Press

April 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

VIEQUES – The Department of Natural & Environmental Resources (DNER) will strengthen surveillance in the waters surrounding the east part of Vieques in order to dissuade citizens from entering into possibly contaminated areas with live ammunition.

DNER Secretary Luis Rodriguez said starting Thursday, when the U.S. Navy will transfer 13,000 acres to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), the agency will conduct 24-hour patrolling to forbid entrance to dangerous places by sea.

According to Rodriguez, the DNER will use three vessels, speedboats, and three other motor vehicles to patrol the zone.

The Navy certified Red Beach and Blue Beach as the only two beaches in Camp Garcia where citizens can get in. The remaining land wasn’t certified as safe because of the possibility of contamination after decades of military exercises, said Oscar Diaz, director of the FWS in Vieques. "We will provide information on sensitive areas to avoid disembarkation," he added.

Despite its intention to discourage fishermen and boat owners to get in dangerous areas, Diaz recognized that the agency has minimum power to forbid people entering into the former target range.

According to Diaz, the DNER has jurisdiction over all island waters bordering the zone that will be under FWS control, but can only intervene with those violating local environmental laws, such the one that regulates actions affecting nesting of turtles in danger of extinction.

Diaz explained that DNER and FWS will place emphasis on educating Vieques people about the risks of entering dangerous areas and land decontamination as soon as possible.

"This is a reserve, and it has to be decontaminated," said Rodriguez. "The Viequenses did their job; the Navy has left; and now we have to do our part to decontaminate the land," he stated.

FWS Plays Role In Restricting Entrance To Danger Zones

By Ricardo Zuñiga of Associated Press

April 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

VIEQUES – As time gets closer to the transfer of the eastern part of Vieques to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), Oscar Diaz’s biggest concern consists of restraining the crowd’s entrance to dangerous zones as declared by the U.S. Navy.

Diaz, FWS director in this island municipality, recognizes that many people expect Thursday to enter the zones that have been forbidden for more than 60 years.

The problem, he notes, is that besides the Red and Blue beaches, federal authorities haven’t certified any zone as secure, since contaminants and live ammunition may lie in the areas.

FWS concern includes people invading the land to build houses or other structures. "I’m concerned about people wanting to enter dangerous places, where they played during childhood," said Diaz.

Anti-Navy leaders said they won’t respect new federal authorities that will manage the land, and their opposition to the land remaining under federal jurisdiction.

Organizations haven’t rejected the possibility of a new round of civil disobedience against the FWS, to protest the federal agency being the guardian of the land transferred by the Navy.

"That land is ours. We don’t recognize any right of the FWS to keep this land," said Ismael Guadalupe, spokesman of the Comite Pro Rescate y Desarrollo de Vieques.

Diaz mentioned that in mid-April, the FWS met with Vieques people to find out what their expectations were after the transfer of the land and its management. Diaz noted people’s apathy since then.

"Most of the people who participated in the meeting don’t want us here, and don’t accept our jurisdiction over the land they want for themselves," said Diaz.

He also said the FWS will have 20 people to guard the 12,623 acres under his jurisdiction from Thursday on. The federal agency also administers about 3,000 acres in the west part of the island municipality, transferred by the U.S. Navy to the agency in May 2001 as part of the transition process for the end of military maneuvers.

Diaz noted that the agency will try to dissuade Viequenses from entering into dangerous zones, but FWS won’t use force to forbid entrance. Besides, FWS might block roads and patrol zones until federal authorities certify more areas as safe.

"We want a safe reserve for wildlife, but especially for the people," he said.

The scientist recognized Vieques’ right to develop the land to achieve economic progress, but emphasized that decontamination is the first step to ensure the land won’t pose any risk to health.

"Our great gift to the people of Vieques will be giving them a better piece of land than the one we received from the Navy," stated Diaz. He also said that the reserve may be used as an attraction for tourists that will improve local economy. "There are a lot of economical benefits of having a reserve."

Diaz explained that there are 20 different species of flora and fauna, including endangered species, among them, three species of marine turtles that use Vieques beaches as nesting habitat.

Governor To Include Vieques In Priority List For Cleanup

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

April 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
WOW NEWS. All rights reserved. 

VIEQUES – The Commonwealth will use its one-time silver bullet option, available by the CERCLA federal legislation, to include Vieques in the National Priority List for environmental clean-up purposes, Gov. Sila Calderon said Wednesday.

Under the CERCLA federal legislation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency establishes what is known as a National Priority List to identify places with great contamination and risks. There are two ways of getting on that list. One is entering the Dangerous Classification System, which takes a long and enduring process prior to determining whether the site is worthy of such classification. The other is by using the one-time, silver bullet option provided to the states and Puerto Rico. Calderon chose the latter.

"The Commonwealth government has never exercised that one-time silver bullet. . .I am convinced that if any site in Puerto Rico merits such protection, it is Vieques. Its people have sacrificed for decades. They can wait no longer," Calderon said.

Neither Calderon nor La Fortaleza Chief of Staff Cesar Miranda could say how much time and money would be needed for the cleanup. However, they noted that the responsibility is still of the U.S. Navy.

With her decision to use CERCLA, Calderon answered the Viequenses’ inquiry over how the decontamination of the land would be ensured.

Calderon announced the Commonwealth’s decision to attend to the issue of the cleaning and decontamination of the over 16,000 acres of land that will be given by the Navy to the U.S. Department of the Interior during a press conference at the town hall.

In that press conference, Calderon also announced her decision to include two more residents of Vieques in her administrative transition team. She declined to reveal the names, however, explaining that she had yet to speak with the candidates.

Her announcements were issued eight hours short of the scheduled midnight deadline for the people’s celebration of the official closing of the Navy target range. They also come after weeks and repeated demands from the residents of Vieques to attend to both issues.

Calderon To Lobby For Vieques Land Transfer To Puerto Rico

April 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

MAYAGUEZ (AP) – The cessation of U.S. Navy exercises in Vieques on Thursday will begin a new stage for Gov. Sila Calderon’s administration, which will concentrate on lobbying for the cleanup of the contaminated land on the island municipality and then its return to Puerto Rican jurisdiction.

Calderon said Tuesday during a press conference that she was confident that after more than six decades of military practices in Vieques, the Navy would never again use the island municipality for this type of training.

"I don’t see any possibility at all that practices will resume in the future because that is the public policy of the U.S. government," Calderon said. "That has all finished, and they have concluded all the exercises since they have removed all the equipment that was there."

However, the governor acknowledged that a process to transfer the land to Puerto Rican jurisdiction has not yet started.

"The Puerto Rico and federal governments have still not signed a memorandum on the transfer of the land to the Commonwealth, but I understand that there won’t be problems because this is not the first time this has occurred," Calderon said.

Rossello Confident People Will Vote Him In Fortaleza Again

April 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved. 

SAN JUAN (AP) – Former Gov. Pedro Rossello said Wednesday that he was confident that he will receive the support of the voters in the 2004 elections and that he will return to La Fortaleza.

He also said that during his campaign he will discuss a series of new proposals for the administration of the island and that he will not avoid discussing government corruption.

"I am confident that the people will give me their trust again to lead the destiny of this island," the former governor said in a radio interview in San Juan.

Rossello expressed confidence in being able to discuss with Gov. Sila Calderon the issue of government corruption and assured that if she doesn’t do it, "then I will," he said.

"I am going to discuss it with or without her and prove that this has been the most corrupt government ever in Puerto Rico," Rossello said.

Regarding New Progressive Party (NPP) President Carlos Pesquera’s possible candidacy for resident commissioner, Rossello said no option can be ruled out because in the NPP, everyone has the right to run and let the people decide.

Regarding the primary with Pesquera for the NPP nomination for governor, he said the real battle will come when he faces the Popular Democratic Party candidate.

He indicated that starting July 1, he will be in Puerto Rico permanently participating in the campaign to obtain the NPP nomination for governor.

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