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Puerto Rico Attorney General Threatens To Sue Navy
by Paul Tolme
August 6, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Puerto Rico's attorney general threatened
on Friday to sue the Navy if it continues to use the island of
Vieques for bombing practice and war games. He said the Navy is
endangering the people and the environment of the tiny outlying
The Navy is violating clean water, clean air, endangered species
and hazardous waste laws by destroying coral reefs, threatening
sea turtle habitat and failing to dispose of bombs that land off
the range, Jose Fuentes Agostini said.
A lawsuit could be avoided if a federal panel reviewing Puerto
Rico's complaints persuades President Clinton to close the bombing
range and turn it over to Puerto Rico, he said.
"The Navy must recognize that Vieques belongs to the U.S.
citizens of Puerto Rico, not the Navy," Agostini told the
Special Panel on Military Operations on Vieques.
The Navy insists its bombing range on the 51-square-mile island
six miles off Puerto Rico is the only site where its Atlantic
Fleet air, land and sea forces can train simultaneously with live
A Navy spokesman said the Navy has complied with various environmental
permits and that many areas of the island are better off because
of the Navy's presence.
"We have made our case very clear that we have been very
good stewards of the environment on Vieques ," said Navy
spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Herman Phillips.
In addition, protesters on the bombing range have made it impossible
for the Navy to gather some unexploded munitions, he said.
Hoping to stop the bombing, protesters have set up camps in
the live-fire area. Opposition to the bombing range, in use since
World War II, has galvanized since a civilian security guard -
David Sanes Rodriguez - was killed in a Navy bombing accident
on April 19.
Agostini showed film clips of the island and said that it has
some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean but that tourism
is virtually nonexistent because of the Navy. The film showed
Navy gunships blasting the island, which is littered with craters.
Vieques contains three of the seven remaining bioluminescent
bays in the world, and the island is "ringed with stunning
and valuable coral reefs," Agostini said. In addition there
are at least 10 species of federally threatened and endangered
animals and plants, including leatherback sea turtles.
In May, the Navy admitted it mistakenly fired 267 rounds tipped
with depleted uranium on the island in February in violation of
federal law. It also admits to having used napalm on the island
The panel is to complete its work in August.