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Supporters Form Pro-Navy Caravan In Vieques

March 18, 2000
Copyright © 2000 DOW JONES & COMPANY, INC. All Rights Reserved.

VIEQUES , Puerto Rico (AP)--Hundreds of U.S. Navy supporters - including the father of the man killed on the Vieques bombing range last year - turned out for a caravan Saturday to defend the island's controversial military presence.

The Navy has been conducting exercises with live ammunition on Vieques for decades, but tensions boiled over in April when security guard David Sanes Rodriguez was killed by an off-target bomb. That accident touched off the protests that prompted the U.S. government to negotiate with the island to end the bombing.

"I want the Navy to stay because it doesn't bother me. My son died, but I always support the Navy," said 82-year-old Silverio Sanes Garcia, David Sanes' father.

"(Protesters) have put my son in the middle of this mess and used it for politics."

Puerto Rican leaders have held many protests and rallies urging the Navy to leave since the April accident. Dozens of protesters, many of them proponents of an independent Puerto Rico, have camped for months on the bombing range to thwart the Navy from resuming bombing. Tens of thousands turned out for a march in San Juan to urge an end to the bombing.

To counteract, tens of thousands held a rally in San Juan earlier this month to celebrate their U.S. citizenship, some leaders saying that they feared that the protests against the Navy were sending an anti-American message.

In January, President Bill Clinton and Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello agreed last month to allow the Navy to resume limited training on Vieques using inert bombs.

The pact calls for a referendum, likely to be held in 2001, that will allow Vieques residents two choose between allowing the Navy to resume use of the range on its own terms - including the use of live bombs - or requiring the Navy to cease all training by May 1, 2003.

On Saturday, the caravan of about a dozen cars snaked across Vieques , with participants waving Puerto Rican and U.S. flags.

"Here are the true and good Vieques residents who love the Navy," read one participant's sign.

The caravan was formed "so that Puerto Ricans and the United States know that not everyone is against the Navy," spokesman Luis Sanchez Gonzalez said.

Some of those who participated are Navy employees, said Sanchez Gonzalez, who himself has worked as a Navy security guard for 10 years.

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