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Pesquera Asks Protesters To Leave Vieques Firing Range

The Associated Press
(Copyright 2000)
April 4th, 2000

SAN JUAN (AP) — New Progressive Party President and gubernatorial candidate Carlos Pesquera said people who are engaged in acts of civil disobedience in Vieques should leave the firing range so that President Clinton’s directives can be implemented.

"The time has come for those engaged in civil disobedience to leave peacefully so that accord [between the White House and the Puerto Rico government] can be implemented," Pesquera said in published reports.

The accord on Vieques determined that the U.S. Navy would leave Vieques in three years, military practices would be renewed in limited form with inert ordnance and a referendum would be held to determine the future of the Navy in the island municipality.

Pesquera said the accord has already yielded results. He said the U.S. Congress approved legislation related to the directives issued in January.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved last week the $40 million that are part of the agreement to foster economic development in Vieques. The legislation now moves on to the Senate where Majority Leader Trent Lott has said it will be amended.

U.S. Warships To Begin Training Off Puerto Rican Coast

CHARLESTON GAZETTE - The Associated Press
(Copyright 2000)
April 3rd, 2000

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Warships will begin training Tuesday in waters off Puerto Rico but will steer clear of a controversial training ground on the island of Vieques , the U.S. Navy said Sunday. A total of 18 ships from the United States, Colombia, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands will participate in the maneuvers, Navy spokesman Jeff Gordon said. The exercises will take place on the high seas south of Puerto Rico , though some anti-mine training could be done as close as 12 miles from shore, he said.

"Vieques won't be involved at all,'' Gordon said. "This will all be way off the coast.''

Navy exercises have been a controversial issue in the U.S. territory since a bombing accident in the Vieques training ground killed a civilian security guard on April 19, 1999. Protesters have occupied the bombing range since then to thwart further exercises.

In March, the Navy was forced to move training to the Gulf of Mexico and Florida's Eglin Air Force Base because of the protests.

President Clinton has promised to order the Navy out of Vieques by 2003 if the island's 9,400 residents vote for the expulsion in a referendum, likely to be held in 2001.

This week's training is part of an annual multinational exercise that began March 20 off the coast of Colombia, Gordon said. The exercise will end off Puerto Rico on April 10.

Between August and November, warships will sail around South America to participate in a second round of Unitas exercises with Latin American navies, Gordon said.

No Health Threat In Vieques Soil: Navy Study

(Copyright (c) 2000, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)
April 1, 2000

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP)--The U.S. Navy announced that a study it commissioned found no evidence of soil or groundwater contamination that would harm people near its bombing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

Activists have blamed the Navy for Vieques' cancer rate of 208 per 100,000 residents, almost double that of the main island of Puerto Rico.

The study conducted by private environmental consultants CH2MHill and Baker Environmental found no explosive-related compounds in various soil samples, the Navy said in a statement Friday. The Navy said it passed the study on to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the Centers for Disease Control, for a follow-up.

The Navy has stopped its bombing since an errant bomb killed a civilian guard nearly a year ago, and protesters have camped out on the range to prevent further exercises. Exercises planned to start in Vieques in March were moved to Florida.

However, U.S. President Bill Clinton reached a deal with Puerto Rico's Gov. Pedro Rossello in January that would allow the Navy to continue training using inert bombs until Vieques residents vote in a referendum , likely to be held in 2001, on whether the Navy will stay or leave by 2003.

An Abused Relationship

Copyright (c) 2000 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. Copyright Marine Corps Association Mar 2000
March 1, 2000

As a Puerto Rican , and Marine of nearly 20 years, I cannot help but feel somewhat let down by the implication in previously published responses that we, the Puerto Rican people, may not "rate the freedom associated with statehood."

The response shows a level of frustration at our inability to resolve the present dilemma with Vieques . . . . The predominant perception throughout Puerto Rico is that the Navy and Marine Corps have abused their relationship with the people of Vieques by failing to meet the minimum requirements outlined in the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Navy and the government of Puerto Rico in 1983. Vieques is home to approximately 9,000 residents. Of these, over 6,000 are 16 years of age or older. With that in mind, the U.S. Government employs only about 120 regular employees. There are no diverse major industries on the island.

Approximately 75 percent of the total land area is primarily dedicated to military training. The infrastructure is not well developed. Vieques is not New River or Jacksonville, NC, and there is not an active duty Marine division permanently stationed there contributing to the local economy. . . . Although perhaps not intended as such, the response to the Vieques Hot Button may be read as a strike against the loyalty of the U.S. citizens that were born and raised on the island. I would suggest that the answer to the dilemma may be not to issue demagogic statements against the fidelity of the U.S. citizens native to the island, but rather to seek a way to reengage in dialog with the people of Vieques . Perhaps we should reengage at the grassroots level. We in the Corps can lead the way and set the example

We need the training area.

Gunnery Sergeant

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