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Serrano Tries To Curb Vieques Plan

by Kenneth R. Bazinet

April 26, 2000
Copyright © 2000 DAILY NEWS. All Rights Reserved.

WASHINGTON - Rep. Jose Serrano appealed to President Clinton yesterday to call off plans for a showdown between U.S. authorities and protesters opposed to the resumption of Navy training exercises off Puerto Rico .

Dozens of demonstrators camped out on Vieques , a 21-mile-long island east of Puerto Rico , were bracing yesterday for a showdown with federal marshals and local police.

U.S. Marines were reportedly readying to set sail from Norfolk, Va., to support the law enforcement personnel.

"Removing people and bombing again would create a very bad feeling across the board in Puerto Rico because Vieques is a unifying issue," Serrano (D-Bronx) said.

Federal officials in Washington declined to say when the protesters would be rounded up.

The Navy has used the island as its Atlantic training ground since 1941 - and the protesters say that's long enough. The death of a civilian guard hit by an errant bomb last year stepped up the drive to oust the military.

"I was a sergeant in Korea for 11 months . . . fighting for democracy - now I'm ready to fight the Navy," said protester Angel Navarro, 72, who added he is willing to run a naval blockade with his small fishing boat if he has to.

Serrano sought a more diplomatic route to try to end the dispute, sending Clinton a letter yesterday urging him to "act immediately to end the presence of the Navy in Vieques ."

But administration officials said a deal struck earlier this year between Clinton and Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello remained in force, despite Serrano's plea.

That deal calls for the handover of land and $40 million in exchange for the use of the bombing range - until Puerto Ricans settle the issue outright with a referendum vote.

It also detailed that only dummy bombs would be used.

"So, to the extent that the $40 million is important to the island of Vieques , training has to begin before they can get that money," said Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon.

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