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Rossello: Protesters Trespassing In Vieques Should Be Charged

by Proviana Colon Diaz

May 16, 2000
Copyright © 2000 PuertoRicoWOW NEWS SERVICE. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, May 16 -- Gov. Pedro Rossello on Monday said he is "absolutely" in favor of having charges filed against all protesters caught trespassing federal land in Vieques.

"If someone enters illegally a business and he is there illegally and is told to leave and he doesn’t then some actions have to be taken to get them out of there. This is the incredible thing about all of this: if no one is there [in federal land], then there are no problems. If someone doesn’t want to have any problems, then they shouldn’t be there. It’s as simple as that," Rossello said.

That includes Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) President Ruben Berrios, who also is that party’s gubernatorial candidate. Berrios was arrested last week for trespassing, because "no one is above the law," Rossello said.

Further, the governor strongly criticized U.S.District Court Judge Carmen Consuelo Vargas de Cerezo, who decided to recuse herself from the case against Berrios. In her unprecedented decision, the judge said she could not hear the case because "Vieques had been, is and will always be a silent prayer for peace before the Holy Sacrament."

"She is wrong, because it is her responsibility to make sure that law and order are obeyed," Rossello said.

As Rossello spoke to reporters during the inauguration of 48 new public buses, a group of 25 protesters were being taken to federal court were they were charged with illegal trespassing a military base. The group was detained Saturday in Vieques’ Camp Garcia. On Sunday, they were jailed at the Federal Metropolitan Detention Center and on Monday they were taken to court.

The group denounced civil and human rights violations because they were not allowed to meet with an attorney and were denied food, among other things.

Asked by the media about the group’s allegations, the governor laughed and said "we have the ability here to see things upside down."

"They have been warned. They have been given every opportunity. They have been treated with kid gloves. They have been removed from the area in a peaceful manner and they have been given every kind of space. I can bet that no other country would have handled this [the Vieques issue] with the deference with which it has been handled," said Rossello.

The governor then added that he was convinced that the "presidential agreement is the only instrument that is going to bring peace to Vieques."

After federal authorities last week removed protesters from the U.S. Navy’s firing range in Vieques, Berrios and 55 others re-entered the restricted area and now face federal trespassing charges.

On Jan. 31, President Clinton issued a series of directives mandating that $40 million be allocated for economic development in Vieques and requiring the Navy to resume military practices with non-explosive ammunition.

Shortly after the protesters were removed, the Navy restarted its military practices in Vieques with inert ordnance.

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