[fla-left] [news] Protesters lock main gate at Navy bombing area on Vieques (fwd)

Michael Hoover hoov at SPAMfreenet.tlh.fl.us
Wed Dec 8 10:23:42 MST 1999

forwarded by Michael Hoover

> Protesters lock main gate into
> restricted Navy bombing area on
> Vieques
> [Beneath this article: "Puerto Ricans hope to boost independence
> cause"]
> Ivan Roman
> San Juan Bureau
> Published in The Orlando Sentinel on Dec 7, 1999.
> SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Angry protesters on Vieques locked the
> main gate to the restricted U.S. Navy grounds and hundreds blocked the
> gate Monday night to prevent military personnel from going in or out.
> The protesters set up a campsite in front of the gate and placed a chain
> and lock on it Friday evening, hours after President Clinton's decision
> allowing the military to resume exercises on the island for another five
> years. But it wasn't until Monday afternoon that U.S. marshals
> approached the protesters and asked them to take off the chain.
> The protesters refused.
> "If you break that chain, you're going to do something that can provoke
> a confrontation with the people here," Robert Rabin, a spokesman for
> the Peace and Justice for Vieques Coalition, warned one marshal.
> Protesters are trying to prevent military personnel and supplies from
> entering or leaving Camp Garcia and will let through only people from
> Vieques who work as security guards in the camp. This most recent
> campsite was set up to complement 10 others already on beaches and
> hills on the restricted Navy grounds in which activists, civic leaders and
> politicians are camped out, using themselves as shields to prevent
> bombing exercises from resuming.
> After the initial conversation with the marshals about 3:30 p.m., word
> spread quickly. By 6 p.m. almost 300 people were sitting in front of the
> gate, with cars parked to block the entrance even more. Marshals were
> seen consulting with Navy officials, who insist the gates be opened.
> Hoping to avoid a confrontation, Justice Secretary Jose Fuentes
> Agostini, Police Superintendent Pedro Toledo and top police brass flew
> to Vieques to meet with protesters, but to no avail.
> Several attempts to get reaction from the Navy were unsuccessful
> Monday night.
> The Puerto Rican government and political, religious and civic leaders
> have been trying to get the Navy to stop bombing exercises permanently,
> clean up and get out of the island/municipality since a wayward bomb
> killed security guard David Sanes Rodriguez on April 19.
> After months of hearings, Clinton announced Friday that he would
> accept a Pentagon recommendation to end bombing on Vieques in five
> years, but allow a reduced amount of bombing with inert bombs in the
> interim.
> Posted Dec 6 1999 8:20PM
> **************************************************************
> Puerto Ricans hope to boost independence
> cause
> December 6, 1999 8:51 PM EST
> VIEQUES, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Camping out amid half-buried bombs and the
> ruins of army tanks, one determined band of Puerto Ricans is aiming for more
> than the expulsion of the U.S. Navy from Vieques island. Their goal is to
> revive
> the cause of Puerto Rican independence.
> "This whole standoff with the Navy is part of something larger, we hope,'' said
> Independence Party chief Ruben Berrios, who has gathered protesters in a
> camp inside the Navy's Vieques bombing range, thwarting U.S. military
> exercises.
> The protests began in April when stray bombs killed civilian security guard
> David Sanes on the range, which the Navy has used for combat training since
> the 1940s.
> Sanes' death ignited a smoldering resentment of the Navy, long perceived as
> an arrogant neighbor by Vieques' 9,300 residents as well as many Puerto
>  Ricans on the main island.
> By leading a protest against the Navy, Berrios and other independence leaders
> hope to parlay that resentment into support for their cause -- though many
> fishermen, labor leaders and protesters don't support independence.
> "We are trying to take advantage of the time and the circumstances,'' said the
> white-bearded Berrios in an interview at the beachfront camp he runs with a
> military discipline. ``The fact that we have held the most powerful Navy in the
> world at bay for seven months has broken the feeling of impotence among
> Puerto Ricans.''
> Berrios, who is also a senator in the territory's legislature, argues that
> that sense
> of powerlessness is why many Puerto Ricans ignore nationalistic feelings when
> they vote on the island's political status. Only 3 percent of voters supported
> seeking independence in a December 1998 plebiscite.
>  Several miles away from Berrios' camp, protesters from another group locked
> the gates outside the Navy checkpoint that guards the bombing range. ``We
>  now control who goes in and out of that gate,'' said activist Roberto Rabin,
> adding that only civilian employees would be allowed to enter.
> The U.S. Marshals Service sent officers to the island to convince them to
> unlock the gates, said local director Herman Wirshing.
> "`We are trying to avoid a confrontation,'' Wirshing said.
> He would not say if marshals planned to remove the chains and lock. Puerto
> Rican Police Superintendent Pedro Toledo said Monday night local police
> would not remove the lock or interfere with protesters because the gate is on
> federal land under the jurisdiction of U.S. officials.
> Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory with limited local government. Its 4
> million people
> are U.S. citizens who can serve in the military, but they cannot vote for
> president and have a nonvoting delegate in Congress. While they pay no U.S.
> taxes, they receive $11 billion a year in federal aid.
> ``Independentistas'' consider this situation a colonial relic that the U.S.
> Congress will eventually remove -- forcing Puerto Ricans to choose between
> some form of independence and U.S. statehood.
> And while statehood received almost half the vote in last year's plebiscite,
> Berrios and others argue that the U.S. government would never accept a
> Spanish-speaking 51st state.
> With Vieques, independence activists have managed to forge a rare
> consensus among advocates for statehood, commonwealth and
> independence that the Navy must leave.
> A newspaper poll last month showed that a vast majority of Puerto Ricans want
> the bombing stopped permanently, and 56 percent support the demand that
> the Navy leave Vieques altogether.
> That consensus appears to have remained intact even with President Clinton's
> offer on Friday to end live bombings on Vieques, use dummy bombs, reduce
> the number of days of training and close the range in five years.
> Gov. Pedro Rossello, a U.S. statehood advocate, quickly rejected the deal.
> Rossello and other statehood supporters say the protesters are simply
> asserting their rights as U.S. citizens. However, Rosello and others don't want
> to link the protests to the debate over Puerto Rico's status.
> The ``demilitarization'' of Puerto Rico has long been a goal of independence
> activists, who say the United States held on for strategic reasons to the
> territory, which it seized from Spain in 1898.
> In the 1970s the huge Ramey Air Force base was closed. The Navy,
>  meanwhile, stopped bombing runs on the island of Culebra after protests led
> by Berrios and others. One U.S. Army base and three U.S. Navy bases remain
> in the territory.
> By Chris Hawley

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