Puerto Rican Vets return Medals to protest Vieques Occupation
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Tue May 30 06:45:46 MDT 2000
Veterans Return Medals in Protest
Story Filed: Monday, May 29, 2000 2:25 PM EDT
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- About 30 U.S. veterans from the Puerto Rican
island of Vieques turned in their medals on Memorial Day to protest a U.S.
Navy bombing range.
``In protest and for peace in Vieques,'' the veterans said as they laid
their ribbons and discharge papers in a wooden box during a ceremony at the
Veterans' Memorial in San Juan.
Organizers plan to send the box to President Clinton with a letter demanding
that the Navy stop exercises on Vieques. On May 4, U.S. marshals arrested
more than 200 demonstrators who had camped out on the bombing range and
thwarted exercises for nearly a year.
Resentment over the U.S. Navy's presence on Vieques boiled over in April
1999, when a jet dropped two 500-pound bombs off-target, killing a civilian
security guard at the bombing range. Soon afterward, the Navy admitted that
it had accidentally fired ammunition tipped with depleted uranium at the
island in February 1999, a violation of federal laws.
``The moment I heard of them using depleted-uranium shells, that's when I
stopped feeling pride for having served,'' said Jose Soto, 62, a Vietnam
veteran who served for 20 years in the Navy. He turned in 10 medals on
The Navy owns two-thirds of Vieques and has used the training ground to
prepare for every major armed conflict since World War II. It says Vieques
is the only site where its Atlantic fleet can practice shelling, bombing,
amphibious landings, ship-to-ship warfare, air attacks and anti-submarine
operations at the same time.
After the bombing accident, Clinton agreed to order the Navy out if the
island's 9,400 residents vote in a referendum to expel them.
Exercises are to continue without explosives until the vote, which is
expected next year. Protesters want the Navy to withdraw immediately, saying
they fear a new president may cancel Clinton's agreement if a military
As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans can serve in the U.S. armed forces and are
subject to the military draft.
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