Message from Puerto Rico, April 27, 1999

Hello. I spoke with Concepcion and Fred tonight and gave them several stickers we just had made which say "U.S. NAVY OUT OF VIEQUES, P.R.!" Please consider putting information on this issue in your excellent website.

This is a moral issue that is fast reaching its boiling point and has to be handled now. The U.S. Navy should have gotten out of the beautiful island of Vieques, Puerto Rico a long time ago. It hasn't, and it should get out now. Tourism has been greatly affected on this incredibly beautiful island after the U.S. Navy took over 75% of its territory and used it for constant military exercises with live ammo (which recently killed a civilian and injured four others).

Puerto Ricans have contributed more per capita to US military war efforts than many other US citizens. At the same time, the US military presence in Puerto Rico is extensive. That is a larger issue that has been the subject of discussion for decades and will undoubtedly continue to be so. But the U.S. Navy's occupation, shelling and bombardment of Vieques (a lush island of about 10,000 residents which has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world) is unconscionable and must be stopped now and for good.

Please do anything you can to make sure this important matter is addressed and dealt with now.

This important issue has once again resurfaced due to the recent human tragedy in Vieques (please see reports below). Let's not allow it to be swept under the rug or forgotten. Please act now. Include it in your website. Thank you.


Puerto Ricans Enraged by Navy Deaths

The Associated Press, April 27, 1999


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- ``Get the Navy out!'' the protesters shouted. Puerto Rico's governor said the same thing -- this time in a letter to President Clinton.

Shocked at the accidental killing Monday of a civilian by U.S. jets training for Kosovo, Puerto Rican politicians and residents alike are demanding that Clinton end some 60 years of bombings, shellings and strafings on the island of Vieques.

The Navy controls 75 percent of the land on the island of nearly 10,000 residents, including some of Puerto Rico's best beaches and fishing grounds. U.S. and foreign troops conduct exercises there an average 235 days of the year.

``Regretfully but emphatically, I must by this means request that you order the immediate and permanent cessation of United States and allied activities that entail the use of weaponry'' in Vieques, Gov. Pedro Rossello said Tuesday in an impassioned letter to Clinton. ``No community of American citizens should have to endure such conditions.''

Two Marine F-18 jets on a night training mission launched 500-pound bombs that hit an observation post Monday night, killing David Sanes Rodriguez, a 35-year-old guard. Three other civilians and a military observer were injured by flying glass as the post's windows crashed in.

``Who will guarantee that in the future this will not happen in the inhabited part of Vieques?'' said Carlos Romero Barcelo, Puerto Rico's nonvoting delegate in the U.S. Congress. New York Rep. Jose Serrano joined him in calling for an end to the maneuvers.

The jets were based on the USS John F. Kennedy, which is practicing for an assignment to the Adriatic Sea to relieve forces fighting in Kosovo.

The aircraft belonged to Marine Corps Fighter Squadron 251 based in Beaufort, S.C.

On Tuesday, Admiral Terrance Etnyre, commander of the Navy's South Atlantic Force, met with the governor and promised an investigation into the accident.

Rossello's objection is significant because the governor has long supported the U.S. military as part of his campaign to make Puerto Rico the country's 51st state. The U.S. Army will move its Latin American headquarters to Puerto Rico from Panama this year partly because of his lobbying.

But residents said his objection is too late.

``It's not until today, when we have a death, that it appears he's doing something,'' said Alba Encarnacion, one of dozens of protesters who rallied outside Vieques City Hall.

Vieques, a 20-mile-long island eight miles off Puerto Rico, was first occupied by the U.S. Navy in 1941, and later expropriations swallowed dozens of farms and homes.

The island's 9,400 residents are sandwiched between a western zone where the military stores weapons in bunkers and the eastern training ground where bombings, shellings and mock invasions are staged.

Last month, Puerto Rico's Senate called for an end to the use of live ammunition, saying up to 20 bombs and shells per minute were exploding on the island recently.

The Navy defends its presence, saying it has no other such training grounds in the Atlantic.

``Vieques is an essential training ground for our armed forces,'' said Navy spokesman Roberto Nelson. ``All those pilots who are in Kosovo have dropped live ordnance in Vieques.''

Residents have also protested the Navy's plans to install a transmitter for a long-range radar powerful enough to penetrate deep into South America.

They blame the Navy for scaring away tourists and contributing to the island's high unemployment rate, about 50 percent.

They also claim the war games are responsible for a higher cancer rate of 208 per 100,000 residents, almost double the Puerto Rican average. ______________________

Death leads Puerto Rico to seek end of war games

By John Marino

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, April 20 (Reuters) - Puerto Rico's governor asked Washington on Tuesday to halt war games immediately on an island off the U.S. territory, a day after a bombing accident killed one civilian and injured several others.

``There must exist a viable alternative to the shelling, bombing and strafing of populated areas,'' Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello wrote in a letter to President Bill Clinton.

Two U.S. Marine jets on training manoeuvres mistakenly dropped bombs on an observation tower on Vieques, a 21-mile-long (34-km-long) island off the Puerto Rico's eastern coast, on Monday night.

The accident killed one man and injured four others, Robert Nelson, a spokesman for Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Base, said.

``Regretfully but emphatically, I must by this means request that you order the the immediate and permanent cessation of United States and allied activities that entail the use of weaponry anywhere in the vicinity of the municipality of Vieques, Puerto Rico,'' Rossello wrote in the letter.

``No community of American citizens should have to endure such conditions,'' he said.

The dead man was identified as David Sanes, a 35-year-old civilian contractor and Vieques resident. Three of the injured men were also civilian residents of Vieques, and the fourth was a military observer, Nelson said. The injured were treated at a Navy hospital and released on Tuesday.

The two F-18 jets involved in the incident were based on the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy.

The U.S. Navy controls the eastern and western ends of the island, which has a civilian population of 9,400 in the middle. The Navy and allied forces have long used the waters surrounding the Caribbean island for target practice.

Nelson said the manoeuvres were ``routine,'' but residents said heavy bombing had taken place off Vieques for weeks, with training being conducted by German and Canadian as well as U.S. forces.

``We believe that Kosovo has reached Vieques,'' said Robert Rabin, a Vieques resident and a member of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, which opposes the military use of the island.

``This points up the dangers that Vieques residents live with every day,'' he said.