Puerto Rico: New Protests as Navy Bombs Vieques

At least 128 protesters had been arrested by the end of Apr. 28 on the small Puerto Rican island of Vieques as thousands of people in Puerto Rico and the US demonstrated against the US Navy’s resumption of bombing exercises there on Apr. 27.

At least 128 protesters had been arrested by the end of Apr. 28 on the small Puerto Rican island of Vieques as thousands of people in Puerto Rico and the US demonstrated against the US Navy’s resumption of bombing exercises there on Apr. 27.

The exercises were delayed for an hour on the morning of Apr. 27 when a group of eight protesters were spotted acting as human shields on Yayi Key, a small island a little more than 200 yards northwest of the Navy bombing range; federal marshals removed and arrested them.

Later in the day, 49 protesters broke down a fence
erected about 100 yards from the main gate of Camp Garcia, the Navy installation on Vieques, according to Navy spokesperson Lt. Jeff Gordon. US marshals responded by firing pepper spray at
protesters. [WP 4/28/01; Miami Herald 4/29/01]

Protesters caused three more hours of delays in the training exercises on Apr. 28 as they continued slipping into the firing range in small groups. The detainees from Apr. 28 included US
environmentalist lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr.; US actor Edward James Olmos; Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Robi Draco; Puerto Rican senator Norma Burgos of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP); New York labor leader Dennis Rivera, president of hospital workers union Local 1199; and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL).

A sizeable group of prominent Puerto Ricans slipped into the restricted area on Apr. 26, well before the bombing, and remained in hiding there as of Apr. 28. The Navy continued bombing despite not knowing the protesters’ exact location. The group included Vieques mayor Damaso Serrano and Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) president Ruben Berrios Martinez, a leader in a year-long occupation of the site that ended when federal marshals removed more than two hundred protesters in May 2000 [see Update 536]. Sen. Burgos entered with this group and remained in hiding until she was arrested on Apr. 28. [NY Daily News web site 4/28/01 from Reuters; AP 4/28/01; El Nuevo Dia (San Juan) 4/27/01 from EFE]

There were also protests outside Vieques. Several hundred people rallied on Apr. 28 at the Federal Building in New York City, which has a large population of Puerto Rican origin. "The Navy tests the bombs in Vieques that it drops in the Middle East," Palestinian activist Abbas Hamieeh told a reporter. "We, like the people of Vieques, are struggling against oppression, imperialism and colonization." [El Diario-La Prensa (NY) 4/29/01; Hoy 4/29/01]

Puerto Rican governor Sila Calderon had tried to block the bombing by filing on Apr. 24 for a federal restraining order on the grounds that the testing would cause irreparable harm to Vieques residents. Judge Gladys Kessler of Federal District Court denied the restraining order on Apr. 26, but made comments that were favorable to Puerto Rico’s position.[New York Times 4/29/01]

Author: Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York

News Service: The Weekly News Update on the Americas Issue #587, April 29, 2001

URL: http://home.earthlink.net/~dbwilson/wnuhome.html