Date: Fri, 23 Apr 1999 14:11:53 -0500 (CDT)
From: Michael Eisenscher <email@example.com>
Subject: Puerto Ricans Enraged by Navy Deaths
Puerto Rico Libre - http:www.delphi.com/puertoricolibre/
Puerto Ricans Enraged by Navy Deaths
By Chris Hawley, Associated Press, 23 April 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.
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