Date: Sat, 8 May 1999 13:58:31 -0500 (CDT)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Lawyers Protest US Base In Puerto Rico
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Lawyers speak up against U.S. military
By Carmelo Ruiz, IGC, 4 May 1999
(Puerto Rico, May 4 1999) The civil disobedience campaign against the United States Navy's presence in the island-municipality of Vieques is now entering its second week, and the activists show no signs of discouragement. Even the Puerto Rico Bar Association (Colegio de Abogados) is opposed to the military's activities there.
This campaign, which follows a local decades-long tradition of anti-Navy activism, was triggered by a tragic event on April 19. That evening, a civilian was killed in Vieques by bombs dropped from an American fighter plane.
Since 1941, the U.S. Navy has taken over most of Vieques for the purpose of carrying out training maneouvres, such as amphibian landings and target practice.
The protesters have been camping out in the area used by the Navy for target practice for two weeks now, and so far have no intention of leaving the place.
"We are here to let the Navy know that they are the invaders, not us", said protester Cacimar Zenèn, who was born and raised in Vieques. "We don't plan to leave right now. We could leave tomorrow or next year."
Last Saturday evening, the number of protesters swelled from 34 to 59. They are mostly university students and supporters of the Puerto Rico independence movement.
There is no drinking water, food or vegetation to give shade in the area where they are camping, which is dotted with bomb craters. The nearest civilian settlement is eighty minutes away by boat. Vieques fishermen have made numerous trips there in order to keep the protesters supplied with water, food and other necessities.
But the protest action is turning out to be extremely expensive. According to one fisherman, a boat trip to and from the protesters' camp can cost between $41 and $50 in gasoline, and some are making the trip more than once a day. Civil society organisations, like the pro-independence Congreso Nacional Hostosiano, are raising funds to help the Vieques fishermen cover their expenses.
The Puerto Rico Bar Association holds that the Navy's activities in this island-town are illegal.
A full two months before the April 19 tragedy, the Human Rights and Environmental Commissions of the Bar Association held hearings in Vieques and heard testimony from different sectors of the local population.
"Both Commissions found that the training maneouvres of the military threaten the very lives of the people of Vieques, in clear violation of international law. The toxic materials generated by the bombings deteriorate the health of local residents by causing cancer and diseases of the central nervous system, and destroy the natural resources of this island", said Bar Association president Eduardo Villanueva in a press conference.
Attorney Jessica Rodriguez, who heads the Environmental Commission, summarised her findings on Vieques in a report which states that in 1989 the cancer rate of the island's population was 26% above the Puerto Rican average and that the Navy's bombing is polluting Vieques with asbestos, lead, mercury, nitrites and other substances.
According to her report, the Navy has appropiated the most fertile and productive lands of Vieques, and the military occupation severely restricts the freedom of movement of the local population.
In a report to the Bar Association, Human Rights Commission member Ferm n L. Arraiza-Navas called the Navy occupation of Vieques "a massive human rights violation".
His report states that the U.S. military is hindering the economic, social and cultural development of the people of Vieques, in open violation of the United Nations Charter, the 1993 Vienna Declaration on Human Rights, and Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also claims that the situation in Vieques contradicts the commitments that the international community made in the International Conference on Development and Social Progress, held in Copenhagen in 1995.
"On August 20 1980, the Decolonisation Committee of the U.N. condemned the military maneouvres and provocations of the U.S. Navy in Vieques, as well as the repression against patriots who struggle to put an end to the U.S. military intervention in that island-municipality and demanded that the U.S. government cease all its military activities in Puerto Rico", said Arraiza-Navas.
He went on to say that "One would have to be blind not to conclude that the military maneouvres, bombings and provocations of the U.S. Navy in Vieques violate basic parametres that are essential for the protection of human rights in Vieques as well as in the rest of Puerto Rico."
P.R. secretary of justice José Fuentes-Agostini announced yesterday that he is investigating the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy to stop its exercises in Vieques.
New Progressive Party senator Roger Iglesias, who represents a district that includes Vieques, formed an advisory committee on April 21 to explore the possibility of suing the U.S. military.
for more information about Vieques:
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