Fw: RFK Jr. Welcomed in Vieques.........

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Mon Apr 24 14:02:55 EDT 2000

Forwarding message from Puerto Rico Libre....Associated Press Article
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----- Original Message ----- 
From: Los Luises 
To: Eledayn Polasky ; Fran LaFon ; Lana ; Solomon ; Uri Elias 
Sent: Friday, April 21, 2000 2:35 AM
Subject: RFK Jr. Welcomed in Vieques.........

Puerto Rico Libre

RFK Jr. Welcomed in Vieques

By RICARDO ZUNIGA, Associated Press Writer

VIEQUES, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. went 
scuba diving Tuesday with protesters off the coast of bomb-ravaged Vieques 
Island and said he would sue the U.S. Navy for endangering sea and bird life 
during military exercises.

Kennedy inspected sunken munitions buried in coral reefs, hefted an artillery 
shell and surveyed a sunken barge off Vieques, where a small group of 
protesters has occupied the training range for almost a year.

''We've got to get the Navy out of here,'' he said after diving around the 
barge, which was used as a target for warships.

Kennedy, a senior counsel for the New York-based Natural Resources Defense 
Council, said Monday the group would sue the Navy to stop further exercises, 
saying the Navy was getting away with environmental violations it never would 
be allowed to on the mainland.

The Navy said in a written statement Tuesday that it is ''firmly committed to 
the environment and will continue to work with ... (local and federal 
agencies) to ensure that all applicable environmental standards are complied 
with regarding this matter.''

Later Tuesday, Kennedy visited protesters' camps in the bombing area and at 
the training grounds main gate.

''This visit helps us a lot in our fight to get out the message to the 
American public with more force,'' said Carlos Ventura, one of the protest 

The U.S. Navy owns two-thirds of Vieques, a 20-mile by 5-mile island, and 
calls it the Atlantic Fleet's most important training ground. About 10,000 
people live on the island, sandwiched between the bombing area and munitions 

Opposition to the Navy's presence boiled over in April 1999, when a U.S. 
Marine Corps jet dropped two bombs off target, killing a civilian security 
guard and injuring four other people.

The accident prompted a report by the Puerto Rican government that documented 
other accidents and alleged the exercises have scarred the island, home to 
manatees, sea turtles, and endangered peregrine falcons.

In November, the Puerto Rican government complained to the U.S. Coral Reef 
Task Force that errant bombs had blown apart coral reefs off Vieques.

A May 1999 survey showed craters in the reefs, as well as parachutes, shells 
and other debris, said Daniel Pagan, secretary of Puerto Rico's Department of 
Natural and Environmental Resources.

Pagan said the damage was more severe than during a survey in 1978, when 
scientists determined that at least 80 percent of a reef on the island's 
north coast had been pulverized by the Navy's bombing.

On Monday, Kennedy alleged the Navy has violated the Resource Conservation Rec
overy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National 
Environmental Policy Act.

President Clinton has pledged to order the military out by May 2003 if 
Vieques residents vote for the expulsion in a referendum. Clinton said he 
would allow practice with non-explosive munitions to continue until the 
referendum is held, but protesters on the range have refused to budge.

Kennedy's visit comes as protesters are planning a series of special vigils, 
choir performances and a church service to commemorate the April 19, 1999 
death of the security guard, David Sanes Rodriguez.

On Tuesday, about 25 activists occupied San Juan's 16th-century Fort San 
Felipe del Morro, a U.S. national historic site, saying they plan to camp 
there overnight in a protest over Vieques.

Chanting ''the Navy must go!'' the protesters took down a U.S. flag and 
replaced it with a Puerto Rican flag. They also took down an old military 
flag from Puerto Rico's former colonizer, Spain.

The protesters said they would leave voluntarily Wednesday morning, and the 
U.S. National Park Service said it had no plans to force them out.

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