After a year of encampments that successfully halted bombing exercises by the U.S. Navy on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, more than 200 protesters were removed by federal agents in early May. The protesters were joined by religious leaders, local fishermen, and two members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Activists had set up camps in the "live fire zone" on Vieques after a stray bomb killed a civilian guard in April 1999. In January 2000, Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello made a deal with President Clinton to provide for the resumption of testing using "dummy bombs" instead of live ammunition. Under the agreement, Puerto Rico is to receive $40 million in compensation for health and environmental hazards created by the bombing. The deal is subject to a referendum by Vieques residents, who can choose between ending all exercises on the island by 2003 or an additional $50 million from the U.S. government and the resumption of live testing.
"There is solidarity among the people of Puerto Rico that the bombing should stop," said Rev. Mario C. Miranda, a Lutheran pastor and retired U.S. Navy chaplain from Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
Residents claim that the bombings have disrupted the fishing industry, damaged homes, and littered the island with bomb fragments ever since the U.S. Navy seized the land in 1941.
"The people of Puerto Rico will continue to go to Vieques, and the U.S. government will have to arrest more of us, many more of us, until it learns that it has to let Vieques live in peace," declared Wilfredo Velez, a Disciples of Christ pastor.