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Archive for Monday, June 26, 2000

Navy resumes exercises on Vieques

June 26, 2000

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— Thirty-eight protesters who entered the bombing range were arrested on Sunday.

The thud of military shelling returned to Vieques Island on Sunday as the U.S. Navy began training even as protesters vowed to invade the range to stop the largest exercise since a fatal accident prompted a yearlong occupation of its range.

About 2 p.m., ships began shooting inert shells at the range, Navy spokesman Lt. Jeff Gordon said. The exercises are scheduled to continue today and Tuesday although they could continue through July 2 if necessary, he said.

Gordon said that notices were posted Saturday night and broadcast to mariners by the U.S. Coast Guard Sunday morning. The advisories were seven pages long and previous reports that bombing was to begin today could have been due to a misinterpretation of the lengthy notice, he said.

"The Navy did notify the public in Vieques in an appropriate manner today," Gordon said.

Sandra Reyes, a 32-year-old painter who lives in sight of the range, said her children came running into the house screaming after the start of the exercises.

"My house is shaking, the doors shake, things on the table shake, my ear drums hurt," Reyes said. "We all feel very frustrated, impotent, violated and harassed."

She said three or four shells were hitting the range about every 15 minutes.

The Navy detained 38 people Sunday who had entered the range the night before after three ships from the USS George Washington battle group appeared on the horizon. Eight people remained in custody Sunday because they refused to identify themselves, Navy spokesman Robert Nelson said.

Protesters said 41 people had slipped into the range on foot, indicating that three were still there. Activist Jose Rivera Santana said even more protesters had entered by horse, but he wouldn't say exactly how many.

"The Navy doesn't respect us and we have to put ourselves at the front line," said environmental activist Alberto de Jesus. De Jesus said he was considering entering the range by boat.

Vieques activist Carlos Ventura said he would meet with religious, union and political leaders to arrange a peaceful demonstration on the small island at an undetermined time and place.

"We're preparing ourselves for a massive demonstration and we want you to give your support," Ventura told a crowd of protesters.

Protesters pledged to block the exercises, which would drop about 130,000 pounds of inert bombs and shells on the range, which takes up a third of the island. The protesters claimed to have thwarted Navy plans to begin the bombing on Saturday.

The Navy has said the five warships taking part in the exercise will fire up to 600 rounds and aircraft will drop between 550 and 830 dummy bombs including 500-pound and 1,000-pound bombs during two to five days of exercises. They will then join the rest of their battle group in the Mediterranean Sea.

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