IN THE NEWS #426 - Vieques Protest Ends

By Caty Weaver

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

On Thursday, about three hundred American law enforcement agents raided the small Puerto Rican island of Vieques. The agents removed two-hundred-sixteen demonstrators who had been camped at a United States military base for almost a year. No one was hurt in the action.

American Attorney General Janet Reno directed the operation to remove the protesters. Mizz Reno said the protesters would not be charged with crimes unless they became violent or tried to re-enter the Vieques navy base. Among those seized were two members of the United States House of Representatives and several Puerto Rican legislators.

The demonstrators were protesting the use of the small Caribbean island of Vieques as a United States navy training center. They especially object to bombing exercises carried out there. The demonstrators began their protest after a mis-directed navy bomb killed a Puerto Rican civilian security guard last year.

The navy suspended exercises at Vieques after the accidental death. In January, President Clinton and the Governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Rossello, reached a new agreement about future training. They agreed the navy could carry out limited training until Two-Thousand-Three. However, only non-explosive bombs could be used in the exercises. The people of Vieques are to decide by vote whether the navy training center should remain on the island.

Vieques has a population of more than nine-thousand people. They are American citizens as are all other Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the United States. The people who live there receive some services from the American federal government. However, they can not vote in American presidential or congressional elections.

About sixty years ago, the United States navy bought two-thirds of Vieques. The Navy has used the area to train for every major conflict since World War Two. There always has been some tension between the navy and the citizens who live on the island.

The navy argues that there is no other place like Vieques for training. It is close to the eastern coast of the United States. Pilots and naval gun operators can train easily with United States marines as they land on the island's beach. The navy says pilots who train at Vieques learn to drop their bombs with much more exactness than pilots who do not train there.

Opponents say the bombing exercises have damaged the environment and the health of the people on Vieques. Protesters say Vieques is not the only place for such training.

After the raid, the United States navy announced that new bombing exercises with non-explosive bombs will start again on Vieques later this month.

This VOA Special English program In The News was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English