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PUERTO RICO, U.S. ECUMENICAL CHURCH COUNCIL LEADERS
ASK END TO NAVY’S VIEQUES EXERCISES, OPPOSE SHIFT TO ST. KITTS AND NEVIS

March 22, 2001, NEW YORK CITY and SAN JUAN – Leaders of ecumenical councils in the United States and Puerto Rico today criticized as unethical a proposal to shift U.S. military exercises from Vieques to another inhabited island.

They were responding to a Reuters News Service report that the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, in the Eastern Caribbean, was considering a request from members of the U.S. Congress to provide the American military with an alternative to the disputed bombing range on the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico.

St. Kitts and Nevis is a tiny island of 104 square miles. Close to one-third (30.3 percent) of its 40,000 population is under age 15 (Source: The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2001). Its nearest neighbors are Antigua and Barbuda.

"Whatever benefits might accrue to St. Kitts and Nevis for opening its small island to U.S. military exercises would be more than offset by the sacrifice of health and life on the part of its citizens, especially its children, and the polluting and destruction of its environment," said the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the (U.S.) National Council of Churches.

"The toll on the physical and mental health of the people of Vieques and the damage to the island’s ecology is well documented," said Dr. Edgar, who led an NCC delegation to Vieques in June 2000 and who has carried forward the Council’s long-standing demand for the U.S. military to withdraw from Vieques. "This month’s suspension of those exercises, while welcome, is not enough," he said. "The military exercises must be ended."

The Rev. Heriberto Martinez, Executive Secretary of the Evangelical Council of Churches, which represents most evangelical and some mainline Puerto Rican churches, said, "Our council is very clear in its position that what is wrong for us is also wrong for others."

Puerto Rico’s churches – including Catholics, Protestants and Pentecostals – have joined forces in an unprecedented ecumenical coalition against continued use of Vieques for U.S. military exercises. "We don’t want these ‘signs of death’," the Rev. Martinez said. "Not in Vieques. Not anywhere."

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