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April 18, 2001, WASHINGTON, D.C. – Heads of 11 U.S. religious bodies are pressing President George W. Bush to order an end to U.S. military exercises on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Toward that end, they are asking the President to meet with Pro Vieques, an unprecedented ecumenical coalition of Catholic, Protestant and Pentecostal church leaders in Puerto Rico, to hear their opposition to continued use of Vieques for U.S. military exercises.

They welcomed the suspension of U.S. Navy bombing exercises on Vieques in March, commenting, "We fervently hope this will be more than a temporary reprieve, but rather the beginning of the end of the 60-year U.S. military presence on Vieques."

(After most of the 11 religious leaders had signed on to the April 18, 2001, letter to President Bush, the Navy announced it would resume exercises as early as April 27.)

Many of the religious leaders have traveled to Vieques to show their support for the movement to end U.S. military exercises there. The Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, National Council of Churches General Secretary, led a six-member delegation to Vieques last June.

That group, in a June 12, 2000, meeting with three White House staff members, carried a request from Puerto Rican church leaders for a meeting with President Clinton. The requested meeting never took place.

The NCC’s General Assembly, in November 2000, adopted a resolution on "Vieques, Puerto Rico," and in March 2001, Dr. Edgar and the Rev. Heriberto Martinez, Executive Secretary of the Evangelical Council of Churches, criticized as unethical a proposal by some members of the U.S. Congress to shift U.S. military exercises from Vieques to another inhabited island.

Following is the full text of the 11 U.S. religious leaders’ April 18, 2001, letter to President Bush, along with a list of signatories:

Dear Mr. President:

We welcome your recent announcement that you are suspending U.S. Navy bombing exercises on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. We fervently hope this will be more than a temporary reprieve, but rather the beginning of the end of the 60-year US military presence on Vieques.

We urge you to take this moment in time to reconsider completely the US presence on Vieques. The majority of the people of Puerto Rico have demonstrated that they do not want Vieques to be a site for war exercises. 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. Their unanimous message is, "Not one more bomb in Vieques." We are fully in support of our Puerto Rican ecumenical partners in this position, and many of us have traveled to that island to demonstrate this solidarity through action.

As you conduct a review of this situation, we urge you to meet with the Ecumenical coalition Pro Vieques, a coalition of Puerto Rican religious leaders, to hear their concerns. We write in the belief that a meeting with these religious leaders is critical to developing an understanding of the complex issues surrounding Vieques. Their position is based in their strong faith in God and their love of their people. Like any good shepherd, their actions have been taken on behalf of the health and welfare of their flock.

We urge you to hear their plea and implore you to use the power vested in you by the citizens of the United States to order an end to all military practices and training on the island as soon as possible. Additionally, we hope that you will also consider what can be done to encourage economic growth and poverty reduction measures for the local community and to repair the environmental damage our military presence has caused.

Very respectfully yours,

Bishop H. George Anderson, Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate
Episcopal Church, USA

The Rev. Richard L. Hamm, General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

The Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey, Executive Director
The Alliance of Baptists

H.E. Cyril Aphrem Karim, Archbishop
Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch

The Rev. Michael E. Livingston, Executive Director
International Council of Community Churches

Dr. Robert H. Roberts, Interim General Secretary
American Baptist Churches USA

Archbishop Philip Saliba, Primate
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of N.A.

Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, Bishop, Ecumenical Officer, Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church

The Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President
United Church of Christ


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