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1999 NCC News Archives

NCC Calls for U.S. Miltary to Withdraw from Vieques, Puerto Rico,
After Bomb Misses Target, Killing One and Injuring Four

Vieques Activists Received NCC’s 1998 Mauricio Amilcar Lopez Human Rights Award

May 6, 1999, NEW YORK -- The National Council of Churches (NCC) has called for the United States military to withdraw its bases from Vieques, Puerto Rico, after a bomb dropped on April 19 missed its target, killing one civilian and injuring four people.

Since this tragic incident occurred, the movement to get the U.S. Navy to withdraw from Vieques has been renewed, with residents openly protesting and performing acts of civil disobedience such as sit-ins in military territory. It was only four months ago that an NCC delegation visited the 33,000-acre island of Vieques to confer the Mauricio Amilcar Lopez Human Rights Award to four people representing all the inhabitants who have struggled against U.S. Navy occupation for decades.

In a statement issued April 22, the NCC said, "We emphatically support the demands of the people of Vieques to withdraw the naval base from the island and return tranquility and the right to live in security and peace to the civilian population. We join the governor of Puerto Rico, the Honorable Pedro Rosello Gonzalez, in his demand to President Clinton to cease military activities in Vieques."

"This is exactly what residents of the island always fear will happen," said the Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, NCC General Secretary. "The potential for this kind of accident is the reason why the military should not be conducting exercises on an inhabited island."

"The people of Vieques have not known a lasting peace since 1940," explained the Rev. Dr. Rodney Page, NCC Deputy General Secretary and Executive Director of Church World Service. "As religious leaders, we supported the people of Vieques in their past struggle. This is a time to declare and renew our support as the struggle is again galvanized."

"The U.S. Navy took over more than two-thirds of the island and conducts war games with live ammunition that take place contiguous to areas where people live," added the Rev. Oscar Bolioli, Director of the NCC’s Latin America and the Caribbean Office.

Decades of military exercises have left thousands of craters and cracked houses and disrupted the local fishing industry. Vieques residents also experience a higher rate of cancer than the rest of Puerto Ricans. Fishers and other island inhabitants began organizing in the late 1960s and ‘70s to get the U.S. Navy to withdraw, but so far have not succeeded.

During their visit, leaders from the region and from the international community stressed the need to view the occupation of Vieques as a human rights struggle. "This is a struggle for the dignity of the people, for people’s control over their own economic and social growth so they can have better health and education," said Bishop Rafel Malpica Padilla, Chair of the NCC’s Committee on the Caribbean and Latin America (CCLA), which created and confers the Human Rights Award.

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