1998 NCC News Archives

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1998 "MAURICIO AMILCAR LOPEZ"
HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD TO BE
PRESENTED TO THE PEOPLE OF THE ISLAND OF VIEQUES, PUERTO RICO

***PRESS CONFERENCE IN SAN JUAN TO BE HELD DEC. 16, 11 a.m.***

NEW YORK, Dec. 11 ---- Mere days after Puerto Ricans will cast ballots in a United States-backed plebiscite about the future status of the commonwealth, the National Council of Churches (NCC) will give an annual human rights award to the people of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico to recognize their long struggle for dignity in the face of U.S. Navy occupation.

Four people who are symbols of the struggle, including leaders of local Vieques fishermen’s, women’s and development organizations, will be honored at a ceremony at the Fuerte Conde de Mirasol Museum in Vieques on Thursday, Dec. 17. Local and international religious and human rights leaders will be on hand, including Dr. Carlos Reina, Former President of Honduras and current President of the Central American Parliament. Dr. Reina was the recipient of the 1996 Mauricio Lopez Award. A press conference will be held at the Bar Association in Santurce on Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 11 a.m. and a 7 p.m. worship service will be at the Episcopal Cathedral in Santurce.

"While we do not want to intervene in the internal politics of Puerto Rico, we decided to give this award to the people of Vieques to affirm their right to defend their way of life," said the Rev. Oscar Bolioli, Director of the NCC’s Latin American and the Caribbean Office. "It seemed fitting in this year, the centennial of the U.S. invasion in Puerto Rico, to honor a group of fishermen who have confronted a big power peacefully in order to defend their livelihood and their natural resources."

Since 1940, the U.S. Navy has carried out military exercises and test shellings on Vieques, occupying up to 26,000 of the 33,000 acres on the island. "Local inhabitants say that at one time, they counted 3,000 craters on the island left by the U.S. Navy," Rev. Bolioli said. "They like to say that Vieques has more craters than the moon." These shellings have greatly disrupted the local fishing industry.

About 70 percent of the island’s 8,200 inhabitants live under the poverty level and 50 percent are jobless, Rev. Bolioli explained. There is also concern because the cancer rate is 52 percent higher on the island than in the rest of Puerto Rico.

The NCC’s Committee on the Caribbean and Latin America (CCLA) created the award in 1995 to recognize people carrying out exceptional work for justice in Latin America and the Caribbean. Dr. Reina was the first recipient in 1996 and Argentine Methodist Bishop Federico Pagura was the 1997 recipient. Mauricio Lopez, for whom the award was named in 1996, was a leader and martyr of the ecumenical movement in the region who was kidnapped and assassinated by a military commando in Argentina.

The NCC is comprised of 35 Protestant and Orthodox communions with a combined membership of nearly 52 million people.

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