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Puerto Ricans Detained for Trying to Enter Navy Land

Military: Protesters are caught attempting to again break in to restricted space on Vieques Island.

May 15, 2000|From Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Dozens of Puerto Ricans cut through a fence to sneak onto a Navy training ground on Vieques Island, renewing a yearlong battle against a U.S. military presence.

The Navy said Sunday that guards had detained 55 protesters, including former light heavyweight boxing champion Jose Torres, soon after the protesters breached the fence Saturday night. Demonstrators said an additional 11 were caught Sunday, but Navy spokesman Robert Nelson said he was unaware of any other detentions.

The protesters were trying to break back into the area after U.S. marshals on May 4 cleared 216 protesters from camps on the Navy's Vieques training ground. Activists have been trying to force the Navy to leave Vieques, and have vowed to continue entering Navy land.

Nelson said the latest group of protesters was stopped about 9 p.m. two miles north of the training ground's main gate. The protesters surrendered peacefully to military police, he said.

Torres was charged with trespassing and released Sunday morning. Nelson said the others detained Saturday were being held at the nearby Roosevelt Roads Navy Base because they had refused to identify themselves. They were awaiting a hearing before a federal magistrate.

Demonstrators said the former president of the Puerto Rican Bar Assn., Graciany Miranda Marchand, was among the detainees.

Since the May 4 raid, patrol vessels have turned away 72 boats trying to enter the waters around the training ground. Last week, inside the training ground's fence, guards arrested Ruben Berrios, leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party and a gubernatorial candidate in November's elections. He was charged with trespassing and released.

Dozens of people held a protest vigil Saturday night in front of the training ground's gates, with Puerto Rican riot police standing guard.

The Navy controls two-thirds of Vieques and uses it for weapons storage and military exercises. Resentment over the Navy's presence flared in April 1999, when a Marine Corps jet dropped two 500-pound bombs off target, killing a civilian security guard working at the bombing range.

After months of negotiations with Gov. Pedro Rossello, President Clinton agreed to order the Navy out by May 2003 if the island's 9,400 residents voted in a referendum to expel it. Clinton gave the Navy permission to continue training until then without explosives.

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