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  Puerto Rico: Navy Violated Law

By Paisley Dodds
Associated Press Writer
Friday, May 25, 2001; 11:00 p.m. EDT

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico –– Puerto Rico's government said Friday that the Navy violated federal law by lobbying members of Congress on the controversial subject of Navy maneuvers on the island of Vieques.

In its latest effort to stop the maneuvers, Puerto Rico said it has requested documents that it said can prove the Navy broke the law.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, Puerto Rico on April 17 requested records detailing the Navy's relationship with three Vieques residents who went to Washington to present pro-Navy petitions to Congress, said James H. Burnley, an attorney representing Puerto Rico.

The Navy referred the FOIA request to the Southern Command in Florida but denied in an interview with The Associated Press that it had paid for the men's trip or encouraged them to speak to Congressional representatives.

The law prohibits employees of federal agencies from lobbying members of Congress but allows for paid advertisements on controversial subjects such as Vieques – something both the Puerto Rican government and the Navy have done.

Anti-Navy sentiment flared in Puerto Rico in 1999, when two off-target bombs killed a civilian guard on the Navy's Vieques bombing range.

An agreement was negotiated that now allows the Navy to use only inert ammunition and half the number of training days, though the Navy says live-fire exercises provide vital training that saves the lives of U.S. troops in combat.

"This is not a fishing expedition," said Burnley.

The men, Luis Sanchez, Michael Rivera and Ralph Perez, traveled to Washington in March.

The FOIA request asked for documents relating to the trip, whether the Navy paid for any part of the trip and whether the Navy arranged for the men to meet any Congress members.

Sanchez, a civilian security guard for the Navy, told the AP the trip was his idea and he paid for his portion. Calls to Perez and Rivera were not immediately returned.

"The Navy had nothing to do with the trip," Sanchez said.

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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