Angry residents and officials from the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques went to Capitol Hill yesterday to muster support for their ongoing battle against the U.S. Navy's mighty Atlantic Fleet.
After meeting with the Viequens for about an hour and a half, Rep. Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.) said the islanders, and their newfound friends in Congress, would now "maximize our efforts and revise our strategy" to make the navy stop using Vieques' rolling beaches for target practice.
That new "strategy" will commence with a letter to President Carter, according to Baltasar Corrada, Puerto Rico's resident commissioner in Congress, asking him to order the Navy to conduct their practice air assaults and simulated amphibious landings on somebody else's beach.
After that, Corrada said they may consider proposing an amendment to the defense appropriation bill, prohibiting the use of Viegquen beaches as Navy training stages.
And, according to Carlos Zenon of the Viequen Fishermen's Association, the anti-Navy Viequens have only begun to fight. "If the Navy continues bombarding the island of Vieques, we are going to continue to challenge them," Zenon said. Zenon has already led several protests in which the fisherman have taken their boats into the restricted waters to disrupt the Navy maneuvers.
The Navy owns and occupies about 70 percent of the 34,000-acre island off the southeast coast of Puerto Rico. Viequens claim that, in the first six months of 1978 alone, the Navy dropped almost four million pounds of ordinance on the island, as well as intensifying air-to-ground bombardment, using sophisticated surface-to-air missiles, and frequently missing their targets.
Viequens are charging in a suit in federal court that the massive Navy presence is impeding "the economic and social development" of the island as well as endangering the population of about 8,000. They also claim that the Navy is training on Vieques illegally, since the Puerto Rican government was not consulted before the operations were switched there from a neighboring island in 1975.
"Vieques is an irreplaceable Navy training facility whose continued use is an important factor to insure that the U.S. Atlantic Fleet remains in a high state of combat readiness," said a high state of combat readiness," said a Navy spokesman, Lt. Eric Willenbrock.