Campaigners welcome US Navy plan to leave Viequez

 Campaigners who have been protesting for years over US Navy war games on tiny Viequez island, off Puerto Rico, were celebrating this week- following the news that the military base is to go. More than 1,000 protestors, including many priests and nuns, were arrested and jailed during demonstrations against the island's bombing range in the past four years. Many thousands of demonstrators from all churches and walks of life took part in the long campaign. In 2001, Rev Al Sharpton and attorney Robert Kennedy Jr were among celebrities arrested protesting against the military exercises. In one year an ecumenical chapel was built on the bombing range. This was demolished by the navy. Rev German Acevedo-Delgado, a United Methodist minister said: "Thanks to the religious leaders who knew how to be authentic pastors walking with their people and defending their people, David has once again overcome Goliath." The US Navy has used the eastern part of the Caribbean island, with a population of just over 9,000, for military manoeuvres since 1947. The navy says it is giving the base to the US Department of the Interior for use as a wildlife refuge. Although residents are glad to see the departure of the navy, many have expressed concern that they are being left to deal with an environmental mess. A Pentagon report has confirmed that the navy tested chemical weapons on the island in the 1960s, news agencies reported on Wednesday. Researchers say decades of bombing, using depleted uranium shells and heavy metals have left islanders with elevated cancer rates. Some residents also fear the navy may not leave. "We're happy that the bombing has probably ended, but we remain sceptical. There is a lot of mistrust," said campaigner Robert Rabin. Radames Tirado, 69, a former mayor whose childhood home was expropriated and knocked down by Navy bulldozers was more hopeful. He said: "We have been fighting for 60 years to get back the lands they took from us. "It will take some time, but we will get the land back and we will get it cleaned up too. No one thought we could stop the bombing and we did that."

Share this story