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Five Vieques Protesters Sentenced

April 10, 2002

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Five members of Puerto Rico’s pro-independence party were sentenced to 30 days in a federal detention center Wednesday for breaking into U.S. Navy lands to protest bombing exercises on Vieques island.

The five women were detained after breaking though Navy fences on April 1, when Navy planes resumed dropping inert bombs on the island’s firing range after a pause of several months.

The five did not mount defenses to their trespassing charges because they say they don’t recognize the federal court’s authority in the U.S. territory.

``Vieques is the most open and painful wound of our country,″ Maria de Lourdes Santiago, leader of the five and vice president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, said before her sentencing. She said the situation illustrates ``what it means to live in a country where others rule.″

The five _ also including Irma Rodriguez, Maria Elena Negron, Mirna Rodriguez and Maribel Arroyo _ will receive credit for time already served in jail.

Handing down the sentences, Judge Salvador Casellas said he respected the defendants’ ideology, but ``in my opinion the acts of civil disobedience that have occurred in Vieques at this moment aren’t justified.″

He said that because the United States is at war, Puerto Ricans as U.S. citizens have ``a responsibility″ to support national defense.

Opponents of the Navy exercises say they harm the environment and the health of Vieques’ 9,100 residents. The Navy denies that claim.

Although the protests have been muted since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, small bands of demonstrators have held protests during the current round of exercises, which could last up to three weeks. On Wednesday, no new arrests were reported as U.S. warplanes dropped inert bombs on the firing range.

Puerto Rico’s small pro-independence party makes up only one part of the opposition to Vieques training. Gov. Sila Calderon, who supports the island’s current commonwealth status, also says the Navy should halt exercises.

Since maneuvers began April 1 on the outlying island, more than a dozen people have been detained. The Navy says 13 sailors and Marines have been injured by protesters throwing rocks and other objects. The demonstrators say their protests have been peaceful.

President Bush says the Navy will leave by 2003. The Navy says it is looking for alternative training sites.

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