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Puerto Rico - Appeal for protection of non-violent protesters on the Island of Vieques

02 May 2000

Letter to H.E. President Bill Clinton of the U.S.A., 2 May 2000.    


Mr. President,

On 29 November 1999 we conveyed to you the support of the World Council of Churches for the non-violent actions undertaken on the Island of Vieques in Puerto Rico by the Ecumenical Coalition on Vieques. At that time we urged you then to exercise your authority as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces to call a halt to the use of this island for weapons testing and bombing practice. We also appealed to you to respect the human rights of the people of Puerto Rico and to give them a sign of peace.

We are now informed that a decision has been taken to send US Marshals and FBI personnel to remove protestors from the Island, and that such action is imminent. News reports yesterday indicated that this action is being supported with a massive show of naval force off the coast of Puerto Rico.

We are grateful that you sent your representative, Mr. Jeffrey Farrow, to meet with the Ecumenical Coalition recently. Through that meeting, you should be informed that the non-violent presence in Vieques has the wide support of the churches in Puerto Rico, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, and that among those engaged in this vigil in the restricted area on Vieques are representatives of the churches, including bishops.

We have also been grateful for your leadership in seeking to restore the confidence of the people of Puerto Rico by taking action on humanitarian grounds to release most of the long-term prisoners held in US prisons for political actions they had taken many years ago.

The present action apparently to be taken today runs directly counter to such efforts, and will hardly be understood by the churches or the wider international community. They do not bring credit to your Administration.

The spectacle of police action backed up by the presence of warships and which is likely to involve arrests of church leaders will contribute little to the pursuit of a lasting solution to this problem. We therefore urge you to call a halt to this intervention immediately and to heed the request of the churches of Puerto Rico that the people of Vieques be consulted with respect to their own will on the future of their land.

We pray for you and that a spirit of dialogue can soon replace confrontation with the people of Puerto Rico.

                                                                                                                                                  Respectfully,

                                                                                                                                                  Dwain C. Epps
                                                                                                                                                  Director
                                                                                                                                                  Commission of the Churches on
                                                                                                                                                  International Affairs