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Court Rejects Injunction in Vieques Controversy

Aired April 26, 2001 - 13:09   ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, this is about that controversy that's arisen in Puerto Rico on the island of Vieques. This is concerning the U.S. Navy's training shelling, which happens in the area range at Vieques. There's been a decision from a court in Washington today.

Joining from our Washington bureau is Jeanne Meserve with the latest details on that -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joie, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler has just decided not to issue a temporary injunction to stop those bombing tests. The U.S. Navy was scheduled to resume them as early as Friday. The government of Puerto Rico had asked for a temporary injunction for them to stop. The judge saying today that she didn't feel that this four-to-seven-day exercise would do irreparable harm and so she has said no, she will not issue that restraining order.

We're waiting to get more details on her ruling and some reaction. And we will bring that to you as soon as we have it, Joie.

CHEN: Jeanne, what was the focus of the petition to the court? Was it specifically about the danger risks, or was it about the sound question which has come up?

MESERVE: It was about both of those things. The government of Puerto Rico cited the possible risks to human health. Of course, there had been a death of a civilian guard in an earlier bombing exercise. They, also, though, were calling on -- making reference to a statute about noise control, saying that the noise of this bombing exercise would exceed current regulations. And so they said that this bombing should be stopped, the judge apparently deciding not to do that, however.

CHEN: Did the judge make any further declaration about what ought to happen between the Navy and Puerto Rico over this continuing question?

MESERVE: Joie, at this point, the only information we have is that she has refused to issue this temporary injunction. We have someone at the court now trying to glean some more information. I will bring it to you just as soon as we have it.

CHEN: CNN's Jeanne Meserve for us from our Washington bureau now.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: There was accusations within the hearing from U.S. attorneys that this injunction being drawn up by the Puerto Rican government was intended solely to target military activity on Vieques. CNN Miami bureau chief John Zarrella has closely been following the story.

As I understand it, John, the military activity was to resume here in just a matter of days.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Lou. The Navy had planned a major exercise, a three-day exercise billed as this time three to 10 days to begin on Friday on Vieques Island, which is just off if San Juan, a very short ride.

Now, the Navy has been using Vieques Island as test range, a 900- acre portion of Vieques, a very small portion of the overall island, for the past six decades. But it was -- and of course, the residents, the 9,000 people that live there, have not been happy about it for a long, long time. But as Jeanne Meserve said, it was a couple of years ago when a guard, a security guard, was killed by an errant bomb from an airplane that they really ratcheted up the rhetoric and really decided they wanted the U.S. Navy to stop the bombing of Vieques Island.

Now, Vieques was critically important back in the 1980s. We saw some video a few seconds ago of a Marine amphibious landing there on Vieques. That was during the Reagan years. It was called Ocean Venture. And it was during the Caribbean Basin Initiative. It was following on the heels of the Grenada invasion.

Vieques became a very pivotal place for the training of U.S. Marines, who might -- and there was thought that there might be other actions that might have to take place in the Caribbean. Latin America was a hotbed of activity back in the '80s. The U.S. was flexing its muscle under the Reagan years, showing its strength in the Caribbean. And they did it through the exercises like the one that was carried back in the '80s, several different occasions, called Ocean Venture.

Now, the Navy has said it is an essential area because of the deep water that it has there. There is also deep water there. The surrounding area is extremely wide, a lot of room for maneuvers and exercises. And it has also, as you can see, ideal topography for the kind of warfare that the United States might have to take on.

Now, since the accident two years ago, you can see the protests that have taken place. There have been numerous protests over the past couple of years. And now with the Navy deciding to resume this testing, the new governor of Puerto Rico, Sila Calderon, who just took office in January, immediately signed legislation, this noise regulation, that the Puerto Rican House and Senate legislation passed to try and stop the Navy from doing it based on noise regulations.

They also asked for a temporary injunction while they're waiting for more results on health studies that are ongoing regarding the people in Vieques. Puerto Ricans have been saying right along that there is a high degree of cancer because of the Navy's activity.

Well, once again, now, another blow for the Puerto Ricans as they try to stop the U.S. military action in Vieques. And we'll have to see what other steps they take between now and tomorrow. Lou, Joie?

WATERS: Another blow, as you say, John. But there are a few more punches to be thrown here. I don't know if you noticed, but in the "New York Times" and "Washington Post" today, there's a full-page ad to President Bush asking him to stop the bombing of Vieques. This was signed onto by a number of all-star baseball players, Grammy award-winning singers, an Oscar-winning actor, and some fighters, including Tito Trinidad, Chi Chi Rodriguez, a championship golfer.

There are also several lawsuits pending in federal court in Puerto Rico, John. How are those arguments pending different from the one we just heard, which has apparently been turned down by the judge in Washington?

ZARRELLA: Yeah, we've got the article in the paper too. Chi Chi Rodriguez, the golfer.

Yes, there's a lot of pressure being brought to bear on the United States government. But what happened was that what the Puerto Rican government decided to do was to go to federal court in Washington, D.C., because similar arguments made to the federal judge in San Juan in the district, which is part of the 11th Circuit out of Atlanta, the district judge in San Juan has routinely turned down in the past arguments made by the Puerto Rican government to try and stop the bombing. So that was the tactic this time.

There is still the possibility, from what we understand, that they can further appeal this decision. Now, that may not work in this case. Or they could go back to federal judge back in San Juan again and try another tactic. I doubt that it's over between now and tomorrow when the military exercises are expected to begin. And as you showed in the newspaper, a full-page ad from the "New York Times" and the "Washington Post," certainly President Bush, as they are asking, could step in and order the bombing stopped until the health study results come in and until there is a full airing of the grievances by the people of Vieques Island and of Puerto Rico.

They really believe this is a sovereignty issue and that even though it's a commonwealth that they are being violated by the United States military, and that it is time to stop the bombing, Lou.

WATERS: Right. We also understand the Puerto Rican government is going to appeal to the pope to put some pressure on President Bush.

ZARRELLA: That's correct.

WATERS: So there are many other moves being made by the Puerto Ricans. We will continue to follow along. We'll have more on this story throughout the afternoon. That's John Zarrella with us from our bureau in Miami. He's been closely following the story all along.



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