PLAINFIELD — A Goddard College professor was one of 17 people arrested on the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques this week during protests against military exercises by the U.S. Navy.
Manuel O’Neil was arrested with Jacqueline Jackson, the wife of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and others after invading the bombing range that is used to train sea, air and ground forces for combat abroad.
O’Neil was reported to be “in good health and spirits” following his arrest, and is being well treated by military authorities, said Robin Capuccino. Both men are members of the Vermont-Puerto Rico Solidarity Committee that has sent delegations to support island protesters. Island delegations also have made visits to Vermont and other states in the United States to appeal to Americans for help in their struggle to get the Navy to leave Vieques.
The Navy has used Vieques as a bombing range and military training ground for 60 years. Protesters claim heavy metals and depleted uranium from spent ordnance has polluted the environment and doubled the cancer rate among islanders.
President Bush announced the Navy would leave the island in two years, but islanders have called for an immediate withdrawal.
They have been supported by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and James Jeffords, I-Vt., who wrote a letter last week to the secretary of defense calling for U.S. naval forces to cease all military exercises on the island immediately.
“We feel that these exercises will further feed the flames in Congress, potentially threatening a solution acceptable to all parties,” said the letter.
“This situation warrants further review before usage of the Vieques is continued.
“As part of the Department of Defense’s current review processes, the effects of the current exercises on Vieques and alternatives to the utilization of Vieques should be given thorough examination,” the letter added.
“Until the results of all pending studies are available, we ask you to suspend exercises on Vieques and to work closely with Governor Calderon to resolve this situation in a manner acceptable to all parties.”
Capuccino said O’Neill, who lives in Woodbury, was one of 17 people arrested while attempting to block the bombardment.
“Demonstrators say the island’s residents are at higher risk of cancer and are exposed to dangerous levels of noise,” he said.
“They also object to the ongoing destruction of the island’s ecology and devastated farmland.
“The recent announcement of President Bush that the Naval Testing Range on Vieques will close in 2003 is seen as too little too late.”