Dozens of Puerto Rican Protesters Arrested

U.S. marshals fanned out across Puerto Rico, arresting dozens of anti-Navy activists at home for refusing to post bail on federal trespassing charges.

Marshals had arrested more than 50 of 122 activists by Sunday afternoon, protest organizers said.

Those arrested were among 183 people originally detained last week as they scrambled under fences or sneaked onto remote beaches in an attempt to stop military exercises on the outlying Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

The unrest renewed a 14-month-old dispute on Vieques, a 21-mile-long Puerto Rican island of 9,400 people that is also the site of the U.S. Navy’s prime Atlantic Fleet training ground. Activists committed to ousting the Navy say bombing at the site destroys fishing grounds and endangers residents. The Navy maintains the bombing is safe and provides crucial training for American sailors and airmen.

Protesters Freed — Temporarily

The protesters arrested last week had been freed temporarily and given until Friday to post $1,000 bail, but the group of 122 refused to pay.

“We do not recognize any moral authority nor the legitimacy of the U.S. court in this matter,” Sen. Manuel Rodriguez Orellana of the Puerto Rican Independence Party said. The arrests “unmask the repressive and intimidating character of the process,” he said.

The arresting marshals would not talk to reporters. Herman Wirshing, chief of the U.S. Marshals Service in Puerto Rico, could not be reached for comment.

About 600 people have been detained since May 4, when marshals removed protesters who had camped out on the Vieques bombing range for a year to thwart exercises there.

Fourth of July Protests Planned

Most of the 183 arrested last week were members of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. The party planned a rally on Tuesday — the Fourth of July — in front of the federal prison in San Juan where the arrested protesters are being held.

Resentment over the Navy’s presence in Vieques boiled over in April 1999 when a U.S. Marine Corps jet dropped a bomb off target, killing a civilian security guard in the bombing range. The latest Navy exercises have used non-explosive bombs, but the protests have continued.