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May 8, 2000 GC-036

Puerto Rican protesters threatened, mistreated, bishop reports

CLEVELAND (UMNS) — A group of more than 200 people arrested after protesting on the island of Vieques endured hostility, threats and sparse food and water while in the custody of U.S. marshals, the Methodist bishop of Puerto Rico told a press conference May 8.

Juan Vera Mendez, bishop of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico, talked about the treatment he and others endured after they were arrested and detained May 4 during a demonstration against the U.S. naval occupation of Vieques.

Vera said the federal agents were at first "respectful and courteous" to demonstrators while the U.S. and Puerto Rican new media were present. However, once he and others were transferred to the U.S. naval facilities, "violence and physical force" were used, the bishop claimed. U.S. marshals assumed "a very intimidating attitude," and threatened violence if their orders were not followed immediately, the bishop added.

Only one bathroom was available for the nearly 300 detainees, and they waited 12 hours for food and water, Vera reported. No female marshals were present, and women and girls arrested —including Roman Catholic nuns — were patted down by male officers, the bishop said.

Vera and Methodist pastor Lucy Rosario were part of an ecumenical coalition calling for the withdrawal of the U.S. Navy from Vieques and the cessation of bomb testing on the island. After their release, Vera headed to Cleveland for the remaining days of the United Methodist General Conference. Rosario returned to tend her parish on Vieques, he said.

Despite the protests and appeals to the White House, CNN reported that U.S. airplanes had resumed dropping "dummy bombs" May 8.

MARCHA, the Hispanic United Methodist caucus, the United Methodist Council of Bishop (of which Vera is a member) and other groups have sent a resolution to the White House requesting an audience with President Clinton to discuss the Vieques issue. So far, however, church officials have received no response.

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--M. Garlinda Burton

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