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Activist fasts for Clinton meeting with Vieques leaders

A Latin America activist is fasting until President Clinton grants a meeting with the religious and peace movement leaders of Vieques, the Puerto Rican island that has been subjected to bombing practice by the U.S. Navy.

In a July 25 letter to Clinton, Andres Thomas-Conteris, 38, wrote, “Mohandas K. Gandhi called fasting the ‘prayer of a soul in anguish.’ It is the final stage along an ever intensifying nonviolent witness.”

Conteris switched to a water-only fast (supplemented with non-caloric electrolytes) Aug. 14, after the U.S. Navy launched another bombing exercise on Vieques. By Aug. 22, the 6’2” activist had lost 30 pounds.

Opposition to the U.S. military’s live-fire bombing range on Vieques has alternately simmered and flared throughout the Navy’s five-decade presence on the island. A 13-month occupation of the bombing range effectively halted bombing practices until protesters were evicted May 4.

On Jan. 31, Clinton had promised the local population a referendum to determine the Navy’s future on the island. Until then, military maneuvers, using inert bombs, would resume at a reduced level.

Jeffrey [Farrow], co-chair of the president’s Inter-Agency Task Force, said the directives, which “elected [Puerto Rican] officials have agreed to,” indicate that the president is not indifferent to the people of Vieques.

However, Conteris, a Washington-based lay Methodist missioner and member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean, said that Clinton should meet with “those most affected by the ongoing bombing” -- people like Fr. Nelson Lopez, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Vieques and community organizer Robert Rabin.

According to Conteris, over 40 people in Vieques, including religious leaders and members from the Alliance of Vieques Women began a rotating fast July 25 in support of his plea to Clinton. Conteris says he is “ready to go very, very long, given the just nature of the cause and the simplicity of the request.”

-- Claire Schaeffer-Duffy

National Catholic Reporter, September 1, 2000 [corrected 09/08/2000]