Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, 18 February (ENI)—Prayers and hymns, rather than the sound of US Navy aircraft launching test missiles, have in recent months dominated the US Navy bombing range on this small Caribbean island east of Puerto Rico.

The prayers and hymns come from two camps set up by Puerto Rican Christians who are risking arrest for breaking the Navy's ban which forbids civilian entry to the bombing range. The protesters - including union members, political activists and students who have set up 12 other camps - are demanding that the Navy vacate the island. Six decades ago the Navy took over two-thirds of the island which it has since used for its military exercises.

The bombing range has long been a cause of friction for the 9000 residents of Vieques and for many Puerto Ricans, but opposition to it grew rapidly last April when a bomb went astray, killing a civilian security guard. Islanders and supporters from Puerto Rico moved onto the bombing range, establishing protest camps and forcing the Navy to cancel military maneuvers. For ten months, Vieques has been free of war games.

Protesters say they are not afraid of the consequences of their action. "It would make things even clearer for the Navy to drag us out of here," said Enrique Mercado, a Methodist pastor who is originally from Vieques. "The world would see that those who preach democracy are the first ones who squash it," he said, referring to the US government.

Mercado recently spent three days living in an "evangelical obedience camp", established on the bombing range early in November and sponsored by the Evangelical Council of Puerto Rico.

The Roman Catholic diocese of Caguas, of which Vieques is part, built the ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.