Eleven U.S. religious leaders, including UCC General Minister and President the Rev. John H. Thomas, sent a letter to President Bush on April 18 urging him to put an end to all U.S. Navy bombing exercises on Vieques, Puerto Rico. The Navy has used the Puerto Rican island for its exercises for some 50 years. The bombing exercises, which had been suspended, resumed April 27.
"While any cessation of military action offers this wounded island a 'sabbath,' only a permanent ending of the bombing offers the island and its people the hope of restoration and renewal," says Thomas.
In the letter, the religious leaders ask the President "to order an end to all military practices and training on the island as soon as possible."
The letter also asks Bush to meet with Pro Vieques, an ecumenical coalition of Catholic, Protestant and Pentecostal church leaders in Puerto Rico, so that he can hear first-hand their concerns.
In addition, the letter urges the President to take into consideration the environmental damage that has been generated by the presence of the military and what can be done to encourage economic growth and poverty reduction measures for the local community.
"The military exercises must end," says the Rev. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches and one of the signers of the letter.
The suspension of the bombing exercises, says Edgar, "while welcome, is not enough."
At one point during the bombing hiatus, some members of the U.S. Congress suggested that the Navy shift its exercises to the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, located in the Eastern Caribbean. Leaders of ecumenical councils in the United States and Puerto Rico called the request unethical.
"Our council is very clear in its position that what is wrong for us is also wrong for others," says the Rev. Heriberto Martinez, Executive Secretary of the Evangelical Council of Churches, which represents most evangelical and some mainline Puerto Rican churches.
"We don't want these 'signs of death,'" he adds, "not in Vieques. Not anywhere."