On January 19,1980, the United States Navy began massive ship-to-shore target practice on the island of Vieques, in Puerto Rico. Protesting this activity and not deterred by the severe sentences that had been meted out against previous Vieques protestors, the fishermen continued in their efforts to halt the continued bombing.
On that day, eleven small fishing boats went into the waters off Vieques and successfully prevented the Navy from bombing the island. In one boat were Carlos Zenon, President of the Vieques Fishenmens’ Association, and his lawyer, Pedro Saade. Although the Navy made efforts to arrest them, its boats were out-maneuvered by the skillful fishermen and it was not until a few days after the demonstration that Zenon and Saade were arrested. They were tried in federal court, found guilty and received the maximum sentence of six months in jail. Denied bail pending appeal be cause they refused to agree to a court imposed condition that they not return to Vieques, they were immediately shipped to a federal prison in the U.S.
Center attorneys moved to have them freed and the court of appeals released the two without bail, striking down the pre-condition for release that the trial court had imposed. Their appeal was argued in Puerto Rico before the federal appeals court which moves down to the island from Boston once a year to hear appeals. On June 30th, the court remanded the case to district court for further hearings. The defendants claimed the target practice was illegal because it un- reasonably interfered with the food fishing industry off the Vieques Coast. According to law, target practice cannot do so, and thus defendants argued that it was wrong for the trial court to deny them the opportunity to raise this defense. The circuit court agreed and is now requiring the district court to hold a full evidentiary hearing on the central legal-political issue in the case – whether the bombing interferes with fishing.
The hearing is scheduled for the fall and will provide a forum for the Vieques people to tell the world about the activities of the U.S. government. It will, we hope, result in the acquittal of Zenon and Saade and a victory for Viequenses.
Michael Ratner, Margaret Ratner, Jose Antonio Lugo, Doris Peterson, with Luis F. Camacho and Pedro Varela