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RFK son receives 30-day term for Vieques protest

SHARE RFK son receives 30-day term for Vieques protest

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Saying they set a bad example, a federal judge sentenced Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and several others to mainly 30-day terms Friday for trespassing during a protest against U.S. Navy bombing exercises on Vieques island.

Chief U.S. District Judge Hector Lafitte ignored arguments that the protesters' acts of civil disobedience were aimed at ending contamination of the environment and protect the health of islanders.

Lafitte said they had the political and legal means to fight for what they believed was right without breaking the law.

Kennedy is the latest of several well-known protesters to be convicted of trespassing. Others include the Rev. Al Sharpton and Jacqueline Jackson, the wife of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. She served a 10-day sentence last month, while Sharpton is still serving a 90-day sentence.

"You should be a lawmaker, not a lawbreaker," Lafitte told Norma Burgos, a senator in Puerto Rico's legislature, initially sentencing her to 40 days. When Burgos said the Navy should be tried instead of protesters, the judge criticized her as being defiant and increased the sentence to 60 days.

Lafitte also sentenced New York labor leader Dennis Rivera and four other protesters to 30 days each on trespassing convictions.

Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, and the others were immediately taken to San Juan's federal Metropolitan Detention Center. Kennedy supporters said his detention means he probably will miss the birth of his sixth child, expected next week.

The judge decided not to imprison Myrta Sanes, sister of the Navy security guard whose 1999 death by stray bombs on the Navy's firing range sparked all the protests. "You've suffered enough," Lafitte told Sanes, sentencing her to six months' probation.

Lafitte denounced the protest movement that has grown since David Sanes' death, noting that 711 defendants had been through federal courts for protest actions on Vieques.

"It is an obvious concerted activity, it is a movement. There are masked individuals cutting holes in the fence of Navy lands. This is almost chaos! This is almost anarchy!" Lafitte said.

Several people gathered outside the courthouse Friday to speak in support of the other protesters, including Jesse Jackson and Democratic Reps. John Conyers of Michigan and Nydia Velazquez of New York.

Kennedy's lawyer, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, had planned to use the trial to argue for a political solution to end six decades of bombardments on Vieques. But Lafitte made it clear he was opposed, saying: "I'm not going to allow political views, philosophical views, none of that."

Still, Cuomo made his point, saying "The defendants see the bombing of Vieques as an egregious failure of the legislative and executive branches to protect our democracy."

The Navy denies that its exercises harm the environment or health, and says local studies that show otherwise are biased and unscientific.

Navy officers testified Friday that Kennedy and Rivera's incursion — from a fishing boat onto the beachside firing range — stopped ship-to-shore shelling for 2 1/2 hours while security officers searched for the intruders.

"As soon as the vessel, the boat, entered the danger zone, I had to cease fire," said Lt. Cmdr. Russell Gottfried.

Kennedy said he is glad that since he was arrested, President Bush has announced that the Navy will stop bombing exercises on Vieques by May 2003.

But, he said, "That position begs the question, why are we going to continue bombing?"