By Carmelo Ruiz
Puerto Rico - The activist campaign to stop the United
States National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) from
carrying out atmospheric experiments over Puerto Rico's skies has not
wavered. The experiments in question, known as Coqui Two, consist of
eleven rocket launches from a makeshift facility in the northern coast
town of Vega Baja. The rockets release chemicals into different
layers of the atmosphere in order to test their effects on
communications and radio.
On February 12 the Committee Against Experiments on the Environment
(Comité contra las Experimentaciones Ambientales), which leads the
opposition to Coqui Two, began an indefinite protest vigil at the
entrance to the launch facility.
On February 12 the Committee Against Experiments on the Environment (Comité contra las Experimentaciones Ambientales), which leads the opposition to Coqui Two, began an indefinite protest vigil at the entrance to the launch facility.
So far five of the eleven rockets have been launched. But rather than demoralise the protesters, the launches have had the opposite effect. When the first two rockets went up on the night of February 19, a near riot erupted as dozens of protesters broke through the security perimeter and made it to a gate less than one mile from the launch facility. Additional policemen and a riot squad (fuerza de choque) detachment were deployed to disperse the demonstrators.
Since the launchings began, surfers in the beaches of Vega Baja and nearby coast towns have been suffering from rashes and other skin irritations. Coqui Two opponents are certain that these health problems are caused by the rockets' chemicals.
In the pre-dawn hours of last Wednesday, February 25, Vega Baja residents were awakened by more rocket launches. In the last launch, which took place shortly before four a.m., something appears to have gone seriously wrong. According to witnesses, that last rocket exploded in flames and crashed into the ocean less than a mile from the coast. The explosion was so loud that it awakened residents in the nearby town of Manatí.
NASA officials explained away the sound blast and the fireball saying that it was merely a booster, which was detached from the rocket once it spent its fuel and fell harmlessly into the ocean some thirty miles north of the coast. However, protesters and area residents do not believe the NASA story.
Nori Montalvo, schoolteacher and Vega Baja resident, witnessed that last rocket launch. "I saw from my own house and with my own eyes how that rocket started to zig-zag, exploded in mid-air and crashed into the ocean. You can't tell me that was just a booster coming off. I challenge those NASA scientists to sleep over at my house so they can have the experience of being awakened in mid-sleep by the noise of their rockets", said Montalvo at an anti-Coqui Two rally last Sunday evening.
Montalvo is just one of the many new faces that have appeared at the protests since the launches began. She and many other local middle class families had been apathetic to the controversy until the rumbling sound of the rockets started awakening them at night. It was not until then that they began to be concerned about the possible risks and environmental effects of the experiments. But for them, the startling February 25 incident was the proverbial last straw.
Coqui Two opponents also suspect that two US Navy missiles that washed up on Puerto Rican shores last month have something to do with NASA's experiments. The missiles, which were between three and four metres long, were stray air-launched 'flares' from fighter jet training maneuvers, according to US Navy spokespersons.
The environmentalist group Friends of the Ocean (Amigos del Mar) has played a major role in the anti-Coqui Two protests through civil disobedience. Several of this organisation's members have sailed into the restricted waters around the launch site in kayaks in order to frustrate the rocket launches. NASA safety rules state that rockets cannot be launched if there are unauthorised persons within the perimeter.
This tactic worked at least once. NASA admits that on the night of February 22, a lone kayaker forced it to cancel the three launches it had scheduled for that evening.
The intruder that foiled the launches that night was Friends of the Ocean member Alberto De Jesús, who already has a solid reputation in Puerto Rico as an environmental daredevil. Back in 1995 he walked up to the edge of the roof of the San Juan Marriott hotel and stood there for hours to protest the passage of ships bearing nuclear wastes through the Caribbean. Two months ago he repeated the exact same stunt in the same building when the nuclear waste-laden Pacific Swan sailed towards the Panama Canal.
According to De Jesús, after he succeeded in foiling the February 22 launch a police helicopter with searchlights approached him so close that the turbulence caused his kayak to turn over. He believes that was an intentional act to endanger his life. De Jesús eluded his pursuers and had to swim over a mile back to his home.
However, the following evening he was arrested at gunpoint in Manatí and charged with, among other things, resisting arrest and assaulting a policeman. He is now free and awaiting trial.
The Coqui Two experiments are definitely related to the US military's HAARP (High Frequency Auroral Research) project, according to Committee Against Experiments on the Environment spokesman Luis Lourido. The controversial HAARP facility, which has generated distrust and suspicion among many Alaska residents, is a high-energy device to alter the composition of the ionosphere.
Lourido is convinced that both the ionospheric observatory in the nearby town of Arecibo and HAARP are being used by the US government to create virtual lenses and mirrors that can focus and amplify radio waves and microwaves. These can be used to disorient enemy missiles and disrupt enemy communications, he says.
According to reports in the American press, such alterations of the ionosphere can have a variety of military uses, among these turning radio waves into X-ray-like beams to see underground and find mineral deposits as well as underground bunkers and military installations.
Chemist and long-time environmental activist Neftalí García shares Lourido's view. At a recent press conference on February 25 he stated that "I'm certain that HAARP and the Coqui Two rockets are both common components in the US military's effort to develop new 'cyber-warfare' weapons".
According to an article in the September 1995 issue of Popular Science, HAARP can also be used to modify the Earth's weather.
Both Lourido and García, as well as other Coqui Two opponents, suspect that the Arecibo radiotelescope, the world's largest, serves secret functions for the US military. The world-famous facility, which plays a key role in Coqui Two, was originally funded by the US Air Force and the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency.