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Associated Press Newswires

Hundreds Bid Farewell To 5-Year-Old Cancer Victim Who Became Poster Child For Activists Opposed To Navy Exercises


November 20, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Associated Press Newswires. All rights reserved. 

VIEQUES , Puerto Rico (AP) - Hundreds of mourners paid their last respects on Wednesday to a 5-year-old cancer victim who became a symbol for activists' claims that U.S. Navy bombing exercises harm human health.

Under a clear sky, mourners sang traditional Puerto Rican bomba music during a funeral ceremony on Vieques island, where Milivy Adams Calderon spent the first years of her life.

"Let's sing about this girl until sunrise," the mourners sang in one verse.

The girl died of cancer Sunday at a Philadelphia hospital. Her family said she had tumors in her brain and various parts of her body.

The Navy denies that its bombing exercises on Vieques ' eastern tip harm the health of the island's 9,100 residents or the environment.

Milivy, meanwhile, became a symbol for the alleged harm that activists blame on the Navy training. Images of her - bald from cancer treatments - often appeared on demonstrators' signs and fliers.

Milivy's parents, Jose Adams and Zulayka Calderon, maintain their daughter became ill due to contamination from the bombing exercises - accusations the Navy strongly denies.

At a memorial Mass on Wednesday, the Rev. Nelson Lopez described Milivy as "an angel and a fighter" who withstood multiple chemotherapy treatments and two bone marrow transplants.

As the hearse carrying Milivy's coffin passed, hundreds of children released white balloons and threw flowers. She was buried at a public cemetery on the outlying Puerto Rican island.

"The pain that we feel today, we have to convert into energy, persistence for the fight that lies ahead," said Ruben Berrios, president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. "I don't have tears in my eyes today because an angel has gone to heaven - I feel pain and sorrow."

"She is the symbol of Vieques : its beauty, suffering, pain, but also all the hope that remains."

Officials ordered all flags in Vieques to be flown at half-mast in Milivy's honor for the entire week.

For six decades, the Navy has used its firing range on Vieques to prepare for conflicts.

But protests against the bombing exercises surged in the U.S. territory in 1999 when a civilian security guard was killed by off-target bombs on the firing range. Hundreds of opponents have been arrested and jailed for trespassing on Navy lands while protesting the military training.

After years of protests, President George W. Bush has pledged the Navy will halt training on Vieques by May. Activists now are pressing for the U.S. government to clean up the bombing range, saying hazardous materials remain.

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