Aerial view of Tortuguero Lagoon


by Scott Corrales

Skeptics of the UFO phenomenon enjoy pointing out that gullible ufomaniacs are constantly mistaking innocent barium test rockets launched into the upper atmosphere with interplanetary craft. These routine launches are usually reported in newspapers and early-morning radio shows to alert the unwary of the celestial display to follow in the evening. Puerto Rico has been the stage for a number of such tests -- identified under the harmless moniker of "Coqui", named after the island's unique arboreal frog -- since 1992. But there is increasing evidence that the seemingly anodyne tests harbor a far more sinister purpose.

Roosevelt Roads Naval Base, Ceiba, PR.

Skyrockets in Flight

In the spring and summer 1992, NASA launched the first Coqui sounding rocket, ostensibly to study the ionosphere. The eight-rocket series, launched at half-hourly intervals, was made up of Nike-Tomahawk and Black Brant and IX and VC rockets, was aimed at studying the ionosphere in conjunction with the Arecibo Observatory. A makeshift launch pad operated by the Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Island Fight Facility was erected at Laguna Tortuguero, the island's only freshwater lagoon, some 20 miles to the west of San Juan. The eight launches were declared successful by NASA officials, although the chemical payloads of the rockets were never recovered. The altitudes reached by the projectiles ranged from 80 miles to 268 miles, making the launches visible in locations as varied as the Turks and Caicos Islands, Antigua, Saint Croix, and Guadeloupe. The purpose behind the rocket launches was the creation of a number of manmade disturbances in the ionosphere in order to discover its reactions to natural perturbations. The ionosphere, as defined by NASA press releases, is the level of ionized oxygen and nitrogen which reflects almost the entirety of solar radiation that impacts our planet. This absorption of radiation causes a significant degree of thermal excitement which makes the ionosphere a mirror-like reflector of radio waves, causing them to bounce within the surface contained between the planet's surface and the ionosphere itself. Experiments with barium rockets started as far back as 1960, when scientists first contemplated the creation of ion cloud experiments, thus giving rise to the discharging of barium in the upper atmosphere by means of rockets or satellites.

The Coqui experiments generated an even more curious "fallout": on May 25, 1992, Miguel A. Gonzales of Aguadilla saw a huge, egg-shaped ball of orange light descend upon thousands of prayerful spectators who were worshipping the alleged Marian apparitions in the community of Sabana Grande. The ball hovered over the worshippers before gradually dimming into a puff of smoke. UFO watchers reported a number of sightings on that day in the vicinity, where the religious gathering was held. State officials dismissed it all by saying that it was connected to the launching of the Coqui atmospheric test rocket that very same night.

Old San Juan, PR.

The Plot Thickens

Seven years later, and without the benefit of any hearings on the matter, NASA announced that the CoquĦ experiments (now known as CoquĦ II) would resume at the old Laguna Tortuguero launch center, which had in the intervening years become popular site for model aviators and amateur rocketeers. It was announced that the series of launches would begin in January 1998. No public or environmental impact declarations had been released nor had the authorization of the local government been requested. It was not long before voices challenging the CoquĦ project made themselves heard -- resentment had been festering since 1992, when the Coqui I launches had led to the indiscriminate clear-cutting of trees in the Tortuguero area.

The contrarian opinions held that the gases and substances employed during the 1992 launches -- barium, bromotrifluoride methane, gaseous nitrogen and argon and a host of related chemicals -- and the rocket propellants (hydrogen chloride and aluminum oxide) had caused considerable harm to the environment as well as to people using the beaches from one end of northern Puerto Rico to the other. When physicians reported a rise in unexplained cutaneous eruptions among the population, it was argued that their patients had probably been exposed to jellyfish in the water or to other dermatological ailments.

Responding to these charges, the Project Coqui personnel argued that the gases employed during the tests were colorless, non-toxic and non-flammable, and therefore posed no risk whatsoever to neither humans nor the environment. Apparently, no mention was made of the fact that bromotrifluoride is an ozone-depleting substance, and that the outbreaks of gas were taking place particularly at levels which affected the ozone layer.

In mid-December 1997, Vega Baja mayor Luis Melendez Cano demanded that Dr. Maximo Cerame Vivas, the noted Puerto Rican scientist in charge of the new series of launches, furnish the required impact statements before being able to proceed with the launches from the Tortuguero Site, which is located within his municipality. The authorities apparently circumvented this request by providing Mayor Melendez with copies of the old Coqui I environmental statements with handwritten comments on the margins, arguing that the project was essentially the same. The old environmental statement further stated that Vega Baja was not a densely populated area: the intervening years have seen the growth of a number of new housing subdivisions as the area turned into a major bedroom community of the San Juan metropolitan area.

Deeply troubled by the fact that Coqui II was significantly different from its predecessor, mainly due to the fact that the 1992 launches were conducted during the summer while the 1998 launches would be conducted during the winter, when the wind patterns are completely different, a new letter from Melendez insisted: "We acknowledge receipt of the EIS for the Coqui I project, which has apparently been resubmitted as part of this new effort. Nevertheless, we are troubled by the refusal to submit a new EIS for an event which must have considerable differences in spite of the apparent similarity. We hope that you will advise us on your reasons for negotiating and securing approval for this project without providing a new environmental impact statement." The town's municipal assembly unanimously resolved to support the mayor in this initiative. A spokesman observed that it was impossible to blindly agree with something that is not understood. Why was there so much secrecy concerning an allegedly harmless project?

Bilingual sign on US Navy Property, San Juan, PR

A Military Solution to the Mystery?

Speculation is rife concerning the real purpose of Project Coqui. Many have tried to link it with futuristic "cyberwar" operations currently under development by the Department of Defense. This vast array of unfriendly uses of the upper atmosphere includes the creation of "upper atmospheric turbulence", induced by chemicals transported via launchers as well as by radiation emitted from land-based installations such as the Arecibo Radiotelescope, which has conducted ionospheric heating tests since the early '70s and whose atmospheric ionization package was upgraded in 1994 at a cost of several million dollars, and shadier facilities such as the oft-mentioned HAARP facility in Alaska. The offensive use of such capacities would be centered on the complete and utter disruption of enemy command, control and communications by means of distorted radio waves or blinding pulses of light which would affect delicate systems. These electronic assaults could be explained away as meteorological phenomena, thus guaranteeing the attacker complete deniability during a peacetime application.

Though alarming, the above is really nothing new. In the late 1950's, both the former Soviet Union and the U.S. engaged in a series of nuclear atmospheric tests aimed at the production of charged particles in the ionosphere, ostensibly to study the disruption experienced by bomber and ICBM guidance systems. The possibility of "warping" regions of the atmosphere in order to deflect or vaporize ICBM's has also been considered. Scientists such as BernardEastlund have even spoken about the creation of a "shell" of charged particles which would drift around the planet, sizzling the electronics of any hapless object which enter the shell.

Despite the fact that Coqui is widely hailed as a NASA project, the connection with the military is clear. The rocket boosters and their chemical payload originated at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base on the island's eastern coast, which once housed the Antilles Defense Command (transferred to Key West, Florida, in 1981) and the Atlantic Fleet Target Range. Roosevelt Roads is the world's largest naval facility, since it includes not only the thirty-thousand acre expanse of the base itself but the adjacent island of Vieques and the ocean surface between both islands. It is important to bear in mind the important role played by Puerto Rico in naval strategic planning: a number of major war games, such as Readex, Solid Shield, Ocean Venture '81, UNITAS, Readex 2-82 and Universal Trek 1-83, involving thousands of soldiers from many countries, dozens of surface ships and hundreds of airplanes, have taken place in the smallest of the Greater Antilles and its outlying islands.

In 1992, the U.S. Air Force was behind the launching of a Spirit II launcher which was used to lift a two-thousand pound auroral research telescope whose measurements were to be employed as part of the Strategic Defense Initiative's research into atmospheric perturbations. The launch was made from the Poker Flat Rocket Range, which is the largest of its kind in the world and has been funded by NASA over the past years, demonstrating yet again the strong connection which exists between the space agency and the military in this field of research.

Scott Corrales is a writer and translator of UFO and paranormal subjects dealing with Latin America and Spain. His work has appeared in magazines in the U.S., U.K., Japan, Spain and Italy. Corrales is also the author of Chupacabras and Other Mysteries, and his forthcoming Flashpoint: High Strangeness in Puerto Rico is being published in the U.K. by Amarna Ltd. He lives in Pennsylvania. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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