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The Post-Standard Syracuse, NY

Inhabited Puerto Rican Island Shouldn't Be Used For Target Practice.

March 5, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The Post-Standard Syracuse, NY. All Rights Reserved.

After decades of pressure, the United States has finally begun to respond appropriately by suspending Navy bombing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques .

Negotiators will now pursue a permanent solution to the bitter dispute over U.S. military use of the island. But, at last, the dangerous bombing will have to wait and the people won't have to suffer the prospect of danger and indignity for now.

The Bush administration did the right thing in answering the calls to suspend the bombing. But, if the bombing can be halted temporarily, it can be halted altogether. It's time to stop the bombing. Set the training targets in the middle of the ocean, but not near human beings, homes and jobs.

One man, a civilian guard on the bombing range, was killed when two bombs went astray in 1999. There are also long-term health concerns to the island's residents. A study suggested noise from the bombing has caused heart disease among residents. It seems that should be of little surprise with bombing so close to people.

That's not to mention the economic noose it ties around the poor area looking to improve.

Worse is the message the bombing sends to the people who have lived there for generations. Their lives and livelihood are important, too. We would not tolerate such madness on Long Island so why is it okay for the island of Vieques ?

Former President Clinton and former Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello agreed a year ago to allow Navy training to resume on Vieques for the first time since the errant bombing killed the civilian. But it then limited that training to using dummy bombs.

Residents expressed their continued outrage by occupying the range for almost a year after the civilian guard was killed.

Now that George W. Bush has replaced Clinton and Sila Maria Calderon has replaced Rossello on a hard-line platform against bombing at Vieques , the line is drawn clearer.

Bush has withheld opinion on whether he'll side with the Navy or with the many Puerto Ricans who have vehemently objected to the bombing. Calderon has won a reprieve from the bombing campaign while health studies and discussions between herself and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are being completed. Whether the halt to the bombing foretells a change in U.S. policy remains to be seen.

"There is no question that such a statement represents a substantive change in the Pentagon's policy and a positive development that we should welcome," said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D- Ill. "It is too early to speak to the motives of Pentagon officials. But I am hopeful that this decision is a tacit acknowledgment of the danger that the Navy's bombing has posed to the people of Vieques ."

Calderon was prepared to create environmental noise regulations that would in essence prohibit the bombings, but dropped the plans for now to keep going the dialogue that led to the halt of bombings. To be successful, those negotiations can only end in the banishment of bombing from the island.

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