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The Providence Journal

Let Puerto Rico Go?

April 18, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The Providence Journal. All Rights Reserved.

The 9,400 residents of the island of Vieques , part of which is used as a Navy target range a few miles off southeast Puerto Rico , will vote next November on whether they want the Navy to stay. Many Puerto Ricans have called for an end to the Navy's shelling and bombing. The Navy maintains that live-fire exercises are necessary training for its sailors.

Recently, a delegation traveled from Vieques to Washington to lobby lawmakers there to keep the Navy on the island, only a small part of which is used in the live-fire exercises. Many islanders worry that a Navy pullout would increase unemployment, which is already higher than Puerto Rico 's generally.

Puerto Rico has a ready political option if it feels strongly about Vieques. The majority of the population, in an election, could ask for independence from the United States and Congress and the President could then proceed to give it to the commonwealth. Then the Navy could figure out somewhere else to practice. And Puerto Rico could make its way as an independent country.

Puerto Ricans have conducted repeated referendums on this question, only to quail from the implications when it comes time to cast the ballot.

Still, it might well be to everyone's benefit, especially that of the United States, if Puerto Rico were to leave.

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