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April 19, 2001
Many Puerto Ricans are fighting mad about the U.S. Navy's plans to resume its controversial training on Puerto Rico's island of Vieques as early as April 27. Recently elected Gov. Sila Maria Calderon even brought up the subject during a Florida visit this week with Gov. Jeb Bush, asking him to urge President George W. Bush to stop the training.
Before anyone gets too upset, though, it's important to understand exactly what the Navy intends to do. For now, at least, the training is justified.
The Navy isn't talking about going back to its old practices, which included exercises with real bombs. One such bomb killed a civilian guard during an accident in 1999, prompting an understandable outcry throughout Puerto Rico.
But a lot has changed since then. Former President Bill Clinton and Mrs. Calderon's immediate predecessor, Pedro Rossello, hammered out a compromise last year that took into account the interests of both sides.
For one thing, the Navy says it will use dummy bombs in the upcoming exercises, thereby eliminating the biggest worry -- that resuming training with real bombs might cause additional casualties.
Also, a new set of rules guides the training. Most appealing is a requirement that the training be scaled back. That should result in fewer disruptions in and around Vieques.
Finally, Navy training on Vieques is no longer an open-ended arrangement. Early this year, Mr. Clinton asked the Pentagon to come up with alternatives to training on Vieques.
That made sense, considering that the Navy faces a deadline. Unless registered voters on Vieques decide otherwise in a referendum planned for November, the Navy will have to stop training and leave the island by 2003. Voters also will have the option of allowing training to continue beyond 2003, including the use of real bombs.
But between now and 2003, the Navy still has to ensure that its sailors have the necessary skills to prevail in battle. Right now, Vieques is the only place where U.S. air, ground and naval forces can train at the same time under favorable weather conditions all year long.
Simply put, the Navy would compromise national security if it were to bow to demands by some Puerto Ricans that it halt training at Vieques altogether.
Mrs. Calderon and other critics have emphasized another slice of this issue, that the training may contribute to health problems for Vieques residents. That's a serious matter that deserves further study.
Mrs. Calderon has used that argument to back her recommendation that the Navy keep training at Vieques on hold at least until the referendum.
That would be an awfully long time for the Navy to postpone essential training. The Navy's limited program is reasonable.
April 15, 2001
Will the United States do the right thing in Vieques ? Recently, the administration temporarily suspended the Navy's training exercises, including bombing, pending investigation into the incidence of cancer and heart disease caused by the continued bombing.
A dramatic presentation by more than 150 Viequenses was made at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry's (ATSDR) March hearing on Vieques . The locals decried the health crisis caused by the Navy.
They brought 100 crosses and signs with the names of cancer victims or victims of military violence, heavy metals, and other toxins into the hearing room. They also carried a wooden casket into the room. As they filed out, the courageous protesters left 60 crosses (one for each year of the Navy presence) on the information table.
The fate of Vieques rests in the balance. Will the United States honor the desire of Puerto Ricans to end this long and agonizing relationship with the Navy? Will the environment of Vieques be free of contamination, protecting people's health and their economic livelihood?
Or will cries of national defense be used to justify renewed bombing?
The Navy must stop the bombing permanently and clean up the contamination it caused. Let Vieques live in peace!
Colleen Novosielski Rutherford Dave Cline Jersey City, April 11 Colleen Novosielski is a member of N.J. Peace Action. Dave Cline is with Veterans Support Vieques.
April 15, 2001
Hats off to The Post for calling it right with regard to the need for Navy live-fire training on its ranges on Vieques, Puerto Rico ("Pataki Plays Pentagon," Editorial, April 3).
Actions by some of New York's elected officials to halt critical training there, are, at best, misguided and, at worst, irresponsible.
In short, sailors and Marines will suffer much higher casualty rates in combat if they are unable to train the way they will fight - with live rounds fired on Navy training ranges at Vieques .
This is not an academic issue. Every Navy carrier battle group deployed to the Persian Gulf in recent years has conducted aerial combat operations to enforce U.N. sanctions against Iraq.
Contrary to what Puerto Rico 's governor would lead the public to believe, large numbers of voters on Vieques Island want the Navy to continue training there.
Opponents of Navy training on Vieques propagate atrocious misinformation, deception and outright falsehoods on environmental and health issues, yet they continue unchallenged.
Writing as a former New Yorker and naval aviator who served 500-plus combat missions in Vietnam, I wish to remind The Post's readers that no training will fully prepare our men and women for the stress, fear and death of combat.
Live-fire training on Vieques island is the best approximation, however, and exhaustive studies document that there is no suitable alternate location.
It would be criminal to send our sailors and Marines into combat without it. The worst possible place to fire live rounds for the first time is when you face off with an enemy who is trying to kill you on a distant battlefield.
Combat veterans wonder with dismay and disgust why these life-and-death considerations for the armed forces do not weigh significantly in the thinking of Gov. Pataki and Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Have they no shame in their hustling of the Hispanic vote?
Gordon I. Peterson Captain, U.S. Navy (Ret.) Springfield, Va.