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Follow Law On Vieques
Honor The Agreement
Navy Endangers Islanders
May 1, 2001
The April 29 article on the U.S. Navy using the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico for bombing practice caused me to think: How many of us would want to live anywhere near a bombing range over a 50-year period? Don't the people of Puerto Rico deserve a peaceful environment?
It always astonishes me that my country is always ready for war. We have the most advanced weapons systems in the world, but we can't get health care for all our citizens. We're ready for war, but we're not ready to clean up the air and the water that we've polluted, or rebuild worn-down schools.
It's a question of priorities.
Follow Law On Vieques
May 1, 2001
The scene on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques has turned ugly, with the tear-gassing and arrests of protesters against the U.S. Navy's training with fake bombs.
Now, no one should question the right of those folks to demonstrate peacefully. That's critical in a free system such as ours. But the demonstrators appear to ignore another democratic essential: the rule of law. It's simply not acceptable to throw rocks and trespass on government property.
The Navy must train somewhere, and right now Vieques is the best bet.
But the residents of Vieques aren't powerless. In a November referendum, they'll have a chance to determine if the Navy stays or leaves by 2003. Better to pour their efforts into that referendum than to break the law.
Right Decision On Vieques Our Position: The Navy Needs To Conduct Its Training, But It Should Take Health Concerns Seriously.
April 28, 2001
U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler made the right decision Thursday, allowing the U.S. Navy to resume training on Puerto Rico 's island of Vieques . Many residents and other Puerto Ricans had protested the Navy's plans.
But the Navy needs to conduct such training -- in this case, for sailors and Marines about to depart for the Persian Gulf -- and there's nowhere else to undertake simultaneous air, sea and land exercises right now. The Navy has made concessions, though. The training, which started Friday, does not include live bombs and is limited.
Beyond that, Ms. Kessler recommended that the Navy take a hard look at health concerns that, according to some Puerto Ricans , stem from the training. That idea deserves serious consideration as the Vieques debate continues.
Untimely Exercises on Vieques
April 28, 2001
The Navy's decision to begin a multiday bombing exercise on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques yesterday was legally authorized but politically insensitive. Puerto Rican opposition to such exercises is strong, and yesterday's maneuvers were greeted with demonstrations and civil disobedience. A referendum among Vieques's 9,400 residents in November will determine whether the Navy will have to phase out use of the island as a bombing range. Studies on whether noise from the bombings is causing heart problems among Vieques residents are currently being evaluated by the Department of Health and Human Services. The Navy should have postponed further exercises until that evaluation was complete.
The government of Puerto Rico sought such a postponement, but on Thursday a federal judge declined to issue an injunction barring these exercises. Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that at this point insufficient evidence exists that the residents of Vieques would be "irreparably harmed" by letting the Navy go forward, the very tough standard for obtaining an injunction. But such evidence might emerge from the medical studies, and Judge Kessler noted that the Navy had made "an implied promise" to Gov. Sila Calderón of Puerto Rico to hold off on further bombing practice until those studies had been assessed. She also noted that the bombing apparently violates a new Puerto Rican law against noise pollution. Judge Kessler's decision left room for Puerto Rico to pursue its case both legally and politically. That is what it now needs to do.
Live-fire exercises on the island ended after a civilian security guard was accidentally killed in a bombing accident two years ago. But over the next few days, Vieques will once again be pounded with nonexplosive shells in exercises involving about 15,000 sailors and marines. The Navy argues that Vieques is its most valuable training site in the western Atlantic and cannot easily be replaced. United States military forces have been conducting exercises there for 60 years, starting in the days when Puerto Rico was a colony.
The future of these exercises should be determined by the will of the Vieques voters. Under an agreement negotiated by Puerto Rico's previous governor, even after a no vote in November, Vieques could remain a bombing range until May 2003. That is an unreasonably long interval. Governor Calderón won election last November calling for an immediate cessation of the exercises. After the current round ends next week, the Navy should wait until the health studies have been reviewed before scheduling any more bombing on Vieques. Better yet, it should wait for the November referendum.
Honor The Vieques Agreement
April 27, 2001
The sensible agreement on the future of Vieques negotiated by the Clinton administration and Puerto Rico 's government is under assault.
Some Puerto Ricans are demanding a quick pullout by the U.S. Navy, which uses part of Vieques for target practice. On the other side, the military's allies in Congress are threatening to derail the agreement, including taking Vieques from Puerto Rico and giving it to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
It would be lunacy to tear up an accord that required painstaking negotiations over many years.
On Thursday a federal judge in Washington refused to block the latest round of bombing exercises, which are scheduled to begin today despite the threat of renewed local protests.
The bitter dispute between Puerto Rico and the U.S. government has festered for decades, during which the Navy has dropped live bombs in training exercises on Vieques . Protests escalated after a civilian security guard was killed in 1999 when a military jet mistakenly bombed his post.
Last year, Mr. Clinton reached agreement with Pedro J. Rossello, Puerto Rico 's then-governor, on steps to defuse tension and possibly lead to an end to all bombing.
Under the agreement, the Navy would leave Vieques by May 1, 2003, if the island's nearly 10,000 residents approve a pullout in a referendum this November. Practice bombing without live ammunition would be allowed to continue until the pullout date.
Meanwhile, the Navy must give up about one-third of the island next month and spend $40 million on infrastructure improvements to benefit residents. If islanders then vote to permit continued bombing after May 1, 2003, the Navy will donate another $50 million for infrastructure improvements.
Yet old arguments are resurfacing. Some islanders don't want to wait until the referendum, saying six decades of bombing has jeopardized their health and the environment. Pentagon officials warn that giving up Vieques as a practice bombing range would threaten national security because, they insist, there is no other suitable alternative.
Both sides ought to cool the rhetoric. President Bush has said he won't try to undermine the landmark agreement, which makes the best of a bad situation. The future of bombing on Vieques should be determined by its residents, as agreed, through the November referendum.
LETERS TO THE EDITOR
U.S. Navy Endangers Islanders
April 27, 2001
For 60 years, the U.S. Navy has been bombing and doing military maneuvers on the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques . Nearly 10,000 people live there.
Many people are sick from high rates of cancer, an odd heart disease found in 97 percent of the people tested, leukemia, asthma and heavy metals in their bodies. The Navy has tested napalm and uranium-tipped bombs there, which it at first denied and then called `mistakes' when it was proved through the Freedom of Information Act.
In 1941, two-thirds of Vieques was taken over by the Navy. After watching their houses being bulldozed, the people were herded into the middle of the island, given a piece of land and a pile of building materials and told to build themselves houses. Being patriotic Americans, they put up little resistance, expecting to get their land back after World War II ended. They did not.
Now the Puerto Ricans want the Navy to stop bombing, but the Navy refuses to budge. Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Calderon signed an agreement with the U.S. government that bombing would stop until health tests could be done. But U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has announced that maneuvers could begin again as early as today, though the health tests have not been completed.
This same thing is happening all over the world. There are 16 Pacific islands where people live and where the Navy is bombing, saying it is necessary for U.S. protection. One of those islands is Oahu, Hawaii.
When will this dependence on violence stop? When will we begin to study and practice negotiation and friendship rather than arrogance and muscle?
Christine Dull Englewood