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Orlando Sentinel

Be Vigilant: Halt Bombs In Vieques

By Maria Padilla

May 2, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Vieques is a serious subject for most Puerto Ricans, and it hurts when others are disingenuous about the military bombing on this tiny island.

The Navy shouldn`t have resumed bombing on Vieques because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has not finished reviewing the health risks involved. The Navy has circumvented that process, paying its own doctor to say there was no health risk linked to the bombing.

Therefore, it`s no surprise that the Navy resumed bombing, needlessly provoking islanders. Throughout the Navy`s 60 years in Vieques, it has broken many promises to the Puerto Rican people, including cleaning up the island. The Navy has been a poor neighbor, often disregarding the roughly 9,000 people who live in Vieques, which is part of Puerto Rico.

Today, the Puerto Rican people will have no more of it, island polls show. Boricuas in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, New York, Chicago and other cities have joined forces with islanders on this issue as well.

Many readers may disagree with Puerto Ricans on this point. That`s understandable. But for the Puerto Rican people, this is an hour of self-defense.

Puerto Rico has done its patriotic duty for 60 years. It`s now someone else`s turn. Three years ago, when an errant bomb accidentally killed a civilian, people said "Basta!" Enough. It was the culmination of many years of frustration.

Many non-Puerto Ricans disagree, saying the military is not harming Vieques, where a recent study cited a certain heart disease tied to the bombing noise.

These are not light military exercises. Last year, the Navy temporarily moved its training to Florida`s Panhandle after protestors shut down Vieques. Residents near Elgin Air Force Base, accustomed to a different kind of bombing, said they had never heard anything this loud.

The Navy had dropped 62 tons of explosives, sending cats and dogs scampering. The Navy later packed its bags, leaving Panhandle residents in peace.

That`s what Puerto Ricans want, too.

Contrary to what some editorial pages are saying, it won`t be long before the Navy moves out of Vieques.

During the 1970s, Puerto Ricans succeeded in getting the Navy out of Culebra, another nearby island.

If islanders can oust the Navy from Culebra, then it`s likely that peace will reign in Vieques.

The Navy already has lost its greatest advantage in Vieques, and that is the ability to hold military maneuvers without the glare of worldwide publicity.

A referendum is scheduled for November for viequenses to decide whether to allow the Navy to stay until 2003. But the Navy -- and not the people of Vieques -- is in control of that process. The Navy also is offering millions for economic development, which is hardly new. Puerto Ricans won`t see those greenbacks.

Many celebrities have joined the fight for Vieques, as have supporters for Puerto Rican independence, who are pursuing their own agenda. But make no mistake about it, this is a grass-roots struggle involving Puerto Rico`s 3.8 million people -- all of whom are American citizens.

So, no se duerman. Do not fall asleep. Keep fighting.

E-mail Florida`s U.S. senators Bob Graham at and Bill Nelson at Send a missive to your congressional representatives, too. Peace for Vieques is almost at hand.

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