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New York Post
The Truth On Vieques
June 9, 2001
As the Navy gets set to resume its bombing exercises next week on the island of Vieques , opponents are ratcheting up their opposition.
* Tomorrow's Puerto Rican Day Parade promises to provide a flashy forum for anti-bombing protesters.
* Yesterday, environmental groups led by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. asked a federal appeals court to grant an emergency stay to halt the exercises.
* A vice president of New York's health-care workers union, Angela Doyle, threatened yesterday to have members "walk out of the city's health centers and have a slowdown" over the exercises.
And, of course, every New York politician willing to pander (OK, that's redundant) has been beating his chest over the "horrors" of the island.
Gov. Pataki, as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver noted, has practically spent more time on the Vieques issue than on the state budget (which is already more than two months past statutory deadline). Sen. Hillary Clinton called for "reparations" to the island's residents.
And a few New York pols, including the ever-camera-loving Al Sharpton, have been enjoying the limelight of a jail cell.
It's as if there were some grave, monumental injustice were being perpetrated.
Which there isn't.
Martin Luther King Jr. would roll over in his grave if he knew what his would-be successors have done to his noble practice of civil disobedience.
The protesters claim that the Navy's exercises have driven up the rate of cancer and other disease on the island. But they offer no evidence.
Because there is no evidence.
In fact, data from at least one survey of cancer rates suggest that Vieques ' 9,000 residents actually enjoy lower cancer rates than the rest of Puerto Rico and the entire United States. To this day, there is not one shred of data linking the training to any health issue at all. Not one.
Pols think they can get on their high horses and excite Puerto Ricans - and become instant heroes. In the process, they jeopardize a critical operation: the proper training of American servicemen for real-life, vital military missions.
Missions in which the fate of naval servicemen - including some 4,500 Puerto Ricans - depends on adequate training, such as that at Vieques .
The truth about Vieques is that the Navy uses less than 3 percent of the island for its exercises. More than half of the 22,000 acres it has owned is used for wildlife conservation programs, particularly to protect endangered species.
The truth is that the Navy bends over backward to ensure its missions are safe.
The truth is also that scores of other jurisdictions throughout the country tolerate live-fire training camps in their midst.
The truth is that Vieques ' unique geography and location can't be replicated.
And, by the way, that the Navy's economic contribution to Puerto Rico - much of which may be put in jeopardy without the training camp - is considerable. Naval Station Roosevelt Roads alone accounts for 2,600 civilian jobs, including 100 held by Vieques residents.
You won't hear the pols waxing moral over these facts.
And that in itself is a moral outrage.