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Bush Makes Right Choice, Vultures' Victory, Too Slow An Exit, Pandering Conquers Vieques
Investigate Abuses, 2-Way Street, Call Their Bluff, Solve Relationship
Bush Makes Right Choice, Stops Bombing
OXFORD, Miss. -- President Bush has recalled testing bombs on the Puerto Rican Island of Vieques , much to the delight of the residents of the island.
The current agreement, which allows the testing, will not be renewed when it expires of May of 2003.
While it took months of heavy protests and polls that showed upwards of 80 percent of Vieques residents showing strong sentiments against the American navy, President Bush made the right decision. Even though Puerto Rico isn't full-fledged American soil, Bush was more than accurate in stating that the residents affected were our "friends and neighbors."
The need for bomb testing is apparent in today's civilized society. Without proper military preparedness, the United States will be left behind as far as world powers go. While certainly not a popular form of warfare, if there is such a thing, U.S. residents have to realize that somewhere, somehow our country must keep par with nations threatening our way of life.
That aside, preparing our arsenal cannot come at the expense of our citizens. If testing of weapons were to commence within the United States today, that area's residents and lawmakers would draw national support in their protest. The same consideration must be given to Puerto Rico .
President Bush faces the task now of securing an area that is both beneficial to armed forces work and not endanger any of America's citizens. With information about the dangers of bomb testing in every American's home, the government does not have the option of returning to the practices of the original bomb testing of the '40s and '50s in areas like New Mexico, when nuclear warfare was developing.
The island of Vieques will still undergo two more years of testing before the armed forces even begin to pull out, and even though an end is in sight the healing process for residents traumatized by work going on in their backyard is far from beginning. Wherever the U.S. decides to continue testing, it should look at the current turmoil it faced before it opens shop around innocent Americans.
The Bombs Over Vieques
AUSTIN, Texas -- America has decided to stop bombing one of its most beautiful territories as of 2003. In a bold and, frankly, surprising move, members of the Bush administration announced that after 60 years, the United States plans to no longer conduct bombing exercises on the island of Vieques , off the coast of Puerto Rico .
Protesters have long demanded an immediate end to the bombings and have offered everything from downright outrage to guarded praise in response to Bush's move.
The proposal risks further alienating Bush's defense department, which is still stinging from a perceived shortchanging by an administration that campaigned heavily on increasing defense spending. The end of the bombings also exposes a growing rift between the "Hawks" and the "Realists" within the Republican Party. The Realists see Republican support for the bombings as a hindrance to their efforts to recruit Hispanics into the GOP, and rightfully so. The Hawks argue that this is not a big issue, Vieques is the perfect location for these activities, Clinton did nothing about it, and that any activity that leads to the arrest of Al Sharpton can't be all that bad.
But the Hawks have it wrong on almost every count. This is a very contentious issue, and to the people that reside there, having a military force attack your coastline daily, it's most definitely a "big issue." As for Vieques being irreplaceable as a location for coastline attack training which the Navy swears perhaps we should consider the southern coast of Florida, around somewhere like Palm Beach or Little Havana.
And although Clinton's efforts toward Vieques were extremely weak and stopped short of proposing an all-out ban on the bombings, he did play a small role in the future of Vieques . Clinton and the former Puerto Rico governor devised a referendum that, if approved, would have ended the bombings roughly around the same time of Bush's deadline.
Regardless, supporters of Vieques and those who find it vile to bombard a pristine and ecologically delicate coastline for no real reason should be somewhat reassured that there is finally an actual end date. Hopefully the Navy will still find a way to prepare for its next large-scale invasion on a desolate Caribbean island those Antiguans are getting pretty restless.
And for those are upset with Bush and think he should have stopped the bombing earlier, they should except a healthy dose of reality and take what they can get from this administration.
Right Move On Vieques
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel
President George W. Bush's announcement Thursday that U.S. Navy training on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques will end won't please everyone. But it was the right decision. Although Vieques residents were scheduled to vote on the Navy's status in a referendum this fall, the touchy issue was spiraling out of control. Something had to be done sooner rather than later.
The decision gives Vieques residents -- who, for the most part, want the Navy out right away -- a date of 2003 for the training to end.
In the meantime, the Navy intends to continue using Vieques because it must. The training conducted there is critical to U.S. military readiness. However, the Navy will operate under a restricted schedule and, most important, won't use live ammunition. An errant live bomb killed a Puerto Rican civilian guard at the training site two years ago, significantly raising the profile of the discussions about Vieques.
At the same time, inquiries should continue into health problems that may be caused by the Navy's training. Depending on how those studies turn out, additional restrictions might be warranted.
The decision to leave also puts the Navy, itself, on alert. The search must begin in earnest for an alternative. Vieques has been ideal because it allows the Navy to conduct land, air and sea maneuvers simultaneously and to train in good weather virtually year-round.
Mr. Bush's plan points to a win-win situation. Essential Navy training will continue elsewhere. And Vieques residents, after a half-century, will have their island back.
Pentagon Needs To Find An Alternative Target Range
The Pentagon does contingency planning for all kinds of hypothetical military operations, but it still doesn't have a plan to replace the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a prime site for Navy target practice-despite a lot of handwriting on the wall beginning in the 1990s. And now it needs to get one in a hurry, because President George W. Bush says he wants the bombing of Vieques to cease within two years.
Predictably, Latino and environmental protesters who have campaigned to shut down the Vieques target range are unimpressed. With the Clinton administration's blessing, Puerto Rico had already scheduled a November referendum on whether the bombing should be permitted to continue after 2003, and the activists fully expect their side to win it. So Bush, in their view, isn't giving them anything they haven't already won with a series of well-publicized demonstrations.
There's also some doubt in their minds that the Pentagon is really on board with its commander-in-chief's intention to give up Vie- ques. The Pentagon has always maintained that no other site is nearly so suitable for joint air, land and sea operations by its Atlantic fleet. In fact, 10,000 service members-more than the entire population of the island-are taking part right now in an offshore exercise involving the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and 10 other ships. Dummy bombs are supposed to start dropping Monday.
In New York, the stop-bombing- Vieques crowd now runs the political spectrum from the Rev. Al Sharpton to Gov. George Pataki, who has his eye on Hispanic voters in 2002. Bush has more time before his next election, but not much. If he expects his Vieques timetable to be taken seriously, his Pentagon can't afford to drag its feet any longer on coming up with an alternative to Vieques .
Vieques Vultures' Victory
THE NEW YORK POST
At least President Bush was honest yesterday about why he suddenly decided - against the Pentagon's best judgment - to scrap the Navy's bombing exercises on Vieques Island after 60 years.
"These are our friends and neighbors, and they don't want us there," Bush said at a news conference in Europe.
Call it the biggest triumph of the Not In My Back Yard movement.
Of course, we don't know for sure that the people of Puerto Rico really want the exercises to end. That's why the Clinton administration initiated a public referendum that would have decided the issue at the polls this November.
And there are plenty of reason why Puerto Ricans would vote to continue the exercises.
One is that they affect only 3 percent of the island; much of the rest is used for wildlife conservation programs.
Another is that the operation supports numerous local jobs. Also, the Clinton administration had offered $90 million in aid if residents voted to continue the exercises.
And it's not as if Vieques is unique: Many other areas around the country are home to live-fire missions. Besides which, since 1999 the Vieques training has involved only dummy bombs - not live fire.
Bush's abrupt decision yesterday makes the Clinton-initiated vote moot.
Nor does it seem to have been a well-thought-out decision. The administration will phase out the exercises - which its own Navy has called vital to national security - without having any alternative in place.
Indeed, so far no one has come up with another suitable site. And Navy Secretary Gordon England says he can't guarantee that he'll find one by the time the Vieques training ends in May 2003.
So then what?
Fact is, whatever the Navy comes up with, it won't be as well-suited as Vieques. And that, as former Sixth Fleet commander Daniel Murphy has warned, could "cost American lives."
Vieques is the only spot in Atlantic waters in which vital air-sea-land maneuvers can be done. In fact, a 1999 Pentagon survey of 18 suggested alternatives concluded that "there are no potential sites that can meet the current stated requirement for combined arms live-fire training."
All of which makes us wonder how the White House can claim that this "was a decision made on its merits."
The political merits, maybe.
The Bush White House, after all, is in the midst of a major outreach to Hispanic voters. And doubtless the president's political advisors weren't thrilled about the increasing attention being paid to Vieques protestErs.
Ironically, yesterday's announcement is not going to be all that helpful politically. Even Bush's nominal ally, Republican Gov. Pataki (who has set some sort of new pandering record on the issue) blasted the two-year delay, saying the bombing should end now.
But the lesson here is that making lots of noise gets results - even when they go against the nation's best interests.
Getting Out OF Vieques: The Navy's Forced Exit Was Created By Its Own Missteps
THE MIAMI HERALD
President Bush's decision to stop bombing exercises on Vieques by 2003, though it could prove disastrous for the Navy, is the right call.
The president's decision is the same made by former President Bill Clinton -- minus a Nov. 6 referendum -- and by a Special Panel on Military Operations on Vieques. It would have been preferable for Mr. Bush also to have given the island's 9,000 residents a chance to vote on the issue as the Clinton solution did. But the bombing exercises have become such a hot political issue that setting a finite end point, as Mr. Bush does, is the most prudent course. Even the referendum has been be- clouded by a law passed this week, calling for a July 29 nonbinding vote on the issue.
But now the real difficulty begins. The Navy will be hard-pressed to match the combination of deep-water access and surface topography that Vieques affords. The island is the only training range on the East Coast where the Navy can conduct ``live fire'' exercises, using a combination of land, air and sea-based military personnel and equipment. The Navy has searched in the past for alternative facilities and come up empty.
Even the Special Panel concluded in its 1999 study that the exercises on Vieques were ``essential'' for training U.S. military forces under combat conditions. ``Without such training, the risk to personnel is increased,'' the report concluded.
But the report also points out that years of Navy mishandling of operations on Vieques account for the deep resentment of Vieques residents and politicians. The death of a security guard, killed two years ago when a Marine pilot missed his target, was the spark for the latest flare-up. But criticism of the Navy's bombing operations has been a recurrent theme for more than 60 years when the military first began exercises on a nearby island.
One example: In a 1983 Memorandum of Understanding, the Navy agreed to limit its bombing exercises and to assist islanders with jobs and economic development. Although improvements were made, the Special Panel concluded that the overall effort, even after 16 years, was ``inadequate.'' Even with the Navy's certain departure, many islanders are dissatisfied and want an immediate exit.
That's the price of benign neglect.
Vieques Decision Correct, But Clumsy
Allentown Morning Call
Predicting a decision on Vieques by President Bush was next to impossible, given the administration's shifts in direction. In March, the President suspended the controversial Navy bombing exercises on the island off the coast of Puerto Rico while negotiators pursued a solution to the dispute. A month later, the Navy resumed the exercises anyway, saying the simultaneous air, sea and land maneuvers are too vital to the nation's defense.
Then on Thursday, President Bush announced the Navy will end its exercises on Vieques by May 2003. Opponents of the training exercises say they harm the health of the island's 9,100 residents, and they cite studies of unusual heart abnormalities and other medical problems. But the Navy says there is no credible scientific evidence that the training poses a health threat.
The U.S. had purchased two-thirds of the island on the eve of World War II. But residents' support of Navy exercises there ended with a fatal April 1999 accident: Two Navy jets on a practice bombing run killed a civilian Puerto Rican security guard. President Clinton and then-Gov. Pedro J. Rossello of Puerto Rico eventually agreed the Navy could resume exercises with dummy weapons until a referendum is held on the island this November.
Latino activists are a fast-growing political constituency in this country and President Bush no doubt sought to satisfy them in making this week's decision. Pentagon officials, however, said Thursday they would have preferred that the President wait until the November referendum on Vieques to decide. And that, with the political cover it would have provided, would have been a more astute way to handle the situation. Instead, the President angered the Pentagon (for not consulting them), Hispanic leaders (for the long timeline) and conservatives with his unexpected announcement in Sweden. We believe the President is leading the nation to the right outcome, but he could have been less clumsy in getting there.
Backloaded Victory Bombing Of Puerto Rican Island Will Stop, But Not For Two Years.
The people of Vieques , the island off of Puerto Rico long bombed in U.S. Navy training exercises, have won a partial victory. The Bush administration has announced plans to end bombing by 2003, reversing the Navy's long-running insistence of the site's indispensable status.
Movement toward protecting the health, safety and respect of the southernmost American citizens is long overdue. Waiting another two years to end the bombing still fails them.
"It's like me telling you that I'm going to stop beating you in the head with a hammer in two years," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D- N.Y.
The decision came only days after New York Gov. George Pataki met with high administration officials to push for cessation of the bombing. "The decision for the first time ever to stop the bombing of Vieques permanently is a very important and positive step," Pataki said. "But it's certainly not as far as I would like. I would like to see the bombing stopped today."
The bombing has accidentally killed a civilian and, according to a study, shown a relationship with the high incidence of heart problems among the fishermen and children on the island. The main ailment is a disorder known as vibroacoustic disease, which is linked to loud noises like those from jet engines or explosions.
Instead of bombs dropping in the middle of the ocean, they are aimed at an island where Americans live. They fall on the same chunk of earth where there are homes, jobs and recreation areas.
That would be unheard of virtually anywhere else in America. So it shouldn't be tolerated any longer on Vieques .
Critics of ending the bombing say President Bush's decision is political because he's worried about losing support from Hispanic voters, who have voiced fierce and widespread opposition to the bombing.
New York City's annual Puerto Rican Day parade drew thousands of people, many with signs protesting the Vieques bombing and supporting the so-called Vieques Four, four politicians/activists who were arrested for protesting on the island.
Vieques residents have long protested the exercises. Other prominent Americans have been joining them ever since. Assemblyman Jose Rivera of New York, Councilman Adolfo Carrion Jr. of New York City, Roberto Ramirez, the Bronx Democratic Party chairmen, and civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton each received jail sentences for protesting on the island.
Sharpton received an unnecessarily harsh sentence of 90 days, which prompted him to begin hunger strike.
So, the attention and pressure was mounting on the Bush administration. We would hope, though, that the health and safety of people are the president's first concern.
In any event, the days of bombing this island are numbered. The sooner it ends, the better.
The Vieques Bombshell
The Bush administration orders an end to bombing on the island after 2003
The sudden decision by the Bush administration to call for an end to naval practice bombing on the island of Vieques carries something of a jolt itself. For all of Mr. Bush's promises to improve combat readiness of American troops, he has proven to be as influenced by the polls as most politicians. That is a trait his critics on the far right are likely to condemn, but for those searching for signs that Mr. Bush is not captive to the conservative wing of his party, the Vieques decision comes as heartening news. Mr. Bush, it seems, is a pragmatist after all.
Vieques, a tiny Puerto Rican island, is home to only 9,300 people, and the island itself is largely uninhabitable because of shrapnel and unexploded shells that have accumulated over 50 years of air and sea bombardment by the Navy and Marines. Studies have linked the bombing to a higher than normal rate of heart and other ailments among the island people, prompting growing protests against the military exercises.
In recent years, Vieques has gained political clout in New York and the U.S. as candidates court the Hispanic constituency. The Puerto Rican vote is essential to New York politicians. Both Gov. Pataki, a Republican, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat, visited the island to call for an end to the bombing. And in April, the Rev. Al Sharpton and three New York politicians -- a state assemblyman, a city councilman and the Bronx Democratic Party chairman -- were arrested on Vieques after staging a protest on Navy property. Mr. Sharpton is serving a 90-day sentence in New York and has gone on a hunger strike that has served to keep both his profile, and his cause, in the public limelight.
Cynics will say that none of these politicians or activists would have uttered a word of protest -- much less jockey now to claim credit for ending the bombing -- if they hadn't been worried about losing the Puerto Rican vote. The same can be said for Mr. Bush, who apparently reached his decision after aides told him he was at risk of alienating Hispanic voters -- a constituency that is growing in political influence every year.
The real test of this voting bloc's influence has yet to come, however. The Bush order won't take effect until 2003, a deadline that opponents of the bombing say is far too long. Puerto Rico Gov. Sila Calderon wants the bombing to stop immediately, and a July referendum will ask the island's people if they want the Navy out altogether.
Mr. Bush might not find it easy to comply with a shorter timetable because the Navy will need to find other suitable practice sites in the interim. Moreover, an abrupt capitulation on the deadline could spur similar demands from Japanese residents on Okinawa, who have also protested U.S. military exercises there.
But for now, Vieques will serve as a textbook example of how a small island almost unheard of some 50 years ago could have such a large impact on today's New York state and national politics. That impact can be summed up in a few words -- the power of the voters.
The Vieques Verdict
GOOD politics doesn't mean good policy.
President Bush's decision to abandon the weapons range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques by May 2003 will deprive the Navy and Marine Corps of the only facility to train pilots and sailors in live-firing drills before deployment to world hot spots, and it might not reap the expected political benefits.
Vieques has been used for about 50 years. It's usually the last stop for battle groups before going to places like the Persian Gulf or the Balkans. Military officials say there's no suitable substitute. U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, agrees, having traveled extensively himself. Bush said the Navy should keep looking.
Controversy flared a couple years ago when a civilian range worker was accidentally killed. Puerto Rican politicians used the incident to stir up emotions, making the range's closing a point of national pride.
But closure would adversely affect Puerto Rico . Inhofe and others in Congress likely will seek closure of the nearby Roosevelt Roads base, which exists only to support U.S. vessels training at Vieques . In addition, the U.S. military may face requests to close other ranges.
As to the political impact of the decision, Bush might not be rewarded. Indeed, many who have been lobbying to get the U.S. military out of Vieques are not satisfied, saying 2003 is too long to wait.
Bush's Vieques verdict could hurt U.S. military preparedness, which raises the risk for American lives. Keeping the range open isn't the easy thing to do, but it is the right thing to do.
Light At End Of The Tunnel For Vieques
For at least two years the people of Puerto Rico have tried everything from begging to protesting to stop the U.S. Navy's 60- year-long bombardment of Vieques , a small island nearby. The Navy's response has always been that there's no other place on Earth as good as Vieques for simulating land, sea and air battles with inert bombs.
Thursday, President Bush said the Navy will find somewhere else to conduct its exercises. The pullout will occur before May 2003, according to defense officials. "These are our friends and neighbors, and they don't want us there," Bush said.
In fact, the commonwealth of Puerto Rico is part of the United States. Which makes the case against the bombing even stronger: In a democratic society no institution can go forever against the will of the people.
The Navy calls Vieques the "crown jewel" of its Atlantic training sites, mainly because it can conduct maneuvers there without interference from civilian ships or aircraft. However, the site's value is now undermined by the protesters' determination to continue demonstrations to obstruct the Navy's exercises.
Training exercises are critical to the defense of the entire United States - including Puerto Rico . But the Navy needs to find a new site.
Too Slow An Exit From Vieques
June 16, 2001
President Bush was right to recognize on Thursday that the Navy's continued use of the island of Vieques, off Puerto Rico, was politically untenable. But his decision to let aerial and ship-to-shore bombing continue there until May 2003 in the face of intense local opposition is unrealistic. The current exercises, which will include several days of bombing runs next week, should be the last.
To his credit, Mr. Bush has moved slightly further than President Clinton, who last year agreed that Vieques residents could decide the future of the exercises in a referendum this fall. Had they voted no, as expected, the Navy would have had to end the exercises by May 2003. Mr. Bush's announcement simply anticipates that vote, which he hopes Congress will now agree to cancel.
But some Congressional Republicans argue that no adequate replacement can be found in the Western Atlantic for the exercises carried out in Vieques. There is also concern that bowing to protests on Vieques will make it harder to resist similar pressures from the Japanese island of Okinawa. But those concerns are not reason enough to override the objections of the people of Vieques and Puerto Rico. The Navy is seeking an alternate site. With sufficient effort, it should be able to find one.
Protests on Vieques gathered force after a security guard was killed there in a 1999 bombing accident. In recent months, support for ending the exercises has grown not only among Puerto Ricans but also among other Hispanic Americans. Their protests have won backing from New Yorkers like Gov. George Pataki, Senator Hillary Clinton and the Rev. Al Sharpton. White House political advisers have worried that the issue might undermine Republican efforts to attract Hispanic voters. But Mr. Bush's search for a middle ground has left both sides unsatisfied. The White House now needs to go further and announce that the Navy will schedule no more exercises on Vieques.
Vieques And The Vote
It appears that political demographics will do what protests didn't do - drive the Navy from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques .
By 2003, President Bush announced this week, the Navy will go someplace else for air, sea and land practice firing, even though the Navy insists there is no place like Vieques . "Irreplaceable," Adm. Jay Johnson, chief of naval operations, called it in 1999, "the crown jewel of live-fire combined arms training."
The Navy owns two-thirds of Vieques and used it for bombing and firing exercises for 60 years, but some of the 9,100 people who live there tired of their neighbor's noise and danger, and they attracted highly visible supporters from the mainland.
President Clinton finessed the issue by promising to abide by a referendum this November. That put the decision on his successor's watch. And the Navy is a major employer on the island, so it had a fair chance to win.
But the 2000 Census showed a growing number of Puerto Rican voters in Florida and New York. Mr. Bush tried to anticipate future needs by accepting what the Navy finds unacceptable. So the Navy must now replace the irreplaceable.
Live Fire And Innocent Civilians Is Just Too Dangerous
President Bush has made a wise decision in ending the Navy's use of Vieques Island as a live bombing range in May 2003.
Targeting live bombs and shells on one of Puerto Rico 's partially inhabited islands proved dangerous to the civilians living there (one was killed and four others injured in 1999) and particularly angered Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics.
Actually, Bush is honoring an agreement between former President Clinton and the former governor of Puerto Rico , Pedro Rossello, to cease using the island as a live target range, if Vieques voters decide in a November referendum to stop the exercises - which they are expect to do in overwhelming numbers.
Meanwhile, the country must find some uninhabited site for live ordinance practice. It is a critical part of the training of Navy pilots and gunners.
But with some 9,300 Puerto Ricans living on approximately one- third of the 52-square-mile island, the risk was too great.
An Unjustified Navy Loss
President Bush has directed the Navy to close its bombing and gunnery range on Vieques Island off Puerto Rico by 2003 and find another place to conduct live-fire practice. The decision representsa sad cave-in to the politics of junk-science victimology.
There'll be no great harm to the Navy if another good site is found soon - but that should have been done before giving up Vieques .
Opponents of the bombing have been blaming the exercises for a variety of health ills among the island's 9,000 residents. The cause has attracted support from cause-mongers like the Rev. Al Sharpton and Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.
Michael Fumento, one the nation's best debunkers of junk-science nonsense, has pointed out that the closest Vieques resident lives nine miles from the bombing range. That's about the crow-flying distance from Park Street Station to the Arlington-Lexington line.
The Navy's opponents have claimed, among other things, that there are higher cancer rates on Vieques than Puerto Rico itself. But 47 states have higher cancer rates than Puerto Rico . Bombing opponents have sometimes resorted to even worse statistical trickery. And just how plausible is it that the explosion of 1,000-pound bombs nine miles or more away can affect HIV infection rates, or cause alcoholism?
Recent exercises have not used live ammunition, but that restraint cannot continue for long. Realistic training is absolutely essential for minimizing casualties.
The White House has been reported worried about losing Hispanic votes for Republicans if use of Vieques continues. The really depressing thing is that there are enough unscrupulous activists who will play the ethnic card to try to make this fear come true.
And the Bush administration may have managed to dig itself into an even deeper political hole with the move.
Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, wondered aloud what the United States should tell other countries that host U.S. training facilities.
"What do we tell them? We won't bomb on ours, but we'll bomb on yours?"
Pandering Conquers Vieques
The politics behind President Bush's decision to stop bombing exercises at the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in 2003 had all the subtlety of a pie on the face.
Ever since the latest census figures confirmed that Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country, Republican strategists--along with every other politician and marketer in the land--have been lusting after anything Hispanic. And so the president has been methodically playing up to Mexican-Americans and Cuban- Americans. Now it was the Puerto Ricans ' turn.
For appearance's sake, one wishes Bush had waited a bit so his decision wouldn't closely coincide with the annual Puerto Rican parades in New York and Chicago, a detail that made this whole affair seem all the more craven.
For the sake of fairness to all the residents of Vieques --not just the islanders and some mainlanders who have turned the issue into a beachfront soap opera--one also wishes Bush could have waited for the results of a referendum, scheduled for November, that would have allowed residents to decide their future freely.
Instead, Bush made a pre-emptive decision that conceivably could affect American military preparedness. He acted either out of political expediency or because he was spooked by the protest antics of Rev. Al Sharpton--how did he get involved in this?--plus U.S. Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and even a few Hollywood emissaries like Edward James Olmos.
Either way, this wasn't Bush's best hour.
The U.S. Navy, which has used Vieques for about 60 years to practice ship-to-shore bombing and amphibious landings, has insisted the island is essential and irreplaceable. Now that the Navy has no choice but to move, it'll come clear whether this is true.
But for supporters of Puerto Rican independence or even some statehood proponents, the Navy's stubborn presence in Vieques , despite all their ruckus, was an intolerable reminder of Puerto Rico 's powerlessness and colonial status. This was only underlined when Navy security personnel allegedly mistreated some of the more obstinate protesters, including Gutierrez.
Both sides should have been satisfied with the compromise worked out by President Clinton--including the referendum.
For the Navy, it would have provided an unmistakable signal of whether it was time to go.
Puerto Ricans of all political persuasions also should have accepted a referendum as a fair and honorable way to settle the issue.
Yet given that in previous referendums in Puerto Rico , proponents of independence--the loudest component of the Navy-out-of- Vieques movement--have been losing by margins ever more crushing, letting residents make their own decision, and abiding by it, may have been too risky a proposition.
Then there is the real possibility that Navy practices in Vieques were not as dangerous as the protesters claimed. Or that, depending on the referendum outcome, residents might have received a total of $90 million from the government in exchange for the right to continue using the bombing range.
So the protesters kept screaming, and the administration, sensitive to politics, caved in. The issue is settled but in reality nobody won--least of all the people of Vieques who should have been allowed to decide their own fate.
Vieques Decision Wise
Bush, elected with strong military support, shows he can say no to the Pentagon when necessary
Despite strong protest from the Navy and its allies in Congress, the Bush administration was right to announce the end of bombing runs at the Puerto Rican island of Vieques .
The Navy claims it is the only place suitable in the Atlantic sphere to conduct live fire practice, which it has been doing at Vieques for 60 years.
But the Navy needs to be a little more imaginative in meeting its understandable desire to conduct realistic training to ensure its readiness for actual combat.
Navy supporters were aghast at the administration's decision, calling it "political," which of course, it was. In a country where the military is accountable to civilian control, people's concerns are supposed to be heeded, which is what politics is all about.
President Bush, who came into office with strong military support, is no less obligated than his predecessors to weigh the demands of citizens against the demands of the military. So it was good to see he is not so obligated to the military that he won't say no to the Pentagon where appropriate.
The Navy's Rough Chop
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
On Capitol Hill, several members of Congress, their noses out of joint because their egos were insufficiently soothed, whined last week about President Bush's decision to halt Navy bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques by May 2003. In fact, Bush had little choice and, as Monday's protests on the island suggest, probably will have to end the bombing before his 2003 deadline.
The Navy has been using the eastern tip of Vieques for target practice for more than a half-century, but only in recent years have the exercises become widely controversial among the 9,100 people living on the island. They maintain the bombing has led to a variety of physical ailments and caused environmental damage.
Whether there is a scientific basis for these complaints is beside the point: Today, an overwhelming majority of people on Vieques demand that the bombing end, even though millions of dollars in development aid have been pumped into the local economy as a result of a deal negotiated by President Clinton and Puerto Rico's previous governor.
Vieques' location and its other advantages make it an ideal place to train - an indispensable site for bombing exercises, the Navy has argued. Valuable, yes. Indispensable, almost certainly not. Locating such exercises in the Caribbean, so close to the U.S. mainland, has some obvious benefits, but it doesn't mean the Navy has run out of alternative sites to conduct similar training in other parts of the world.
Puerto Ricans, including their governor, and some U.S. politicians, want the bombing to end now, not in 2003. That may force the Navy to abandon Vieques earlier than it wants, and it may require other difficult adjustments. But the Navy cannot stay where it is not wanted, and if it is not wanted on Vieques, it should leave sooner rather than later.
Investigate Vieques Abuses
To the Editor:
If Navy personnel have physically abused people detained for protesting the military exercises on Vieques, as described in "Treated Like Trash," by Bob Herbert (column, June 14), they have violated international human rights agreements as embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the United Nations' standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners and its declaration on the protection of all prisoners from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
I am mystified at how a Navy spokesman can declare, without an investigation, that there has been no abuse or excessive force. The secretary of the Navy should open an investigation immediately, and if abuse is determined to have taken place, those responsible should be disciplined accordingly.
June 14, 2001
The Navy's Use Of Vieques Is Not Such A Bad Deal
To the Editor:
My frustration over the opposition to the use of the island of Vieques as a bombing range has gradually turned to anger (front page, June 15). What would be acceptable to Puerto Rican activists and politicians who oppose the use of the island for live-fire training? Continuing to live under the auspices of the United States, so long as there is no sacrifice on the part of the Puerto Rican people?
Residents near military posts around the United States live with the regular sound of artillery, low- flying aircraft and the danger of a potential mishap. Yet most of these citizens realize that military training is necessary for the continued defense and stability of our country, including Puerto Rico.
If the Puerto Rican people are unwilling to lend their support to our nation's defense, perhaps it is time to rethink Puerto Rico's status. Once the activists and politicians have had the opportunity to fend for themselves, they will realize that the Navy's use of Vieques is not such a bad deal.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Re: " Vieques developers," Letters, May 14.
In accusing the protesters as shills of the hotel developers in Vieques , Mike Carter has exhibited ignorance concerning the reality of the protest. While there might be some "rooting from the sidelines" by the developers, there are at least three much more vocal groups involved in the protest.
First is the health problem group of Puerto Rican residents led by the Puerto Rican Secretary of Justice Anabelle Rodriquez. This group has long tolerated the Navy's range but of late something strange has caused muscular hardening around the hearts of the residents. Without visible cause this group blames the sickness on "noise-related stress." This group wants the health hazard corrected.
The second group is that ubiquitous anti-war group that sincerely believes in world peace. I believe that this group would like to see the range removed completely.
The third group, environmental and medical people concerned with cleanup activities after military actions, had only recently become aware that wherever U.S.-manufactured munitions were used, there was an inordinate amount of some kind of lingering health hazard. Scientists in the field noticed that a major difference between traditional munitions and modern munitions was the presence of uranium. Ordnance people found a U-238 isotope (DU) was ideal in munitions manufacture where its high density could be used to confine explosive reactions longer or penetrate armor plate.
Manhattan Project scientists had indicated that DU was safe to handle. But when oxidized to the trioxide it is an extremely fine powder that floats and is easily ingested by plants and animals. This group's sole interest is the universal abandonment of DU in non-nuclear weaponry.
Letters to the editor
Copyright © 2001, Orlando Sentinel
2-way street . . .
I think that it is way past time for someone to speak up on the matter of the Navy leaving Vieques by 2003.
Puerto Ricans are able to come to the United States without having a passport or a visa. They continually vote not to become a state but continually reap the benefits for nothing. It is only fair that, if we have to move out of Puerto Rico, then every Puerto Rican must now have to move out of the United States and have their U.S. citizenship revoked.
. . . time will tell
As stated in an article Thursday about the Vieques decision, it is "a hollow victory" for Puerto Rico.
The Navy will leave Vieques. Gone will be the tens of millions of dollars pumped into the economy. Gone will be the varied logistical support given the island residents.
The 9,000 residents will have only a very small tax revenue, as there is virtually no industry on the island.
Perhaps even more serious will be that when the Navy finds an alternate location, the main support base for Vieques at Roosevelt Roads may also be closed. This will mean the loss of thousands of jobs and many millions of dollars from the economy.
Time will tell whether this effort was a prudent one by Puerto Rican activists.
June 17, 2001
Bush to Announce Halt to Vieques Exercises (June 14, 2001)
For Vieques, 2 Years Is A Long Time
To the Editor:
Does President Bush really imagine that protests will end because he's declaring a halt to the military exercises and aerial bombings on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques starting two years from now (front page, June 15)?
In two years' time, how many adults and children on the island will develop cancer, scleroderma, lupus, thyroid deficiencies and serious asthma? How much higher will the rate of unemployment go? What about the continuing contamination of air, drinking water and fish, as well as the continuing destruction of delicate ecosystems of plant and animal life?
If your children were among the 9,300 inhabitants of Vieques, would you be willing to wait two years for the bombing to stop?
The military exercises and aerial bombings must stop immediately. Let the May 2003 deadline be for the Navy to decontaminate Vieques' air, land and water, and to restore the island to its former agricultural fertility.
California; Letters Desk
Call Their Bluff
Re "Bush Team Plans to End Vieques Bomb Training," June 14: This is not the solution to this problem. Caving to pressure breeds contempt and encourages pressure in other areas. Call the bluff of Puerto Rican activists and bleeding-heart liberal Democrats in this country. Grant Puerto Rico the independence from the U.S. that many there demand. Cut the U.S. taxpayer dollars sent yearly to Puerto Rico to prop up its Third World economy. Then agree to end the use of Vieques island for U.S. military training. With this offer, watch Puerto Ricans change their minds about Vieques.
Defending the Navy
In "U.S. Bombs Explode Hope in Vieques ," [Viewpoints, June 1] Johanna Bermudez begins by characterizing Puerto Rico as a "U.S. colony" used for "America's imperial rule over the world." Although it's true that the United States was once a British colony and Puerto Rico once paid taxes to Spain, my history book reports that the U.S. Navy expelled the Spanish at the request of the people of Puerto Rico . As a U.S. territory, and later a commonwealth, Puerto Ricans have enjoyed U.S. citizenship and federal entitlements while paying no federal tax for more than 100 years.
In recent years the U.S. Navy was deployed to restrain barbarism in Haiti, Kosovo and Kuwait, among other areas. To my knowledge, there has been no imposition of tax or territorial claims made on these countries as might be expected of an imperial power. To the contrary, the U.S. has been criticized for failing to use force to restrain what proved to be authentic genocide in Rwanda.
The 19-year-old Americans who form the backbone of the U.S. Navy endure four years of family separation, 19-hour working days and minimum wages below civilian standards. Dozens of sailors have been murdered in Puerto Rico over the years, bombs have been placed in New York City and members of Congress shot at the instigation of allegations of imperialism. Johanna Bermudez' rhetoric does not illuminate the subject of Vieques or U.S. foreign policy.
Letters to the editor
Stop bombing . . .
Copyright © 2001, Orlando Sentinel
In response to Lawrence Beaudrie's letter to the editor Sunday: Puerto Ricans have served in every American war or police action since 1898, proudly wearing a U.S. uniform.
I am Puerto Rican and a retired U.S. Navy commander, and, as much as I love my Navy, I believe that it is wrong to bomb in such proximity to civilian population. There are plenty of uninhabited islands in the area that could serve just as well. Have you seen a map of Vieques? Have you seen the restricted and danger areas and how they totally surround the inhabited parts?
I am amazed that more people haven't been killed or hurt. Puerto Ricans are not asking the Navy to leave Puerto Rico or even Vieques -- just to stop bombing it.
By the way, the main obstacle to Puerto Rico's becoming a state is not the vote of the people but the reluctance of the U.S. Congress. And the receipt of "benefits for nothing" that Beaudrie mentioned stems from the U.S. revolutionary forefathers who extolled: "No taxation without representation."
. . . solve relationship
I read on the Sentinel's Web page a letter from a reader who seemed to be concerned about Puerto Rican demands that the U.S. Navy leave Vieques. The reader said that if we did not want the Navy in Puerto Rico, then it was just about time for Puerto Ricans to leave the States and return to the island.
Well, I have news for your reader. In 1898, after the Hispanic-American War, the U.S. Navy invaded Puerto Rico, and the United States became the first colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere. U.S. armed forces came to Puerto Rico uninvited, with the only purpose being expanding its power over the Caribbean.
If there is a problem between Puerto Rico and the United States at this moment, it was not caused by us in Puerto Rico. On the contrary, we have been trying to get U.S. government attention for the past century in order to engage in a process to solve our colonial relationship with United States. If past presidents and administrations have failed to address this issue effectively, it is not our fault.
I would suggest reading books like Disenchanted Island by Roland Fernández and The Legal Construction of Identity by Dr. Efrén Rivera Ramos. They both describe our relationship with the United States since the invasion in 1898.
José R. Bas
Q: The Navy has been using the bombing range on Puerto Rico 's Vieques Island since 1941. What benefit, in the way of monetary compensation, has Puerto Rico been receiving?
--- Ken McKenna, Duluth
A: The Navy owns 22,000 acres of land on Vieques . Of that, the weapons range on the eastern tip of the island comprises about 900 acres. Since it owns the land, the Navy has not been paying to use it.
Under a deal cut by then-President Clinton and then-Gov. Petro Rossello of Puerto Rico , the 9,400 residents of Vieques will decide in a November referendum whether the Navy should leave. The agreement, which current Puerto Rico Gov. Sila Calderon opposes, says that if islanders vote to expel the Navy, it would have to leave by May 2003.
The agreement says if they vote to let the Navy train on Vieques with live ammunition, the island would get $50 million for economic development. In the meantime, President Bush has said the Navy should pull out of Vieques , creating a storm of controversy on Capitol Hill.
Vieques withdrawal is 'mistake'
I am generally a supporter of George W. Bush; however, I think he made a foolish statement when he said that one of the primary reasons we are giving up the Vieques training and bombing range is that the Puerto Ricans don't want us there (''Navy to halt training on Puerto Rican isle,'' News, Thursday).
Using that same rationale, I guess the United States will be pulling out of Okinawa, Japan, soon, too. Okinawans have been asking the U.S. to remove its military forces from their island for several years.
In my view, Bush's decision is simply a political one to appease Puerto Rican voting constituencies in the United States.
The president's decision is indication that once again U.S. military personnel receive short shrift.
I don't think there is any other training site on the entire Atlantic seaboard that provides sailors and Marines with the kind of training Vieques provides. Now our Atlantic Fleet sailors and Marines, including some from Puerto Rico, may well go into harm's way ill-prepared and ill-trained.
Let's just hope and pray that these same men and women don't return in body bags one day because they didn't receive the training they needed.
Freedom comes at a price. It takes hard work, blood, sweat and tears on a daily basis to preserve the extraordinary freedoms we enjoy. It would be refreshing to see our national leadership, including Congress, put our military servicemembers first for a change instead of giving them lip service and treating them like second-class citizens.
David W. Haughey
While President Bush's commitment to end the bombing on Vieques is a positive step, it is both galling and entirely predictable to hear the Republicans crying over it (''Decision to pull out of Vieques provokes backlash,'' News, Friday).
Using such hackneyed nonsense as ''military preparedness'' and ''risking the lives of those in uniform'' to appeal to the fears and ignorance of the general American public -- most of whom couldn't place Vieques on a map -- is both telling of the critics' motives and their embodiment of the American arrogance by which most of the world cannot abide.