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VIEQUES - OP/ED
Can Navy Find Alternative?
Bush Drops A Bomb...
No One Pleased
Money for Vieques
Can Navy Panel Find Good Vieques Substitute?
The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star, Norfolk, VA
The Puerto Rican island of Vieques is ideal for testing the combat readiness of U.S. Navy and Marine units. The Navy has long insisted that no other Atlantic Ocean site equal to Vieques is available for sharpening its formidable fighting skills.
But President Bush, assessing persistent protesters' demands for no more bombing at one end of the island, has directed the Navy to cease all bombardments there by May 2003 and to assemble a panel to look for another training ground.
"These are our friends and neighbors, and they don't want us there," Bush explained. "My attitude is the Navy ought to find somewhere else to conduct its exercises."
Republicans would have crucified President Bill Clinton for moving to deny Vieques to the Navy. They would have accused him of sacrificing combat readiness to win the Hispanic vote in New York state for wife Hillary's (successful) U.S. Senate election bid and for Vice President Al Gore's campaign for the presidency.
Bush is taking some hits from conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill who vow to oppose his decision and accuse him of making a partisan political move to win Hispanic support for his 2004 re- election campaign and the re-election campaigns of his brother, Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, and New York Republican Gov. George Pataki.
Karl Rove, Bush's political adviser, had repeatedly expressed concern that the mounting protests, arrests of demonstrators and continuation of bombing was eroding Hispanic loyalty to the president. That domestic politics figured in Bush's decision is suggested by Rove's presence at the Wednesday White House meeting with Navy Secretary Gordon England at which the administration's course was set.
But the decision was also shaped by the hard reality that Puerto Ricans - perhaps most - favor no more bombardments. They appear likely to continue to feel that way despite the Navy's use of dummy ammunition in exercises under way. If not called off, a referendum next month could produce an explicit call from Puerto Ricans for no more bombing.
Ending bombardments two years from now doesn't satisfy the many Puerto Ricans and their sympathizers, including many members of Congress, who want the bombing stopped. But the president's concession to Puerto Rican sentiment may play well with Hispanics at large.
During the Reagan presidency, then-Navy secretary John Lehman surprised some Norfolk journalists by saying the Atlantic Fleet could find other places for exercises. Now a search panel is to be commissioned to identify other real estate that could lend itself more or less as well as Vieques does to the fleet's mission. We don't envy that panel's assignment.
The Orange County Register
The Bush administration's change of heart with regard to the Navy's bomb-training site of Vieques , Puerto Rico , has been analyzed mainly in political terms. The president wanted to let the Navy continue its exercises, critics say, but decided that he couldn't afford the criticism among Hispanics.
That may be so, but we're pleased Mr. Bush will stop military exercises there. That's true even though key opponents are leftists looking for a political cause.
The military should not be a bad neighbor, and bombing an island with a civilian population that -- for the most part -- doesn't want the bombing to continue is not neighborly. There surely are less controversial sites that can be used for exercises.
Advocates of continued use of Vieques point to a troubling precedent. They say that populations that don't want us in other places will now have more fodder to push the U.S. military out. This, they say, could be a particular problem in Okinawa, where U.S. Marine assaults have sparked outrage.
As we see it, local anger could be one sign that U.S. forces are no longer needed in a particular spot. Perhaps Vieques will lead to a closer look at other questionable military activities.
An End To Vieques Bombing
The 60-year naval bombardment of Puerto Rico's Vieques Island will thunder to a halt two years from now, in a peace made of politics rather than military victory. The Navy will reconnoiter elsewhere for a training range of similar allure, while relative tranquility descends on the small island's bomb-ravaged hills and repeatedly assaulted shores.
Opponents of the Navy's live-fire training range off the eastern tip of Puerto Rico ought to applaud the decision without caviling about the delay. The Navy, which defends Puerto Rico along with the rest of America and its territories, should get time to find and prepare another range that will help keep Navy and Marine Corps units combat-ready.
Vieques, or at least the Navy's purchased part of it, will fall to increasing protest from Puerto Rican politicians and supporting American activists, but the Navy's announcement of plans to cease fire in 2003 simply pre-empt what was likely to be an eventual eviction in that year anyway. President Clinton and the Navy had agreed to hold such a referendum on Vieques this November, and Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Calderon had scheduled a governmental referendum in July.
Announcing an end to the controversial bombardment curtails political damage for the Republicans, who were taking a pounding in the Hispanic community, which both parties are now courting. But it also provides some certainty for the island's 9,300 residents, still upset over the death of a civilian guard in a Navy bombing exercise two years ago and concerned over a high incidence of a heart condition linked to loud noises like those of explosions or low- flying jet aircraft.
The Navy, which earlier had defended adamantly the need to keep its "crown jewel" live-fire range, readied its announcement late last week while a major fleet exercise began off Vieques as a prelude to Monday's start of ground maneuvers and air attacks using "dummy" bombs. The need to sharpen such military skills continues, and readying a substitute range will take time.
For now, though, the Bush administration has saved itself the embarrassment of an expected landslide referendum defeat, and Vieques has been spared a perpetual role as a military target. The next impact residents feel is likely to be financial, if the Navy pulls out altogether, but after more than half a century, Vieques is due for a peacetime economy.
Just how important is the Navy training site in Vieques , Puerto Rico ? Military leaders call it the "crown jewel" of locations, the only place where the Atlantic Fleet conducts amphibious landings with aerial bombing and naval gunfire. Congressional experts have been unable to find a replacement site, and House and Senate Republicans reportedly are furious with the Bush administration for its plan to end military operations there.
So too are protesters who object to the Naval operations - because the plan calls for an end to training in 2003. "We want it stopped now," says one. Someone should have reminded the President that those who stake out the middle of the road end up getting hit from both directions.
Democrats harbor suspicions that Bush made the call in hopes of courting the Hispanic vote. Could be - common sense certainly cannot explain it. What's more, Karl Rove - the President's chief politicaladviser - played an instrumental role in making the decision. If the grievously poor move was politically motivated, then it is even more egregious. A certain degree of crass political calculation is inevitable at the presidential level, but nothing can excuse trifling with the nation's security for the sake of partisan gain.
There is a ray of hope. Moving naval operations to another location requires congressional approval, and Senate GOP leader Trent Lott - along with many others - appears dead-set against it. Let us hope they can convince the administration to reverse course. What they cannot do is change the apparent lack of prudence that the Vieques decision represents.
Bush Drops A Bomb
The Salt Lake Tribune
President Bush is putting party before country with his politically driven decision to end Navy bombing exercises on Puerto Rico 's Vieques Island. Republican strategist Karl Rove has convinced the president that the Latino vote is crucial to the party's future success, and a blow to America's military readiness is apparently the price that must be paid.
It is the type of self-serving shenanigan that Republicans routinely accused President Clinton of perpetrating, the kind that would end when Bush brought "dignity back to the White House." But if trading national security for votes constitutes "dignity" in Bush's mind, the parents of White House interns should consider calling their daughters home.
The Vieques bombing range has been used to train troops for every major U.S. conflict since World War II, and its unique combination of favorable attributes makes it irreplaceable. It is minutes from a good-size port and airstrip. It is outside the path of commercial airliners, which allows Navy jets to drop bombs from the same altitude they would in combat. Deep water just 1 1/2 miles offshore lets Navy ships move well within gunfire range with no threat to commercial shipping. Its broad beaches and shallow approaches allow Marines to practice amphibious landing operations. Most important, it is the only site in the Western Hemisphere where all three military activities can be practiced simultaneously, and the U.S. government owns it.
Bush's weak-kneed rationale for blowing a hole in U.S. military readiness -- "These are our friends and neighbors, and they don't want us there" -- has horrified military experts in Congress, including Utah Rep. Jim Hansen. He anticipates problems with other countries that host U.S. training facilities if the Puerto Ricans succeed in running the U.S. Navy off its own land. "What do we tell them?" Hansen wonders. "We won't bomb on [our land] but we'll bomb on yours?"
The increasingly anti-American population of Okinawa isn't likely to buy that one.
Understandable complaints have been raised about the noise and environmental impacts of Navy bombing, even though it is confined to a 900-acre site more than nine miles from the 9,000 civilians. But if bombs and people can't coexist on the island, then the answer is to remove the civilians, not the Navy. The Navy owns two-thirds of Vieques and the U.S. government has made several offers over the years to buy the rest. It should make another hefty one now, because it would be far less expensive to relocate civilians than to acquire another training ground with the advantages of Vieques .
Bush Will Win Few Friends By Ending Vieques Training
The Pantagraph Bloomington, IL
"These are our friends and neighbors, and they don't want us here."
Those words sound like something Bill Clinton would have said when he was president. Instead, they were uttered by President Bush in announcing an end to military training on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques by May 2003.
If the United States withdrew its military forces from every place "they don't want us," the country could save a lot of money on foreign deployments. Of course, the "savings" would come at the expense of national security - in addition to lives lost as a result of inadequate training.
And that's a danger in Puerto Rico , too.
If Bush was hoping to win over "our friends and neighbors" with his announcement, he is likely to be disappointed.
Opponents don't want bombing exercises ended by May 2003, as outlined by Bush. They want them ended now. And many military officials don't want them ended at all.
So Bush only succeeded in alienating some supporters in the military - who thought a Republican commander in chief would be more sympathetic to their cause - while failing to appease the Vieques protesters.
In fact, his announcement seemed to encourage the protesters, who resumed their attempts to disrupt the latest training exercises.
"Bush's decision shows that our civil disobedience campaigns have been effective," said Jose Paralitici, a spokesman for one of the protesting groups. "We have to keep it up. You don't stop rowing a boat when you're almost to shore."
Military officials have insisted there are no suitable alternatives to using Vieques as a training site for combined air, sea and land maneuvers for its Atlantic fleet. It has been used as a training site for 60 years.
The decision is said to be based on a Navy recommendation, but it seems fairly clear that the White House heavily influenced - if not outright ordered - what the "recommendation" would be.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's denial that the action was taken to appease Hispanic voters doesn't ring true.
With Bush's emphasis on what "our friends" wanted and the lack of an alternative in place, this pull-out smacks of politics taking precedence over defense.
Critics of Bush's decision - which include many members of his own party - should maintain pressure to continue training exercises at Vieques unless and until a suitable alternative that provides the necessary integrated, multiforce training, can be found.
Rice said the issue wasn't politics but "how best to train."
Good For Puerto Rican Island
St. Petersburg Times
Copyright 2001 St. Petersburg Times.
President Bush made the correct decision in calling an end to military exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques . The live bombing was a vestige of colonialism at its worst, and halting the target practice removes a threat to the public safety of islanders and a growing irritant to relations with Puerto Rico .
Even though Bush's decisions enraged military leaders and failed to quiet critics on the other side, he still did more for island residents than former President Clinton did in his two terms. (But that didn't keep Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., from dismissing Bush's move as a "mirage.") The Navy will end exercises there by 2003. A panel will find an alternative site for live-fire air and sea training.
President Bush struck a proper balance between the island's military value and political sensitivity to the issue.
Before leaving Vieques , the Bush administration should conduct an environmental assessment to determine how 60 years of bombing exercises have affected the island. The government owes it to Puerto Rico to leave the bombing range habitable and to accept responsibility for any environmental damage or health dangers to island residents.
The Pentagon is upset by the president's decision, and the military's allies in Congress are accusing Bush of putting politics ahead of national security. Meanwhile, critics on the other side say the Navy is not withdrawing soon enough and vow to continue their protests. We believe, however, that President Bush deserves credit for starting the clock on an overdue move.
A Decision That Bombed
The Cincinnati Post (Copyright 2001)
President Bush's decision that the Navy will no longer be allowed to use the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a training site in two years is militarily detrimental, but the harshest critics should remind themselves that the president was faced with a Catch-22 thanks to the shenanigans of Congress and Bush's predecessor.
Last year, anti-bombing protests were intensifying, elections were coming up all over the lot and the votes of Puerto Rican immigrants were important in some of them. That is when President Clinton and Congress agreed on a law allowing the adults among Vieques ' 9,000- plus residents to determine in a referendum this coming November whether Navy training could continue on the island after May 2003.
By the time of the referendum, of course, Clinton would no longer be in office to face the consequence of the Navy being told to cut out all the bombing and shooting and go away.
Even if the residents implausibly had voted to have the practice raids continue, Clinton and Congress would have established the unfortunate precedent of letting the vote of a small group of citizens with a special interest outweigh the considered judgment of the military on a security matter affecting the whole nation.
It is better policy that such a decision be rendered by the president than to leave it to that ill-advised process, and the Bush administration is now trying to persuade Congress to rescind the referendum, which will otherwise take place as a matter of law despite Bush's pre-emptive maneuver.
Nevertheless, Bush's decision was regrettable. Although it cannot be much fun to have bombs dropped within hearing distance of where you live, the islanders are in no life-threatening peril and the Navy's continued use of the island could have life-saving results.
The Navy, which has prepared for combat on the island since 1940, points out in published reports that there is no other Atlantic site that lends itself to the vital sea, land and air trials conducted there.
It would have been without political profit and near hopeless, but Bush should have made a stab at ditching the referendum while simultaneously backing the bombing.
Vieques Has Been Targeted Too Long
Dayton Daily News
BOMBING EXERCISES BEGAN ANEW Tuesday on the island of Vieques , just days after President George W. Bush said the Navy would stop battle simulations on the small Puerto Rican island by 2003.
The president's plan was not enough to stop protesters. Many Puerto Ricans , including Gov. Sila Calderon, and their sympathizers want the Navy to stop exercises at Camp Garcia at once.
It may be that Vieques ' uniqueness cannot be matched by territory elsewhere in the Atlantic. But the Navy has an obligation to respect the wishes of Puerto Ricans who say six decades of simulated battle and Navy occupation of much of Vieques (and the best of its beaches) is enough.
Military officers are correct that Vieques , with its mixed terrain, is a near-perfect training ground.
But tensions continue to brew between the U.S. government and Puerto Rico over Vieques . Compromises, such as the Navy's discontinuation of using live ammunition two years ago, have not eased tempers.
Further damaging relations with Puerto Rico makes little sense. The exercises should end now.
Where's The Veracity On Vieques?
The Washington Times
There are only about 9,400 people living on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques . Yet the military exercises held there resonate politically with the fastest-growing minority in America - or at least that's what President George W. Bush appears to have bet on.
During his recent speech in Goteborg, Sweden, Mr. Bush said the Navy would halt its military training on Vieques by 2003. "My attitude is that the Navy ought to find somewhere else to conduct its exercises, for a lot of reasons," said Mr. Bush. "One, there's been harm done to people in the past. Secondly, these are our friends and neighbors and they don't want us there."
Surely, Mr. Bush has a point. Overbearing government is, after all, so unseemly. And ever since the accidental bombing of an observation tower that killed a Puerto Rican security guard in 1999, the people of Vieques have made it clear they want the Navy's live- bombing exercises to stop. Furthermore, America ought to share in the burden of maintaining military readiness, so alternating sites for military exercises makes sense.
But a rotation system must have clear, previously set guidelines. If the president and military are seen bowing to political pressures, then U.S. populations living near other military-training sites wouldbe tempted to launch their own protest campaigns. After all, no one much likes bombing in their own backyards. But a well-prepared U.S. military is an overriding priority, so these exercises must take place somewhere. Jails, waste sites, juvenile detention and drug rehabilitation centers are similarly undesirable neighborhood landmarks, but necessary nevertheless.
So Mr. Bush's key mistake was to have made a decision regarding exercises in Vieques when the issue was so politically charged. The Rev. Jesse Jackson's wife, Jacqueline, was photographed as she was handcuffed by a Navy security officer Monday for protesting in Vieques . The Rev. Al Sharpton was arrested in May for trespassing on government property during a Vieques demonstration, and the president's decision to halt the Vieques bombing before having found an alternate site was very telling. Had Mr. Bush not been influenced by the ongoing uproar, he would have secured another site for the Navy before hastily abandoning Vieques .
Navy officials also appear to be behaving disingenuously. The Navy had originally maintained that Vieques was a crucial site for executing amphibious military maneuvers, such exercises involving ships' attack formations, submarine evasion and torpedo and plane tracking. But now, the Navy maintains it first proposed closing down its Vieques operations. "In my view, the downside risk to the Navy is much greater than the upside potential," Navy Secretary Gordon England said recently. "The downside risk in this highly emotionally charged environment is that we would not have time to find alternative training for our naval forces . . . But I am firmly convinced that in this time period we can find an alternative for effective training for our naval forces."
This type of flip-flop injures the Navy's credibility. But perhaps the most damning reflection on the president's decision to close Vieques by 2003 is the fact Sen. Hillary Clinton, New York Democrat, has championed that very cause. It's a shame Mr. Bush has made any decision which associates him with such company - even if Hispanics are a key and growing voting bloc.
No One Pleased With Bush's Vieques Decision
CBS News: The Osgood File
(c) Copyright 2001, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.
CHARLES OSGOOD reporting: The Osgood File, sponsored in part by Joint-Ritis and by Hotwire.com. I'm Charles Osgood.
If you try to please everybody, you wind up pleasing nobody. In the controversy over the Navy's use of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques for bombing and combat training, President Bush has, as you may know, made a decision meant to appease all concerned. So is everybody happy? Or maybe the question should be, is anybody happy? More after this for Joint-Ritis.
OSGOOD: Commander in Chief George W. Bush has decided that the US Navy will stop using Vieques for its war training in May of 2003.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: The Navy ought to find somewhere else to conduct its exercises for a lot of reasons. One, there's been some harm done to people in the past. Secondly, these are our friends and neighbors, and they don't want us there.
OSGOOD: Congressman Bob Stump, Republican of Arizona, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, says there is no "someplace else" besides Vieques .
Representative BOB STUMP: I think this place is irreplaceable. There've been numerous attempts made to try to find an alternative training site, and so far we've been unable to do that.
OSGOOD: Senator John McCain says he wouldn't have done it if he was president.
Senator JOHN McCAIN: I would have made sure that I knew exactly where the US Navy, Marine Corps and sometimes Army and Air Force can get--get this level of training before I made the decision to abandon Vieques .
OSGOOD: Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois is Puerto Rican .
Representative LUIS GUTIERREZ: And I say not one more bomb on Vieques , and we must continue to fight. This certainly falls very short of justice for the people of Vieques .
OSGOOD: The bombs fell on Vieques throughout the Clinton administration, but now, of course, Hillary Clinton is senator from New York.
Senator HILLARY CLINTON: And the bottom line for me is that if the bombing is wrong in 2003, it's wrong in 2001 and should stop now.
OSGOOD: James Hansen of Utah is a Republican. He thinks that the Bush decision is a bad precedent.
Representative JAMES HANSEN: To me, it's a line in the sand. You give on this one, where's the next one to come up? We'll be standing in front of you folks for another 10 years talking about who's the next one to go.
OSGOOD: The Osgood File. I'll see you on the television come Sunday morning on CBS. This is Charles Osgood on the CBS Radio network.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
(Copyright 2001 by the Sun-Sentinel)
Having served in the U.S. Navy and having gone to Vieques for training many times, I can vouch for the need for the training there. However, we are not wanted. So why not leave? This includes the bases we have there. The Puerto Ricans working on the bases will be unemployed, but the shelling will have stopped. All the businesses that depend on the U.S. bases will also suffer, but the shelling will have stopped. We should leave with everything.
Letters to the editor
Copyright © 2001, Orlando Sentinel
June 22, 2001
The compromise on Vieques that everyone seems to be seeking is not too difficult to imagine.
First, we free the island of Puerto Rico from the colonial domination of the United States. Let's face it, the days and glory of colonial empires have been over for many years. Besides, the island will be a free and independent nation sooner or later anyway, so why not take the credit now? Obviously, the United States of America gets absolutely nothing now from Puerto Rico, except a remote island to use as a firing range.
Once Puerto Rico is a foreign country, then, as is our traditional practice for our true friends all over the world, the United States will provide foreign aid to the Republic of Puerto Rico by renting the island of Vieques for tens of billions of dollars a year. Everybody wins!
One favorable consequence that comes immediately to mind is this: Al Sharpton and Jackie Jackson can proceed to the Middle East where we really need them
Vieques: Long-range effect
In reference to Tuesday's letter to the editor from Jose R. Bas:
I was always of the understanding that the war was with Spain and at its conclusion the United States acquired Cuba, the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. I do not know of any major action that transpired in Puerto Rico when we became responsible. Such was not the case in Cuba or the Philippines.
It should be noted that for the last hundred years, and especially in the beginning, a great number of people in the United States were (and still are) against our incursion in the Caribbean.
I agree with Bas that it is time that the status of Puerto Rico should be totally addressed and a final decision on relationships should be established. However, making the United States Navy the "whipping boy" to stir the pot is intolerable. The Navy has a job to do, which, at times, can be a great deal more ugly than living in "colonial-governed" Guaynabo.
I would suggest that the end result of the Vieques situation may not produce the answers that current Puerto Rican flag-waving anticipates. When the Navy leaves Vieques, there is little reason to keep the Navy at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station. This could have an interesting long-range effect. Many jobs will be lost, and who will benefit in the long run? I would suggest that moneyed people, including some wealthy Puerto Ricans, will enjoy the harvest of developing these areas, not the working islanders.
Barr S. Stevenson
Letters to the Editor
(c) Copyright 2001 Piedmont Publishing Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Puerto Rico is willing to take the benefits of its affiliation with the United States but is unwilling to bear the responsibilities that come with it. I don't begrudge the Puerto Rican peoples' efforts to end the live-fire naval training exercises on the island of Vieques nor their reluctance to pay federal taxes.
But if Puerto Rico would like to be treated like a sovereign nation, with its rights and privileges, it's high time for the "50 states" to oblige them.
Let's end the $13 billion in annual federal spending in Puerto Rico and sever all ties with the island "nation." I certainly wouldn't want to make hypocrites out of such a proud people.
Money for Vieques
THE NEW YORK TIMES
June 25, 2001
To the Editor:
Re "When the Bombing Ends," by Bob Herbert (column, June 18):
The bombing controversy on the island of Vieques is so mired in politics that the underlying issue of the health impact on residents has been obscured. An expert panel on which I serve has tried to assist public health scientists in Puerto Rico in evaluating any possible environmental contamination and its potential effect on the residents' health. But intermittent financing and incomplete access to data have greatly impaired their efforts.
As implied by Mr. Herbert, it is time that the American and Puerto Rican governments provide proper assistance to independent professionals for a valid health assessment and surveillance program. Then, any political decisions about future use and cleanup can be made based on the best science available instead of the complex politics currently at play.
Skillman, N.J., June 19, 2001
The writer is a professor of environmental and community medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.