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A Just Decision
Bombs vs. Bucks
Stealth Bombing Of Texas
Bush Right About Bombs
Halt Bombing Now
Let Puerto Rico Go Its Own Way
A Just Decision
June 20, 2001
Pristine beaches, Caribbean trade winds and nesting leatherback turtles should make Vieques an ideal candidate for eco-tourism. Instead, the tiny island east of Puerto Rico serves as a Navy bombing range and a toxic waste dump. President Bush's decision to end six decades of war games on Vieques is a just one.
It's also a decision that pleases almost no one. Many in Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, want the bombing drills and military exercises currently under way to end immediately. Bush has called for the Navy's exit in 2003. Conservative members of Congress and others insist Vieques is the only place in the world where this type of military training can take place. Critics within the Republican Party say Bush has shortchanged national defense in order to curry favor with U.S. Hispanic voters.
\The truth is that the Navy's presence in Vieques could not continue forever. It is a colonial anachronism. The focus now should be on the cleanup task ahead.
The use of explosives, napalm and other toxic substances including depleted uranium have scarred the environment and endangered the health of the island's 9,300 residents, who are U.S. citizens. Vieques has an unexplained high rate of cancer, respiratory ailments and heart disease. The U.S. and Puerto Rican governments are launching investigations to determine the cause of these health problems. The military maneuvers also impede economic development on an island where unemployment is high and most people are poor.
The recent transfer of 8,000 acres of Navy land on the western tip of Vieques underscores the enormity of the problems to come. The local government wants to develop the site, formerly a Navy munitions dump, for tourism and housing. But in its current state, this land is useless. The federal government has yet to say how it plans to clean it up.
Ten years after the Navy halted live-fire training on the Hawaiian island of Kahoolawe -- also after local protests and acts of civil disobedience -- only one-tenth of the cleanup work has been completed.
If Vieques residents are to endure two more years of war maneuvers, even with dummy bombs, they should know that adequate plans and financing are in place to clean up the mess the Navy will leave behind.
NAVY A New Site
June 26, 2001
Having made the decision to move the Navy's training facility from Vieques , President Bush should now consider the logical next step.
One reason the island is valuable to the Navy is that it is just a few miles offshore from the Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station in Puerto Rico .
For 60 years, the Navy has used Vieques to practice aerial and naval bombing and gunnery. But it has become a political football for activists in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico and for anti-military activists in the United States.
The previous president tossed it to the winds by letting Puerto Rico voters decide later this year whether they wanted the Navy to continue using Vieques .
But the outcome is hardly in doubt, especially with a governor now in office who is no friend of the Navy. Bush therefore trumped the inevitable by ordering the Navy out within two years.
Eglin Air Force Base in Florida's Panhandle already is actively seeking the training mission assigned to Vieques .
We suspect the Navy missed an opportunity by not buying up the private land remaining on the center of the island. But, at this stage, the plan should be to find another facility, such as Eglin, and leave Vieques with the Puerto Rico government, as is. There should be no U.S. taxpayer financed cleanup of the bombing range. The total value of the land being abandoned by the Navy should far exceed the cleanup cost.
Furthermore, if the Navy no longer is welcome in Puerto Rico , perhaps Roosevelt Roads also should be abandoned. That would end the $300 million a year boost to the local economy, but if Puerto Rico has decided it is tired of a naval presence after all these years, then it may become necessary.
Where would those operations go?
We can think of no more logical place than Jacksonville, which has a major carrier port and a first-class air station.
Since the outset of World War II, Jacksonville has been a Navy town. It lost an asset when Cecil Field closed, but the welcome mat is still out for the naval service.
Bombs vs. Bucks
June 27, 2001
President Bush caved in to protesters and their celebrity allies when he announced that the United States would quit using the U.S. Navy firing range on Vieques in Puerto Rico. But now, folks there are starting to think about the flip side of the issue, and what they are realizing is not pleasant.
Many Puerto Ricans, of course, opposed U.S. naval use of land on Vieques Island for a bombing range. As usual, a media-friendly cadre of activists and some American luminaries, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, flocked to the cameras to join the protests.
However, in the aftermath of Bush's announcement, some Puerto Ricans are having second thoughts. They are wondering if reduced U.S. military activity will mean fewer civilian jobs down the road. They worry that if the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station retrenches or closes down, their economy will suffer.
These are legitimate concerns. To draw a local analogy, consider the economic fears that would be raised in northern Davis County and southern Weber County if the federal government were thinking of closing Hill Air Force Base's test and training range west of the Great Salt Lake.
In Puerto Rico, Roosevelt Roads employs more than 5,000 military and civilian workers, and pumps about $300 million into the economy each year. Many of these are good jobs, like the kind people have at stateside military bases. They enable workers to buy homes in new subdivisions.
Some see a future in tourism for Vieques. But just as few civilian employees at, say, Hill Air Force Base would likely change jobs for work at a hotel, restaurant or other tourist-oriented facility because of the dramatic difference in pay and benefit packages, this will be a poor substitute for the military jobs. That is, unless Puerto Rico can figure out a way to turn Vieques into a watering spot as attractive as Havana in the pre-Castro days.
The naval bombing range may have been inconvenient. It may even have made a few people sick, like some of the extremist protesters claimed. But it also pumped resources into a community that has limited prospects otherwise.
Bombing range protesters may have achieved a victory, but for many Puerto Ricans, it may well be a Pyrrhic one.
Vieques: Two More Years
June 28, 2001
The question no longer is whether but when the U.S. Navy will end its military exercises and bombing runs on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques . President Bush gave a definite answer this month; the bombing will halt in May 2003.
"My attitude is that the Navy ought to find somewhere else to conduct its exercises," he explained.
If Mr. Bush expected praise for his decision, he must have been disappointed.
The Pentagon's most ardent supporters on Capitol Hill cried foul. They pledge to enact laws to continue the aerial bombing and ship-to- shore shelling that has been taking place in and around Vieques for almost 60 years. It's the only way to verify that our aircraft and ships are combat-ready, they insist.
Opponents of the bombing were no less critical of Mr. Bush's decision. They want the exercises to end immediately, not in two years. Meanwhile, the firing resumed on the 33,000-acre island and dozens of demonstrators at the site have been arrested.
An immediate halt would be the best solution, but it's not likely to happen. The Pentagon contends that no other training site can be found and prepared in a short time. Commanders insist that it would be irresponsible to deploy forces abroad without the necessary exercises that would prepare them for combat.
Mr. Bush opted for the second-best option, which is to give the military a deadline to find another site. He is the first president to set a timetable to resolve this long-standing controversy.
The 9,000 inhabitants of Vieques , a jewel in the Caribbean Sea, deserve peace and the opportunity to make it a tourism magnet. They want the Navy to leave. On July 29, residents of Puerto Rico will have an opportunity to vote in a nonbinding referendum on whether the Navy should halt its operations. The outcome is certain to be overwhelming support for bidding adieu to the military exercises.
Mr. Bush may have been partly motivated by politics; Vieques has become a battle cry for Hispanic Americans, whose votes the president covets. But, politics or not, the decision to end the bombing is right. It sends a signal to Puerto Ricans that their voice has been heard.
Before he made his decision, Mr. Bush sought the advice of experts on combat readiness. He concluded that halting the exercises would not jeopardize U.S. security. Lawmakers should not second-guess him on this issue.
The Stealth Bombing Of Texas
July 2, 2001
AUSTIN, Texas -- The 60-year bombing campaign against the small Caribbean island of Vieques may finally cease in 2003. The Bush administration shocked the defense industry by announcing it was halting all activity on the island, despite a pending referendum on the island that would have likely requested an end to the bombing anyway.
Straight on the heels of that announcement came the surprise news that the Texas coastline was the Navy's front-runner as a possible replacement for the Puerto Rican province. All this couldn't happen without the blessings of local Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz and the Greater Kingsville Economic Development Council, who have both decided that having bombs dropped on their city will be good for local business.
The business leaders in Kingsville say that having a bombing range in Texas will not only boost the economy, but also save the environment by protecting the land from development.
Perhaps they know of some species unique to Texas that thrive off of napalm and depleted uranium shells. Six decades of bombings still hasn't managed to put the Puerto Rican economy on the map, so it's doubtful Kingsville would become a booming economic juggernaut.
One of the most grotesque factors about the recent developments is the secretive nature in which these plans are being conducted. The people who live in the area have not been contacted in any substantive form by their elected officials. The plan was to slowly build support among elites and then spring it on the residents who would be forced to scramble to round up opposition. Now, it's the bombing range supporters who are scrambling. Gov. Rick Perry himself said he was unaware of the plans until he read about the story in a local newspaper.
Perry then promised that no military exercises would be conducted in Padre Island's ecologically delicate environment, but his office quickly corrected him two days later saying that Perry, "has since learned that the Navy did have plans for amphibious exercises" on Padre Island.
Another lawmaker who has had some trouble with the truth regarding the new bombing plans is Ortiz, who is rapidly becoming the king of the backdoor deal. During the China trade debate, Ortiz met with Bill Clinton and offered to trade his vote against Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China to Clinton in exchange for Clinton's scrapping of a pending EPA survey on the controversial Longhorn Pipeline.
Ortiz' alliance with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to halt the bombing in Vieques seemed commendable on the surface. But since Ortiz has for months been quietly pushing his own district to the Navy as a replacement site, it appears that the humanitarian concern for the people of Vieques was a cheap bluff. He seems more concerned with profiting off of military exercises and human rights violations than ending them.
Ortiz kept local business leaders and chamber of commerce hacks abreast of his maneuvers yet failed to clue in any of his "regular" constituents to the fact he was lobbying to hock their land for war games.
One problem with bureaucrats willing to sell out the land is that when they look at the Texas coastline, they see emptiness. If there are no hotels or souvenir shops, the land may as well be shelled into oblivion by high explosive ordinance. Never mind that there are multiple endangered species that live in this area and that it is one of the few parts of the United States that can still be described as relatively pristine.
A bombing range is not an amusement park. Tourists won't come there to watch ships fire at heaps of metal or watch tanks and amphibious vehicles tear up the beaches. The claims of economic growth are laughable. Are people going to rush to fill the roles of security guards, like the one who was killed by an errant bomb in Vieques ?
As the debate escalates, there are dangers that the debate over the new bombing range may take on a "Not In My Backyard" tone. There are seven other proposed locations, all of which are likely to also oppose having the Navy shell their homes. The Navy is going to establish a new bombing range somewhere. It claims amphibious training is a critical component of military readiness and the military won't allow Vieques to be lost without some kind of replacement.
Opponents of this raw deal should present a unified front to oppose the use of toxic weapons on our own soil. These weapons were designed to destroy life and have catastrophic, if unintended, effects any time they are used. The people of Vieques had legitimate complaints about the Navy assaulting their island.
Texas can find another way to employ its citizens.
Navy Bombing Site Bad For Texas Coast
The state's environment should not be sacrificed in the name of economic development.
July 2, 2001
South Texas undoubtedly could use an economic development boost, but moving the Navy's bombing and training site from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques to the Texas Gulf Coast is not the answer.
The Navy is eyeing 200,000 acres of coastal ranchland south of Kingsville for use after it abandons the controversial range near Puerto Rico in 2003.
Among the supporters is Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Proponents of the site claim the Navy facility would be an economic boon to South Texas and provide security for three Coastal Bend-area naval stations during the next round of military base closures.
That may be true. But what about the disruption of the ecosystem, the endangered Ridley turtles, noise pollution and the impact on hunting and fishing in the area?
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports that during World War II, the Navy used a portion of the South Texas coastline as a bombing range.
Two major distinctions need to be made between that use and the proposal now under consideration. First, no live bombs were used in the past.
Second, that was before Padre Island became a national seashore designed to protect its environment.
Training of military personnel is vital, but maintaining quality of life is important as well.
The Navy is moving out of Vieques after 60 years of operation because the people there have said, "Enough." They have serious healthy and safety concerns that should be considered by Texans, too.
High on their list of complaints about the Navy is the April 1999 death of a security guard and the injuries to four others when the targets of two 500-pound bombs were misidentified.
They also have concerns about the higher-than-average incidence of cancer on their island.
The South Texas economy has long lagged behind the rest of the state. It has some of the highest unemployment in the state and among the lowest per-capita income.
The region is in desperate need of economic development, but it should not come at the expense of the environment, the community's health or the tranquility and peacefulness that characterize South Texas.
In the past, folks in the region have had to look to prison-construction programs to bring jobs to their communities.
And during this year's legislative session, a key economic development proposal for South Texas died for lack of support in the House.
Still, South Texans should not have to endure a live-fire bombing range in their back yards to ensure their economic prosperity.
Editorial says a lot about view of military
June 26, 2001
I read with interest the position the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board has taken with regard to the Navy's training on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques ("The Navy's rough chop," June 19). Of particular interest was the last line of the second-to-last paragraph, which stated that ending training events on Vieques "doesn't mean the Navy has run out of alternative sites to conduct similar training in other parts of the world."
Considering the Editorial Board's blatant desire to criticize all things military, it's important to acknowledge the unspoken positions taken by the Journal Sentinel here: 1) that the increased cost of sending Navy personnel and equipment farther from home for routine training is an acceptable expense and 2) the combat training currently conducted on Vieques is indeed acceptable, just so long as it's on some other country's beaches.
Shawn T. Berry
Bush Right About Bombs
June 28, 2001
Before commenting on Gerald Saldana's letter on Monday, "Betrayed by Bush," I would like to thank the Express-News for realizing there are Puerto Ricans in San Antonio interested on what is going on there.
I would also like to give a special thank you to Julio Noboa for his column Saturday, "Will of Puerto Rico thwarted."
Now, Mr. Saldana stated President Bush betrayed him and the military because he gave in to the "few zealots" when he directed the Navy to depart Vieques in 2003.
Well, Mr. Saldana, I'm here to tell you that there are more than 3 million Boricuas in Puerto Rico and millions more in the United States who want the Navy out before May 2003.
This Boricua doesn't agree with a lot of things President Bush is doing, but I'm 100 percent with him on this.
Halt Navy Bombing In Vieques Now
June 28, 2001
We're pleased to see the recent news coverage of protests against continued U.S. bombing on the beautiful island of Vieques in Puerto Rico , where more than 9,000 people live squeezed between a military testing range and a dangerous ammunition storage site. Although President Bush has announced that the Navy will leave Vieques in 2003, that is not soon enough.
Opposition to the bombing has grown since 1999, when a stray bomb killed a civilian. There is increasing documentation of high infant mortality and cancer incidence from the air and water pollution that results from the weaponry testing and storage, and dismay at the destruction of the marine resources that previously provided the livelihood of the islanders.
The resumption of bombing has led to nonviolent occupation of the bombing range, with hundreds of arrests of prominent political and human rights leaders acting as "human shields." Harsh prison sentences have been given for the misdemeanor offense of trespassing, and there have been allegations of mistreatment of the prisoners.
Among those arrested was Assemblyman Jose Rivera. We remember his inspiring visit to Buffalo on May 22, 2000, when he generously agreed to lead a town meeting on these issues, hosted by the Western New York Peace Center.
Rivera described his years of work in bringing the issues in Vieques to public attention through council resolutions, town meetings and local actions in New York City. He showed personal videos of the island, and met with community organizations. His visit showed how a political leader can inspire and educate in the community.
Because he was willing to act peacefully on his ethical convictions, Rivera has been sentenced to 40 days in prison. He has been joined in standing up for justice by many other leaders of the Hispanic and African-American communities.
These news items might seem distant from Western New York, but the basic issues are the fundamental rights to safety and healthy living conditions, and the necessity of government openness in responding to legitimate problems. Perhaps it is not so different from issues here in Buffalo, such as Hickory Woods.
HILEEN SALAS, TERRY BISSON
Let Puerto Rico Go Its Own Way
June 29, 2001
I cannot believe what President Bush said the other day. First he is giving up that island (Vieques) that is necessary for naval practice. Secondly, he said "those people do not want us there." He makes it sound like Puerto Rico is a foreign country, instead of part of the United States. Puerto Ricans have to contribute also. He wants a missile defense system while he is undermining conventional war tactics.
I think we should get rid of Puerto Rico. Let them be on their own.
Make sure that their next election is: "Do you want to become a state or do you not want to become a state?" If they do not want to become a state, let's get rid of them. They offer us nothing, they just take, and it will always be this way. Puerto Rico can have its cake, our cake, and everybody's cake and eat it, too.
John Lee Sullivan
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Vieques training exercises crucial to U.S. readiness
July 1, 2001
I fully support the U.S. Navy and the training conducted on Vieques , Puerto Rico . The Navy has been there for 60 years conducting combined arms training with the Marine Corps. This training is vital to the readiness of our personnel to meet their obligations overseas when called upon to go in harm's way. Think of it as a practice session before the big game.
The armed forces train for war first and foremost, and the Navy and Marine Corps team in particular. They are usually the first to any hot spot where vital American interests are at stake. Vieques gives this powerful combination the ideal location to practice the interaction of the carrier battle group and the Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Suppose you played for a sports team, and that team's season started one month hence. Instead of practicing your plays or setting your starting roster, you all just showed up for the big day. Total chaos and confusion reigns. No one knows what to do.
In the world of the military, that learning curve is dead servicemen, sunken ships and shot-down aircraft. Training and practice irons out the kinks and gets everyone on the same page.
President George W. Bush has stated that the Navy will have to depart by 2003. The Navy-Marine Corps team has to find another place to train.
Immediate departure is impossible because, unlike the Dayton Daily News and others without vision, the commanders recognize the need for training and will not send our men or women into harm's way without being fully prepared. If there were a catastrophe, this same paper would be the first to condemn all involved. So be thankful that they are leaving, but remember the ramifications of the actions.