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EFE News Service

Gephardt: No Sense In Continuing Exercises On Vieques

July 20, 2001
Copyright © 2001 EFE News Service. All Rights Reserved.

Washington -- House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (Dem.-MO) said Friday that it makes no sense to continue military maneuvers on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques once residents there vote against the exercises in a July 29 referendum.

The decision to continue training in Vieques will not make many people happy either in Puerto Rico or in the armed forces, Gephardt said when asked if the White House should comply with the results of the July referendum, which is an initiative of the Puerto Rican government and is not legally binding on the U.S. administration.

Hundreds of people marched Thursday in Washington demanding an end to the maneuvers and calling on President George W. Bush to accept the results of the July 29 referendum.

The demonstration was lead by Democratic elected officials and party leaders, including national chairman Terry McAuliffe, who plans to visit Vieques after the local referendum.

Also at the demonstration were civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his wife Jacqueline, who was arrested last month during protests near the Navy firing range on the island.

The July 29 referendum will offer Vieques residents a choice among three alternatives: immediate cessation of the exercises, continuation of bombing until May 2003, or allowing the Navy to remain indefinitely.

Bush has ordered the Navy to prepare to leave Vieques by late May 2003, while the Pentagon is planning to ask Congress to cancel a federal referendum on Vieques scheduled for November.

The federal referendum does not include an option for the immediate end of the controversial military exercises, as the Puerto Rican government and various political, environmental, civic and religious groups are demanding.

According to Gephardt, the White House and Pentagon should have used the past few months to come up with an adequate alternative site for the exercises, which have been conducted on Vieques for six decades.

The Pentagon announced Thursday that two retired military men: Adm. Leighton Smith, former commander of NATO forces in southern Europe; and Marine Gen. Charles Wilhelm, former head of the U.S. Southern Command; will preside over the special commission created to find alternatives to Vieques .

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