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No Vieques, No Roosevelt Roads
England, Clark tell House Appropriations Committee budgetary constraints will force Navy to reallocate resources to different integrated training facility
BY FRANCISCO JAVIER CIMADEVILLA
August 2, 2001
In the strongest terms yet, U.S. Navy Secretary Gordon England and Chief of Naval Operations Vernon Clark last week told Congress that once the Navy loses its ability to conduct training exercises on Vieques, it will likely pull out of Roosevelt Roads altogether.
At a hearing before the Defense Subcommitte of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, that went largely unreported in the local press, Admiral Clark confronted questioning from subcommittee member and full Appropriations Committee chairman Bill Young (R-FL) on the value of the Roosevelt Roads Navy base in Ceiba and the future of all military presence on the Puerto Rico as a whole if Vieques were no longer available for Navy training.
"Im curious about your thoughts about the value of Puerto Rico if, in fact, Vieques goes away and is no longer a place for us to train forces before they deploy. What would happen if the Navy were to cease exercises at Vieques? What would happen to Roosevelt Roads, for example? What would happen to other military presence there?" Young asked.
"Id say that my opinion would be that the operations would be of significantly lesser value without the use of Vieques. And I dont need Roosevelt Roads if I dont have the ability to send battle groups down there to train," Clark told the subcommittee.
At a hearing before the House Armed Services committee last month both England and Clark had stated the Navys commitment to find an alternative training site to facilitate the Navys departure from Vieques by May 2003, in accordance with President Bushs decision. At that time Clark said that, to the extent possible, the Navy would seek to integrate operations at the new site, thus casting doubt over the continued usefulness of the Roosevelt Roads base if it were no longer to have a support role for active training at the Vieques inner range. Clark was quoted as saying that in that scenario, he would recommend the reallocation of Roosevelt Roads $300 million-a-year tab for other uses.
But at the hearing last week before 14 members of the Defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations committee, in response to Youngs question on what would happen to the rest of the U.S. military presence in Puerto Rico if the Navy were to lose the ability to train here, Clark made the strongest connection yet between Vieques and Roosevelt Roads given the Navys limited budgetary resources.
"Well, Chairman Young, youve hit the nail right on the head. Im sitting here talking about a significant shortfall in resources that I have today," said Clark referring to dwindling congressional budgetary appropriations for the Navy. "When we send battle groups to the Caribbean operations areas, the benefit of it is the integration of those operations, and it builds around Vieques. Were spending around $300 million a year to keep that base going down there.
"I would say that, given the pressure that is on resources for us and the [budgetary] shortfalls that Ive addressed and what I need to recapitalize the Navy, if I wasnt able to go utilize that whole training area with an integrated force structure, the likelihood that I need Roosevelt Roads is not great," Clark said.
England agreed. "Chairman Young, let me comment. I fully support the Chief of Naval Operations comments regarding Roosevelt Roads, so I stand behind his comments 100%," he said.
Young recalled the historical precedent of the Philippines where pressure to move the Navy out of Subic Bay resulted in the total withdrawal of U.S. military forces from the Philippines altogether.
The House Committee on Appropriations, of which the Defense subcommittee is a part, has primary jurisdiction over all federal legislation concerning the budget, including all appropriations for federal programs.
In fact, Young opened his line of questioning with references to the almost $17 billion a year Puerto Rico receives in federal funding, including more than $1 billion to defense or defense-related expenditures.
In response, England seemed to issue an ominous warning. "I guess what has always concerned me about Vieques is that instead of a win-lose or a win-win situation, we could end up where everybody loses. And, certainly, the people of Puerto Rico have the good will of the federal government and are the beneficiaries of the good will of the U.S. taxpayers, and they certainly dont want to lose that good will," said England, who appeared to suggest that that good will might be put in jeopardy.
"The Navy certainly needs to retain our testing capability through May of 2003. It is important that until May, 2003, we have the support of the political leadership in Puerto Rico, and I would hope that they would recognize that we need that facility until May of 2003, that they would support our presence there in terms of security, and they would eliminate extraneous issues, the lawsuits, other referendums, etc.," said England.
Last Sunday, in a referendum sponsored by the Government of Puerto Rico among Vieques residents, 68% supported the option of immediate stop of all Navy training in Vieques and prompt exit and cleanup, 30% voted for the Navys permanence and unlimited training and 1.2% favored limited training and exit in 2003, which is the current state of affairs under federal legislation passed last year following a presidential directive issued by then President Bill Clinton. It is widely accepted that the local referendum, which had an 80% eligible voter turnout, is not legally binding on any party but it is still being debated in Congress what effect, if any, it will have on the referendum the Navy is still scheduled to conduct in November pursuant to federal legislation.
This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.