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White House Creates Status Committee

Tug-Of-War Over Puerto Rico's Role As U.S. Military Outpost

House Panel Forbids Vieques Closing

Navy To Engage In Intense Exercises

Protesters Angry Over President's Decision

White House Creates Puerto Rico Status Committee

August 2, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) - Puerto Rico Republican Party President Luis A. Ferre said the White House appointed Ruben Barrales and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft as co-chairmen of the group that will define status alternatives for Puerto Rico.

In published reports, Ferre said the information is official although the White House did not make an official announcement.

He added that Puerto Rican Jake Lozada, assistant secretary for Veterans Affairs, also was appointed to the group.

The group is in charge of designing the mechanism to debate the future status of Puerto Rico, according to an executive order signed by former President Bill Clinton.

Tug-Of-War Over Puerto Rico's Role As U.S. Military Outpost

August 2, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

VIEQUES (AP) - Naval gunships pounded the firing range on Vieques Thursday as opponents pleaded for an end to the bombing and fanned debate over whether Puerto Rico should altogether retire its role as a 400-year-old U.S. military outpost.

As seven protesters invaded the Vieques range to thwart the start of Thursday's exercises, others threatened to spread the demonstrations to U.S. military bases across Puerto Rico.

Some have even compared the U.S. presence on Puerto Rico and its outlying islands to the colonial oppression felt under Spain, which used the island as a garrison base until a U.S. military invasion in 1898.

"On the islands of Vieques and Puerto Rico, we are face-to-face with the same enemy, the arrogant rule of a military power that decides on its own what it can do with our land," said Puerto Rican independence sympathizer and Vieques resident Ismael Guadalupe.

Today, the Navy uses the U.S. territory as a base to fight drug traffickers. And then there's the actual training the military receives.

On Thursday, plumes of smoke rose from warships that fired as a fresh round of U.S. Navy exercises involving some 23,000 personnel began.

The USS Vella Gulf, a guided missile cruiser, and destroyer USS Ross fired 70-pound shells on the range, which is at the island's eastern tip, about 4 miles from the inhabited areas.

The exercises are final training for the Norfolk, Virginia-based Theodore Roosevelt battle group, which will likely head next to the Persian Gulf or Mediterranean.

Since the Navy pullout from Panama, Navy operations in Latin America and the Caribbean - which also include disaster relief - have been commanded from sprawling Roosevelt Roads. The Navy base is the largest in the world in land area with 22,600 acres on Puerto Rico, across a sea passage from Vieques.

In addition to Roosevelt Roads, there are five other military installations in Puerto Rico.

US House Comm Calls For Canceling Vieques Referendum, Forbids Closing Of Firing Range

August 1, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON (AP)--A House committee on Wednesday recommended canceling a November referendum that would give Puerto Ricans a limited say in how long Navy bombing on the island of Vieques should continue.

Lawmakers also approved a measure that would prohibit the Navy from closing its Vieques firing range until it found a replacement that was as good or better, a move that Democrats said could keep the Puerto Rican training site open for many years.

"How can we replicate the same kind of training site?" asked Representative Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas, after the vote. "It would be difficult if not impossible."

The move to cancel the November referendum, which Congress authorized last year, and allow continue Navy use of the island until it finds a suitable replacement came from the committee chairman, Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz.

"It would set a dangerous precedent if we're going to let 3,000 Americans tell the other 2 million Americans in uniform that we're not going to allow you to train here anymore," said Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss.

Allowing island voters to make a decision to throw out the Navy "will disserve every Marine and sailor who needs to have effective combat training," said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

U.S. Navy To Engage In 19 Hours Of Intense Exercises Saturday

August 1, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

VIEQUES (AP) - The U.S. Navy will resume its military training Thursday for 10 days, during which it will use inert bombs and live low-caliber weapons on Vieques.

Officials said Saturday is expected to be one of the most intense days of practices, with 19 hours of military maneuvers.

Fishermen have been banned from going out to fish that day from 4 a.m. to 11 p.m.

On Thursday, practices will begin at 8 a.m. and end at 11 p.m., and Friday they will be held from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., according to the Navy's notice to fishermen, which is routinely placed in public places in this island municipality.

The exercises come a few days after Viequenses voted on Sunday in a local referendum for the permanent and immediate cease of military practices in their island.

Vieques Special Commissioner Juan R. Fernandez described the maneuvers as the "most complex and dangerous" of the Navy due to the engagement of amphibious landing and the use of ship-to-shore and air-to-land bombings.

These maneuvers include the use of sea-to-land, air-to-surface missiles, short-range weapons in Camp Garcia and a huge number of troops in amphibian landings on three beaches of eastern Vieques , a contingent that could include as many as 1,000 soldiers, according to Fernandez.

Vieques Protesters Angry Over President's Decision

By Ivan Roman

July 31, 2001
Copyright © 2001 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved.

VIEQUES, Puerto Rico · Angry that President Bush is sticking by his plan to gradually phase out bombing on Vieques despite a local referendum calling for an immediate end to the exercises, hundreds of protesters marched to the Navy base on Monday, demanding a halt to exercises scheduled for this week.

Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said Monday the Pentagon needs time to find a new site for exercises. Until May 1, 2003, the Navy will continue the training on Vieques with dummy bombs.

Bush thinks "it's very important to have a seamless transition so our military can be the best-trained it can be," Fleischer said.

Protesters said Sunday's win at the polls would only increase support for the civil disobedience campaign at the Navy base.

"The year 2003 might be convenient for the Navy or the president, but for the people of Vieques this is a life and death issue, so it can't wait," Rabin said.

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