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The Hartford Courant
An Alternative To Vieques
February 4, 2002
It's amazing how the federal government can retreat from an absolute, unequivocal position to meet changing circumstances.
For years, military officials insisted that giving up the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as a bombing practice site for the Navy would threaten national security because, they asserted, there's no suitable alternative.
The Defense Department maintained this view even after President Bill Clinton negotiated an agreement that would halt the bombing in May 2003 -- an agreement reaffirmed by President Bush.
Last July, Puerto Ricans in a nonbinding referendum overwhelmingly endorsed an immediate termination to the military maneuvers. Yet Navy commanders continued to maintain that there was no suitable alternative.
Now comes word that the training exercises typically held on Vieques will be staged instead in Florida and North Carolina. The bombing runs will be conducted with live ammunition, which hasn't been used on Vieques since 1999, when a bombing accident killed a civilian guard and triggered protests.
The Navy explained that using the other sites would make it possible to train troops faster. Speed, it explained, is necessary in dispatching troops to the war zones around Afghanistan.
There may be another reason. Puerto Rico 's Governor Sila Calderon had warned that resuming live-fire exercise on the island would inflame anti-bombing passions in the commonwealth.
Although the Navy has heeded the warning, it still has no intention of abandoning Vieques as a bombing practice site. Why not? There are less contentious alternatives. The Navy has shattered its seemingly irrefutable argument that no other acceptable location could be found.