|Should the U.S. Navy Delay Its Proposed Departure from Vieques?
This weeks Hot Button Issue Poll asks readers to consider if the proposed Navy abandonment of its training facilities on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques is warranted, now that the nations armed forces are actively engaged in operations against the al Qaeda terrorist network and are likely to become involved in military operations in the Persian Gulf area. Military tacticians assert that Vieques is the perfect venue to prepare troops for coordinated naval, seaborne air, and amphibious assaults, a scenario that did occur in the previous Gulf War and will surely be under consideration in the future, should hostilities against Iraq occur.
Governor Sila Calderon says, "No!" She states that she has a "verbal agreement" with the White House that the Navy will weigh anchor at Vieques in May of 2003, no matter what, and recently displayed her letter to the President asking him to clarify the issue in writing. The Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) and other anti-Navy groups accuse her of waffling in her insistence on a Navy pullout. So far, the Presidents pen has remained discreetly in his pocket. The U.S. Congress, in its most recent legislation regarding the issue says, "Maybe," if the fleet can find no equivalent or better facilities elsewhere. In a recent reply to a reporters question on the topic, Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld said, "Vieques is a very important place for us, and we intend to continue operating consistent with our obligations."
What "obligations" was the Secretary making reference to? Was it the obligation to put combat readiness above every other consideration? If so, it puts in doubt the likelihood that new training facilities will become adequate within the next nine months, especially since they have not been publicly announced or prepared for use. Governor Calderon thinks that Secretary Rumsfeld misspoke. In her letter to him she sought clarification that his statement did not trump what she claims is Bushs "commitment " to her.
The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington have gutted the anti-Navy protest movement that was gaining momentum in Puerto Rico, as training exercises resumed after the accidental killing of a Puerto Rican security guard by an errant bomb in April 1999. After 9/11, mainland politicians who hoped to curry favor with stateside Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics by their presence at the gates of Camp Garcia (Vieques) quickly saw the domestic political scales dipping in favor of military preparedness. Governor Calderon, who denounced the compromise agreement struck between former Governor Pedro Rossello and President Bill Clinton in her election campaign, began to struggle to hold onto some remnants of what that legislation provided. As Puerto Rican units of the National Guard fly off to join the fight against international terrorism, her protestations against the Navy have moderated.
One way of looking at this conundrum is to imagine other words flowing from the mouth of the Secretary of Defense, understanding that he is in the White House inner sanctum and he daily deals with the committees of Congress that placed caveats on any Navy move. Here is what the Secretary didnt say in response to the press inquiry: Although training on Vieques is vital to the readiness of our forces, we are making every effort to find alternative sites so that the President may honor his commitment to leave the facility by May of 2003. Such a rejoinder would have given Ms. Calderon the message that the Presidents note was "in the mail."
What is your view?
Should the U.S. Navy delay its proposed departure from Vieques?
Option 3?Only if necessary
Option 4?No opinion