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Puerto Rico's Protests Cost It Navy's Bounty

No Bombs, No Base, No Bucks

Mike Thomas

January 14, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved. 

It was great political grandstanding for politicians and activists to pummel the Navy over the Vieques island bombing range in Puerto Rico.

But it seems there was a glitch in their strategy.

They were so successful that the Navy not only is stopping the bombing, but also may abandon the neighboring Roosevelt Roads Naval Station on the main island.

It seems if you don't have a place to bomb, then you don't need a place to prepare to bomb.

Despite the simple logic of this, despite warnings by the Navy that it could happen, the news seems to be a shock to Puerto Rican leaders on and off the island.

Hey, we wanted the bombs to stop falling from the sky -- not the money!

Don't worry. If the Navy sails away with the $250 million it pumps into the local economy, there are options.

The first is ... Baldwin Shores!

Puerto Rico can bring in Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood, an expert in Navy base redevelopment. She could bring in the Pritzker family, which could buy the base for $24 worth of trinkets.

Then the Pritzkers could build zero-lot line homes on the ocean that 99 percent of the people there couldn't afford. Those sections of Vieques that hold unexploded ordnance could be sold to a Community Development District for public parks.

And let's not forget tourism.

Disney could use the west end of Vieques for cruise-ship stopovers. Then at night it would allow the Navy to bomb the east end as part of the laser-light show.

Puerto Rico better consider all possibilities because the Navy's position seems to be:

No bombs, no base, no bucks.

Adm. Robert Nater basically has given the next base-closure committee, which meets in 2005, clearance to put Roosevelt Roads on the list.

For those of us who have followed the Vieques story, the fallout from Nater's comments is puzzling.

For four years, we heard how the Navy has been a relentless bully. It has beaten protesters and even poisoned children. Eighty-one percent of Vieques residents voted the Navy off the island. Even the governor of Puerto Rico wanted the Navy out.

I supported their right to protest and even boot the Navy. But now we are hearing how beloved the Navy is and how politicians are demanding it stay. It's a bit late now.

For all the islanders who may lose their jobs, blame the activists and politicians who did not consider the full consequences of their actions.

If you want to keep your military base in these times of base closures, you don't eliminate its main reason for existing. If you want the butter, you have to put up with the guns.

Gov. Jeb Bush realizes that.

He actively courted the Navy to come bomb us after leaving Vieques. He knows the closure commission will come snooping around again in two years, and he wants our bases to be bustling and irreplaceable.

His office estimates that increased training could bring $800 million into the Florida economy -- some of that out of Puerto Rico's hide.

The Navy should clean up Vieques and give it back to Puerto Rico for economic development. The same should be done with Roosevelt Roads if that station no longer is needed.

It seems that the Navy may be getting ready to move on. Maybe it's time that Puerto Rico do likewise.

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