|March 28, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Do Puerto Ricans Want It Both Ways?
Many Puerto Rican viewers of the ABC News television magazine program 20/20 on March 14th had reason to take notice as the program concluded with a feature reported by John Stossel in his series of personalized commentaries entitled "Give Me a Break." Regular viewers look forward to the feature, since it usually brings to the fore some policy in use by the powerful that disadvantages societys weak and voiceless. On this particular Friday evening, Stossels omnipotent "Darth Vader" was Puerto Rico and its cowering victims were the American taxpayers.
The subject of the report was the potential closing of the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba, Puerto Rico, suggested by the U.S. Navy as a natural consequence to the termination of training exercises on the Island of Vieques. "Rosey Roads," as the base is popularly called, has provided logistical support to the periodic fleet exercises on Vieques since the days of WWII. The base supports some 17,000 military and civilian personnel and is a key component of the Puerto Rican economy, contributing, according to Stossel, "some 300-million dollars annually to the islands economy."
Stossels report casts the Navy as champions of the taxpaying U.S. public. Those who lobby for the base to remain he indicts as "wanting it both ways." In an introductory comment to program hostess Barbara Walters, he opined, "Barbara, some people want it both ways. They don't want the violence of military training, but they do want the money." Stossel then took up the case for the beleaguered American taxpayers, pitting himself against a series of comments by proponents of the bases continued use, previously recorded on film.
After establishing that many U.S. political luminaries such as Rev. Jesse Jackson and New York Senator Hillary Clinton lobbied for an end of Navy training on Vieques, he ran quotes from the current and past U.S. Presidents. "We have not always been good neighbors on Vieques," said former President William Jefferson Clinton, the man who initially mandated an end of training on Vieques. Current President George W. Bush added, "These are our friends and neighbors and they dont want us there." A montage of comments from Vieques protestors added to the chorus of outrage at Navy training, "Tell them to get out of here," said one. "It is wrong to continue the bombing of Vieques," said another. "The best thing to do is pack up and get out," said a third.
At this point, Stossel made his case in defense of the American taxpayers. "So what does this mean for the huge expensive Naval base on the main island of Puerto Rico ten miles away from Vieques?" he asked Barbara Walters. Answering his own question he continued. "This space has been home to thousands of troops who helped make the bombing possible, fueling the planes, providing food and medical care, offering shore leave to sailors. If we're no longer bombing at Vieques, says Admiral Robert Nader, the Navy doesn't need this base. Nader commands the Navy's Atlantic Fleet, 100,000 sailors and Marines, now preparing to fight in Iraq."
Then the Admiral, as if on cue, responded to Correspondent Stossel. "My responsibility is to train Sailors and Marines to go into combat. I've got to do that with the money that the taxpayers provide for me. If I can't do that training in Puerto Rico, I quite frankly, don't need the facilities there."
At this point, Stossel introduces U.S. Representative Jose Serrano (D-NY), characterizing him as someone who holds that the Navy simply wants to punish Puerto Rico for denying it the use of Vieques. "You want it both ways," Stossel chides Serrano, putting the Congressman in the position of personifying all Puerto Rican opinion. At this point Serrano protested, "No. The base was never related entirely to the bombing. Now the Navy is saying well fix you. Were getting out but were taking everything. "
Stossel then takes another tack with Serrano. Talking about the Navy personnel to be removed from Roosevelt Roads he postulated, "We may need these men in Iraq. We need the money. If we keep it open, isn't this a waste of money?" Undaunted, Serrano rejoined, "Well, one could argue that half of the military budget has been a waste of money for a long time."
At this point Rep. Serrano came to the attack. "The military doesn't speak in this country. The military keeps quiet. Let Congress decide if it wants to close that base."
Then Stossel inquired, "Think it will?" Serrano then played his oft-used trump card. "I don't think so. When the President realizes that it's getting close to 2004 and this becomes another Latino political issue again, he's going to tell them, you don't have to go, and they won't go."
The short segment ends with Stossel and Walters commiserating with each other that U.S. taxpayers might, in the final analysis, be forced to pay for a facility that the Navy does not need. "If you're not bombing," quipped Stossel, "you don't need a place to prepare to bomb." The two agree that logic would dictate that the base should be closed but that politics rarely follow logic. Then, with a sigh of resignation, Stossel concludes, "With votes at stake, politicians may spend millions on a base the Navy doesn't even want. GIVE ME A BREAK."
The Stossel report gives this weeks Herald readers the chance to push a real Hot Button. The report postulates that Roosevelt Roads will not be needed after the abandonment of the training functions on Vieques. It concludes that by wanting both the elimination of Vieques training and the retention of "Rosey Roads," Puerto Ricans want it both ways.