Billions in Aid to Puerto Rican Families May Be At Risk… Roosevelt Roads to Be Under Admiral Who Called Vieques Irreplaceable… Sen. Miriam Ramirez (NPP) Invited To White House Because Of ‘Commonwealther'

May 2, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Billions in Aid to Puerto Rican Families May Be At Risk

A congressional tax committee aide this week said that an error in a 2000 law had extended the refundable federal Child Tax Credit to residents of Puerto Rico with three or more children who do not pay federal income taxes. Federal law only taxes the income of Puerto Ricans from the States.

The refundable credit gives the families $600 per child. It is granted to individuals who pay Social Security taxes even if they have no federal income tax liability.

The Puerto Rico manager of H & R Block, a company that helps taxpayers fill out tax forms, has estimated almost 100,000 Puerto Ricans are eligible for the payments.

The discovery -- and use -- of the unintended grant could result in a move in the federal government to discontinue it.

Roosevelt Roads to Be Under Admiral Who Called Vieques Irreplaceable

President Bush has nominated the Navy author of a July 1999 report that called the Atlantic Fleet’s former target range on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico irreplaceable to be the fleet’s Commander-in-Chief. If confirmed by the Senate -- which is not expected to be a problem -- Admiral William J. Fallon will be a key decision-maker regarding the future of the large Roosevelt Roads naval base in the town of Ceiba on Puerto Rico’s main island.

Fallon would take over the command in July. He also would head the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, the coordinating office for all Navy fleets. Currently, he is Vice Chief of Naval Operations, the top deputy to the Navy’s highest-ranking officer, Admiral Vernon Clarke.

In 1999, then Vice Admiral Fallon was the commander of the Navy’s Second Fleet within the Atlantic Command. He became one of the two authors of the military’s primary report on the Vieques range and whether it could be replaced.

The National Security Need for Vieques found no replacement for the range and concluded that the facility was essential. The study was co-authored by Marine Corps Lieutenant General Peter Pace. Now a full General, Pace is currently Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, top deputy to the nation’s highest military officer.

The Fallon-Pace report became the basis for the position of the Navy and Marine Corps in response to Puerto Rican demands for the range’s closure, but the range was closed May 1.

A few months after the report was issued, a special Defense Department panel, concluded that it should be replaced over a period of years. The panel was established at the direction of President Clinton. He asked for an independent review of the Navy and Marine Corps position at the request of Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Rossello (statehood/D) for the range’s closure. Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero-Barcelo (statehood/D) helped get Clinton to decide on the review.

The panel’s conclusion led to talks among Clinton and officials of his administration and Rossello and his Secretary of the Governorship, Angel Morey. When Navy and Marine Corps objections torpedoed an agreement that they reached in December 1999, the current fleet commander, Admiral Robert Natter, was brought in for direct representation of the military in the talks.

The closure this week occurred on a date that the Navy and Marine Corps agreed to in January 2000 in large measure due to the efforts of Natter, at the time a Deputy Chief of Naval Operations. One of those he brought on board was then Atlantic Fleet Commander Clarke.

The military approval made possible an agreement between Clinton and Rossello that immediately ended practices with explosive ordnance and required training with non-explosives to end by May 1, 2003 if Vieques’ residents voted for that in preference to further training. The agreement also asked the Congress for $40 million for projects to address the residents’ concerns related to the training and to transfer most of the Navy’s non-range land -- 25% of Vieques -- to uses that would benefit the community. In addition, it proposed that the federal government give up three-quarters of the range -- another third of the island -- if the training ended, with the rest going to the Interior Department for environmental protection. And the agreement proposed another $50 million for the community if it agreed to further training.

The agreement -- and the resumption of some training, which had been halted after an accident in April 1999 -- won Natter high marks in the Pentagon. When Clarke was named to the highest-ranking Navy job a few months later, Natter was appointed to replace him.

But the agreement also earned Natter detractors. House of Representatives military preparedness leader James Hansen, who failed in trying to block the agreement in the Congress, became one. Senate military preparedness leader James Inhofe, who got the Congress to provide that all of the range would go to Interior if the range closed pending the enactment of further legislation, became another.

Additionally, the luster of Natter’s achievement wore off a bit as a new Puerto Rico Governor, Sila Calderon ("commonwealth" party/no national party), refused to recognize the agreement and took actions that contradicted the Commonwealth’s commitments.

As Atlantic Fleet commander, Natter developed the plan to replace the range by this week -- consistent with the agreement that he helped negotiate and an outgoing directive from Clinton. Although Hansen and Inhofe in 2001 got the federal government to repeal the requirement for all training to end May 1 2003, Natter continued to develop the plan at the request of Navy Secretary Gordon England. (The repeal of the requirement for all training to end May 1, 2003 was made possible by a request from Bush to repeal the agreement’s referendum on Vieques. Bush asked for this in response to a request from Calderon.)

Natter’s future is unclear. He may be best known in Puerto Rico for saying that keeping Roosevelt Roads open without the range would be "a waste of taxpayer dollars."

His position on the question is not unique, however. Clarke had made a similar suggestion to members of the House Armed Services Committee. And Pentagon officials have been suggesting the possibility to Puerto Ricans since 1999.

Supporting the target practice at the range and related combat training in the air and waters off the range has been the base’s main function. The ultimate decision regarding its fate will be made when the federal government considers consolidating military facilities in 2005. The decision will be made by the Congress and the President in response to a special commission’s determinations. But the recommendation of fleet commander Fallon will play a major role.

The Navy is currently reducing much of the base’s operations.

Statehooder Invited To White House Because Of ‘Commonwealther’

Puerto Rico Senator Miriam Ramirez de Ferrer (statehood/R) partially has Senate Majority Leader Jose Dalmau ("commonwealth") to thank for an invitation to the White House Rose Garden on April 30.

Dalmau told a radio audience April 26 that President Bush would receive some Puerto Ricans this week, suggesting that it was in connection with the closure of the Vieques range. Ramirez, who has close ties with Bush Chief of Staff Andrew Card and other national Republican leaders, contacted the White House April 28 and got herself invited to the event.

Instead of being Vieques range-related, however, the event was the singing of a bill that established a national alert measures regarding missing children. Senate President Antonio Fas Alzamora was invited because he sponsored a similar bill in the territory. Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth"/D) was invited because he was a sponsor of the federal bill.

Dalmau’s misleading statement provided Ramirez with another opportunity for demonstrating her access to the President. Like that of several other Puerto Rico Republicans, it is greater than the access afforded Governor Calderon.

Calderon’s problems at the White House are that she is not trusted by Bush aides, they disagree with her on Puerto Rico policy, and they and the President have ties to Puerto Rico Republicans and favor statehood. Calderon is paying the firm of a top Republican lobbyist with excellent Bush White House connections -- Charlie Black -- a reported $100,000 a month but he has been unable to overcome her problems in the White House. He has, however, succeeded in restraining the White House from doing more that Republican statehooders would like -- and Calderon would dislike.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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