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May 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

Who Wins in Vieques — Rosselló or Calderón?

Now that the U.S. Navy’s use of its former training facility on the island of Vieques is no longer an issue, pundits are speculating as to which of the two Puerto Rico governors associated with the negotiations with the federal government handled it best. Which of their approaches netted — or is likely to net — the most for Puerto Rico?

Even before The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had hauled away the debris left by rioters within Camp García, who at midnight of May 1st burned and looted vehicles and other property, Governor Sila Calderón and her handlers began to claim credit for the U.S. Navy’s departure from its training grounds on Vieques, while distancing herself from the hooliganism by Vieques residents that characterized the first moments of civilian control of the facility. The day after the fiasco, she was on a plane to Washington to follow a closely held schedule of appointments on Capitol Hill.

However, it was during the administration of former Governor Pedro Rosselló that the protests and political maneuverings began that led to the culmination of U.S. Navy use of Vieques. On April 19, 1999, when two errant airborne bombs accidentally killed David Sanes Rodríguez, a Puerto Rican civilian security guard, the festering frustration of Vieques residents turned to outrage and a major conflict between the Puerto Rico government and the federal government began. Rosselló’s initial agreement with President Clinton established that the Navy training would end on May 1, 2003, and he was successful in convincing the administration to stop "live-fire" exercises until that day came. The Navy agreed reluctantly to limit their exercises to "dummy bombs," thereby reducing much noise and hazard. After the recent Navy departure, Rosselló, now a candidate to repeat as governor in 2004, left it to supporters to make his case as the "Savior of Vieques."

Sila Calderón suggests that it was her good relationship with President George W. Bush that had sealed the Navy’s fate on Vieques, guaranteeing that the May 1st date for the Navy’s departure would be honored in spite of renewed pressure to keep the base open after 9/11 when U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq argued for a continuation of training at the site. Earlier, she had written a letter to Bush, thanking him for honoring his commitment, presumably to her. In fact, there had been no previous exchange of correspondence between the two executives.

The down side of the "commitment" was that the land on Vieques was not turned over to Puerto Rico. Congress, with the approval of President Bush, transferred the 15,000-acre facility to the Department of the Interior for use as a game preserve. Calderón says that she will use her influence to get the land cleaned up and transferred to Puerto Rican control. To do so, however, she will have to overturn a federal statute that forbids the Interior Department from disposing of or transferring any of its newly acquired Vieques land.

Arguably, both governors can claim parenthood for the May 1, 2003, Navy eviction notice. The major argument between them revolves around the future use of the land abandoned by the Navy. Pedro Rosselló can argue that his deal with the Clinton Administration would have returned most of the training site to Puerto Rico, a position that the incoming Bush administration was willing to go along with until the newly elected Sila Calderón instituted a lawsuit demanding an immediate end to all Navy training on Vieques, a move that did not set well with policymakers in Washington. Her confrontational posture subsequently caused Congress to toughen the deal and assure that most of the land would remain in federal control.

In January of this year, Clinton White House official Jeffrey Farrow told the San Juan Star that "because of the governor’s (Sila Calderón) position, the Vieques community lost benefits such as land return … (and) federal funds that could have been approved to bolster the small island’s economy."

Neither Governor seemed to satisfy all factions of U.S. Navy opposition on the island. Neither was shrill enough for the Independence-minded factions, Calderón outraged the statehood supporters and Rosselló was pummeled by commonwealth devotees. Both, no doubt, are relieved that Phase One is over and are focusing on strategies to retrieve title to the land or increase Puerto Rico’s access to it.

We can be sure that "who did what" to end the Navy’s 60-year occupancy of Vieques will be "spun" at dizzying speeds once the campaign for Governor begins. Right now arguments can be made for both politicians as Puerto Rico’s champion in the struggle to end the training and pacify the residents. This week, we ask Herald readers to register their choice.

Whose approach to the federal government was most successful in ending the Navy’s training on Vieques while maximizing future local access to the land?

Cast your vote above!

This Week's Question:
Whose approach to the federal government was most successful in ending the Navy’s training on Vieques while maximizing future local access to the land?

US . Residents
. PR
Governor Sila Calderón 17%
70% Governor Pedro Rosselló 74%
7% No Opinion 9%


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