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Vieques, 62 Years Later A Meeting With The Real Jesse Jackson
Vieques, 62 Years Later
May 4, 2003
As might be expected, Puerto Ricans last week celebrated in appropriately raucous fashion the end of more than six decades of U.S. Navy military exercises on the island of Vieques.
They danced. They frolicked. They gave speeches, and they tore down the fence that barred them from the military compound as though it were the Berlin Wall.
The Navy, which at one point claimed that no other site in the world was suitable for target practice, eventually yielded to public pressure to leave Vieques, especially after the April 1999 bombing accident that killed a civilian security guard. From that point on, the Navy's presence was marked by daily demonstrations.
But the Navy left with one key job undone. The area used in military exercises is polluted with compounds ranging from uranium tipped shells to napalm. Islanders suffer from a disproportionately high rate of cancer and infant mortality.
The federal government has an obligation to clean up the environmental and economic mess that the Navy left behind.
The Navy's land on Vieques was not turned over to Puerto Ricans, however. Congress, with the approval of President Bush, transferred the 15,000-acre training facility on the eastern end of the island to the Department of the Interior for use as a game preserve.
Washington should look upon the conclusion of war maneuvers on a small and populated island not as an end in itself, but as a first step in reviving Vieques. In addition to cleaning up the environment, the government should provide financial aid. Unemployment there is 12 percent.
That said, the long road ahead should not diminish the historical significance of the Navy's departure. For the first time in 62 years, children in Vieques will be able to sit through a class in school assured that they won't be deafened by the sounds of explosions.
A Meeting With The Real Jesse Jackson
May 5, 2003
Last Sunday's Commentary article on Jesse Jackson brings back memories of a meeting I participated in with Mr. Jackson several years ago.
I was the base commander of Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico and we were in the midst of a great dispute with the island's government over our training activities on the island of Vieques, where the Navy prepares its young warriors for the fire of combat.
Word had apparently gotten out to Jesse that this was a good cause and, more importantly, a good opportunity for some publicity. So down he came to Puerto Rico to join in the demonization of the Navy.
I guess the Clinton leadership was a bit nervous because they sent a naval delegation to meet with him in San Juan and explain the importance of Vieques to the Navy. Surely he'll understand, they thought.
What a stupid idea, I thought, like he's going to agree with us. But, as the base commander, I dutifully accompanied the admiral to meet with him.
The admiral instructed me, "Stark, keep your mouth shut, I'll do the talking." Good advice, I thought.
The admiral spoke, Jesse listened for a bit and then looked us both in the eye and said, "You guys are nothing but rapists."
I was dumbfounded. Rapists? I thought we were defenders of our country. You know, the good guys. Perhaps not, at least not in Jesse's eyes. I kept my mouth shut.
Then we were entertained by a lecture from Jesse on the American colonial experience in Panama, where he said that us GIs wantonly impregnated the Panamanian women, leaving them "pregnant" and "fatherless."
The conversation ended quickly but I guess Jesse wanted to close the meeting on a high note so he tried to engage us in polite talk by asking us where we were from.
The admiral said where he was from and Jesse laughed and said he had friends there. Then he asked me where I was from. I looked him straight in the eye and said, "I'm from Panama. I grew up in the Panama Canal Zone."
Our eyes met and in an instant, he knew that I knew that he was a liar. GIs wantonly impregnating the flower of Panamanian womanhood? Vieques rapists? Balderdash and lies!
But what I didn't know then was what a hypocrite he was; that while he was lecturing us on the evils of GIs impregnating women and leaving them fatherless, he was paying off his mistress, whom he had left pregnant and fatherless.
I suppose that Jesse has a place in American history, but I know the real Jesse.
James King Stark, Jr.
Captain, USN (ret.)