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The Price Of Protest

Anti-Navy Activists Did Fellow Puerto Ricans, As Well As All Americans, A Disservice

July 25, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

A handful of political agitators and their allies in Hollywood and Congress made the bed. Now the rest of Puerto Rico has to lie in it. Months of protests against the U.S. Navy's live fire training range on the island of Vieques, off the east coast of the American commonwealth, succeeded last year in pressuring the Bush White House into closing the facility, depriving Navy personnel and Marines of one of the most important training sites they had. But in so doing, a relative handful of protesters also were inviting economic hardships on thousands of Puerto Ricans who rely on the Navy's presence for their livelihoods.

With the Vieques range soon to become a nature sanctuary, there's no longer a need for Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, a facility in Puerto Rico that served as a staging point for exercises on the island. So some members of Congress have inserted language in a fiscal 2004 defense spending bill that would order the base shuttered within six months of the bill becoming law.

"If you take the (bombing) mission away from Vieques, you don't need that base anymore," said California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who is leading the effort to close Roosevelt Roads. "Sometimes you get what you wish for." Puerto Ricans "would like to have the money" the base brings in, added Rep. Jerry Lewis, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee, "but we have other priorities."

The possible closure will almost surely spark yet another round of protests - this time over the possible disappearance of the largest employer in Puerto Rico, which annually pumps $250 million into the island's anemic economy. One member of Congress already has branded the closure proposal "punishment" of Puerto Ricans for the Navy's eviction from the range. And we're guessing political pressure will soon build for keeping the base open, not because it serves any military purpose, but due to it's important for the Puerto Rican economy.

Such appeals could have special resonance to both Democrats and Republicans with a big election looming and Hispanic voters up for grabs.

That Roosevelt Roads would become superfluous once the Vieques range closed was obvious to anyone with eyes to see. Yet most anti- Navy protesters - who drew support from liberal members of Congress and Hollywood celebrities - were too caught up in their own agenda, and in twisting the facts to make the claim that the Navy was poisoning islanders and killing sea turtles, to think the matter through.

Any concerns about a closure's potential impact on rank-and-file Puerto Ricans, if voiced at all, weren't audible above bullhorn- wielding protesters.

The Navy repeatedly made the case that Vieques was essential to maintaining readiness. But the Bush administration, in a shameless pander to Hispanic voters, overrode the Pentagon, bowed to the pressure and ordered it closed.

Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who fought the closure because of its potential impact on military readiness, says he feels sympathy for Puerto Ricans potentially hurt by the closure, but that they were "lied to by their politicians" and by protest leaders. "Puerto Rico used every unethical and illegal means to kick us off that live range," Inhofe said in one news story. "The time for them to be concerned about (the possible base closure) was when they were kicking us off our range."

To some, the shuttering of Roosevelt Roads might seem vindictive. But it makes both perfect and practical sense, so we urge Congress to weather whatever flak lies ahead and follow through with it. Hopefully, it also will serve as a reminder to all involved that actions have consequences, and causes, effects - and a warning about the danger of being led astray by pied piping protesters.

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