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The Daily Oklahoman

Protest Backfires

July 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Daily Oklahoman, The Oklahoman Publishing Company. All rights reserved. 

AN OLD adage – be careful what you wish for, you might get it – could haunt residents of the small Puerto Rican island of Vieques, where political activists and celebrities succeeded earlier this year in getting the Navy to close its live-firing range there.

The protesters got what they wanted, an end to operations at the range, which was the Navy's primary training facility for forces about to be deployed to the world's hot spots.

What residents hadn't counted on was a plan to close the nearby Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, the island's largest employer, which is obsolete now that the firing range is no more.

"If you take the (firing range) away from Vieques, you don't need that base any more," U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham told the Washington Times.

Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, a member of the Armed Services Committee, warned the range's closure would impact Roosevelt Roads, which once stationed more than 7,000 sailors and put about $250 million into the local economy, the newspaper reports. The station supported the Vieques range for 60 years.

Some in Congress claim that closing Roosevelt Roads amounts to punishing the island for opposing continuing operation of the range. Some say the station should go through the Pentagon's usual procedures for closing obsolete installations.

But that could push closure a year or more down the road, at an annual cost to the government of $80 million to $125 million.

Inhofe says island residents were lied to by politicians and professional protesters, who forced the Navy to withdraw. He told the Times it's too late to worry about the "natural outcome" of the Vieques protests.

"The time for them to be concerned about that was when they were kicking us off our range," Inhofe told the paper. "I told them this would happen."

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