Para ver este documento en español, oprima aquí.



Stop Endangering American Citizens

by Alcides Ortiz

May 27, 1999
Copyright © 1999 CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Alcides Ortiz is executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. He serves as Gov. Pedro Rossello's chief liaison to the rest of the United States.

The tiny island of Vieques, located just off the southeastern coast of Puerto Rico, looks like an idyllic vacation spot on a map. But take a closer look and you'll find the 33,000-acre paradise is more than two-thirds occupied by the U.S. military. It's the only place in the Western Hemisphere where the U.S. military conducts live-fire training exercises within close range of a significant population of civilians.

Most recently, a tragic military accident that occurred on Vieques demonstrated the need for immediate attention by Congress to Puerto Rico's political status. An American civilian was killed and four others were injured April 19 when a practice bomb missed its target. Two U.S. military pilots flying FA-18 Hornet jets accidentally dropped two 500-pound bombs off target, resulting in the death of David Sanes Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican and, thus, an American.

In the 1970's, a similar accident and six years of protests convinced the Navy to shut down live-fire practice on the Puerto Rican island of Culebra.

Despite the Culebra decision, the U.S. military has continued the use of live-fire training on Vieques . How could that possibly happen? Because Puerto Rico has no voice in Congress.
If a citizen of any state had been accidentally killed during military training exercises, your representatives and senators would have protested, and the federal government would have been forced to respond in some manner.

In a letter to President Clinton, Puerto Rico 's governor, Pedro Rossello, said, "No community of American citizens should have to endure such conditions." Instead, Rossello's pleas to the Clinton administration have gone unanswered.

The governor has met with the secretary of the Navy and implored him to cease live-fire activity until an investigation is conducted. The Navy apologized for the tragedy and has temporarily halted the use of live ammunition while it conducts an investigation.

Still, while pledging to make the exercises safer, the Navy maintains the use of live ammunition is an essential part of the military exercises in Vieques. In other words, the Navy is saying it is going to continue live-fire training on Vieques -- even at the cost of American lives.

For more than 50 years, these all-too-frequent bombings have placed residents at risk, damaged the environment and scared tourists away. The accident generated the largest showing of support for Vieques' fishermen in their 30-year struggle against the Navy's presence on the island. All three main political parties on the island have joined in supporting Gov. Rossello's request to stop the use of live fire.

Puerto Ricans proudly serve in the United States military and have fought in battlefields around the world defending the freedoms and privileges that accompany U.S. citizenship. Currently, there are more than 11,000 Puerto Rican National Guardsmen serving our nation. It is ironic that these Americans are denied the very rights they risk their lives preserving for others.

Why does the issue become so complicated when Puerto Rican citizens are accidentally killed? Because Puerto Ricans have no voice in Congress and are at the mercy of elected officials for whom we cannot vote.

Puerto Rico has offered the U.S. military use of other, uninhabited islands in the area--but the Navy wants Vieques, complete with its 9,000 civilian residents. And because Puerto Rico has no representation in Congress and no vote in federal elections, military officials are going to do whatever they please, regardless of the feelings of those who are being affected by live-fire training.

The federal government needs to take the initiative to permanently halt live-fire exercises in populated areas before another civilian is killed.

The American citizens of Puerto Rico have already given plenty to the United States armed forces.

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback