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CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
The Navy Should Ship Out
June 11, 1999
Copyright © 1999 CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
Just off the east coast of Puerto Rico lies the little island
of Vieques, home to a small town of 9,000 United States citizens.
That would be unremarkable were the island not also the home of
a huge base where the US Navy conducts live-fire exercises.
In no other location does live bombing take place so close to
a significant civilian population. It doesn't take much to see
the potential for disaster, and the Puerto Rican government has
for years tried to get the Navy to move the exercises elsewhere.
San Juan's campaign got a new push in April, when a Marine jet
accidentally bombed a civilian
guard post, killing a guard and wounding four others. It was just
the latest in a litany of injuries to Vieques residents and created
a public furor in Puerto Rico.
Recently, the Navy admitted that another Marine jet mistakenly
fired shells with radioactive depleted uranium at Vieques in early
March. Use of such shells on the island is illegal.
None of the 50 states would tolerate a bombing range so close
to a town.
A state's congressional delegation would make sure any such operation
got shut down. But Puerto Rico isn't a state; its governor and
nonvoting delegate to the House must rely on persuasion instead.
We're persuaded. It's time for the Navy to phase out the live-fire
exercises or move them to a safer location.
And it's also time for Congress to set up a neutral process by
which Puerto Ricans can decide whether they're ready for statehood,
with the advantages - and responsibilities - that entails.