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Americans to Tour Vieques

Congressional Aides to See Bombing Range

by Ivan Roman

June 25, 1999

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - In the first such visit since the fatal accident that spurred controversy over the U.S. Navy's presence in Vieques, congressional staffers for the House and Senate Armed Services committees will tour the area today and Saturday.

The staffers arrive amid renewed anger in Puerto Rico over Thursday's news reports that a Navy official partially lays blame on the victim.

Also, a confidential Navy memo that came to light Thursday detailed a strategy to counteract the push for the Navy to leave Vieques.

The memo, drafted in the '70s, reportedly says that if the Navy were forced out, federal funds and/or support for statehood for Puerto Rico could dry up. Critics are calling that blackmail.

The six staffers, brought here by the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, will tour the Navy's training grounds including the observation post where wayward bombs killed security guard David Sanes Rodriguez during target practice on April 19.

"We want them to see first hand the situation," said Alcides Ortiz, administration executive director. "It's a plus to be ready to react when the president's panel on Vieques issues its report."

Responding to Gov. Pedro Rossello's request for the military exercises with live ammunition to stop, President Clinton ordered creation of a four-member panel to review the matter. Many don't trust the panel because three members are Navy or ex-Navy.

With pressure building in Puerto Rico and Washington, Ortiz's office persuaded some staffers to see what the controversy was about. They include staffers from the offices of Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., Joe Scarborough, R-Fla., and Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas.

They will speak with a representative of the governor's commission on Vieques, which will issue its report today, but won't make it public until Wednesday.

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