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"Not One More Bomb" - Rossello
by Tamara Lytle
October 20, 1999
Copyright © 1999 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.
WASHINGTON -- Puerto Rico's Gov. Pedro Rossello faced off against
Republican senators in a heated confrontation Tuesday, declaring
"not one" more bomb should fall on the island of Vieques.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., the powerful chairman of the Senate
Armed Services Committee, said he will push to reopen the bombing
within weeks. Otherwise, he said, a Naval battle group will have
to sail for the Mediterranean in February without enough training.
That could endanger lives of the troops in the Eisenhower Battle
Group, said Warner, his position strongly backed by the Navy.
The Eisenhower training imposes a deadline of sorts on the
long-simmering issue of whether live ammunition should be allowed
again on the small island of Vieques off Puerto Rico. Training
on Vieques has been suspended since the April death of a civilian
security guard who was hit by an errant bomb.
Restarting bombing as early as Dec. 1 -- as the Navy would
like -- would create a clash between the military and the Puerto
Rican citizens now camped out on the bombing range in a protest
that was compared Tuesday to the Boston Tea Party. They, like
the governor and almost everyone on the island, want the live
fire exercises to end immediately.
But on Tuesday, Warner, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and other
Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee made it clear
they will exert pressure for renewed bombing.
A presidential panel recommended Monday that the Navy be evicted
from Vieques after five years, saying the service has fallen short
in protecting the environment, developing the economy and communicating
with the people in Vieques. The bombing range and a depot take
up two-thirds of the island, with 9,000 civilians residents sandwiched
But the panel also proposed allowing bombing to resume because
of the Navy's argument that training there is crucial to military
readiness and can't be replaced easily.
The panel's decision is now on the desk of Defense Secretary
William Cohen, who is trying to work out a compromise between
the Navy and the Puerto Ricans. President Clinton will make the
final decision, although the White House has indicated it hopes
a compromise will be reached.
First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday weighed in on the
side of Puerto Ricans, a move that drew snipes from Republicans
who have accused her of trying to woo Puerto Rican votes in her
apparent New York Senate campaign.
Rossello said he would be happy to negotiate the terms of the
Navy's departure and possibly agree to some training exercises
on Vieques that don't include live ammunition.
But when Warner pressed him on allowing bombing, he said that
was not negotiable.
"Not one aerial-dropped bomb? Not one ship to shore?"
"Not one," Rossello said, stressing nearly unanimous
public opinion in the commonwealth. "Any bombing of Vieques
is unacceptable to us."
Rossello and Inhofe also accused each other of playing politics.
Rossello noted that Inhofe has threatened to pull the Navy out
of the larger Roosevelt Roads base if the Vieques range were lost.
Inhofe said Rossello has used his close political relationship
with Vice President Al Gore to pressure the administration on
Inhofe called on Rossello to urge the end of the protests on
the range, where citizens are camping out among unexploded ordinance
to serve as human shields against the restart of bombing.
"Someone is going to die doing that," Inhofe said.
"My advice is to say something discouraging about that trespassing
or that blood will be on your hands."
Rossello countered that someone already had died -- security
guard David Sanes Rodriguez. If bombing restarts and someone else
is hurt, that blood will "be on your hands," Rossello
Navy Secretary Richard Danzig said any decision on whether
to prosecute the trespassers will be made with the Justice Department
and other federal agencies.
"This will mean a civic confrontation with no parallel
in our history," said Fernando Martin-Garcia, vice president
of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. The head of that party,
Ruben Berrios, has led the civil disobedience efforts on the range.
Even though the presidential panel proposed a five-year deadline
for the Navy to leave Vieques, panel members said Tuesday that
the Navy would not necessarily be kicked out if it had not found
an alternative site by then.
"I don't think we can make that judgment today,"
said Frank Rush, who led the panel.
"We thought this would get the Navy off its butt, quite
frankly," said Ret. Vice Adm. Diego Hernandez, a panel member.