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THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Bombed Away Puerto Rico Powerless To Stop Navy Exercises
by Pedro Rossello
October 19, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE WASHINGTON TIMES. All Rights Reserved.
Imagine that your home state contains an insular community
where the Navy has been conducting training exercises ever since
World War II. Huddled in the mid-portion of this roughly 50-square-mile
island, sandwiched between the two-thirds of its acreage that
the Navy controls, are the homes of 9,300 of your fellow citizens.
For more than half a century, these folks have subsisted within
earshot of year-round aerial and ship-to-shore bombardment often
with live ammunition; their fishing industry has been perennially
disrupted; their exquisite coral reefs have been ravaged by shells
and amphibious landings; their efforts to develop their island's
exceptional tourism potential have been aborted by a war-zone
environment; rare bioluminescent bays, endangered wildlife species
and pre-Columbian archeological sites are constantly imperiled
by military maneuvers; local cancer rates significantly exceed
the statewide average; unemployment is disproportionately high.
The Navy signs a formal memorandum of understanding with the
state government, wherein it promises to spur economic development
and protect the well-being of the island and its people. But 16
years later, in 1999:
- The memorandum is a dead letter, honored more in the breech
than in the observance.
- It comes to light that 263 shells loaded with radioactive
depleted uranium have been fired onto the island from a military
- A lengthy history of such periodic mistakes climaxes in an
aerial bombing accident that claims the life of one local resident
and injures four others.
Now imagine that the people of your state rise up as one to
demand that the Navy take its assaults elsewhere and leave the
island in peace. Your governor with the emphatic support of every
major civic, religious and political faction in the state - formally
petitions the president to order that the Navy pull out. Your
senators and representatives in Congress take up their constituents'
cause and unanimously endorse the movement.
Now comes the hard part. Imagine what happens next.
You wake up one morning to discover that you no longer have
any federal power. The residents of your state have been stripped
of the right to vote for president; your congressional delegation
has been reduced to a single non-voting delegate in the House
of Representatives; and the Navy's influential friends on Capitol
Hill are pressuring The White House to deny the virtually unanimous
petition that was submitted on your behalf and that of your neighbors
In essence, this is a true story. The state in question is
Puerto Rico where a population that now totals 3.9-million U.S.
citizens has been obliged to endure federal powerlessness as a
territory for an incredible 101 years. So we didn't suddenly lose
our voting rights or congressional clout. We have never had any.
The island to which I have been referring is Vieques. Outside
of Puerto Rico, its name is unfamiliar and its plight largely
unknown. Ditto the sacrifices and heroism of the hundreds of thousands
of Puerto Ricans who have served in the U.S. armed forces throughout
this century, including dozens of generals or admirals and four
recipients of the Medal of Honor.
The liberation of Vieques from decades of military siege should
be an open-and-shut case. And it would be if Puerto Rico possessed
civic equality as a state of the Union.
In the harsh light of our people's disfranchisement, however,
the issue remains very much in doubt:
- A presidentially mandated Special Panel on Military Operations
on Vieques has yet to file a report, some six weeks after its
original deadline date.
- Prominent members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee
have vowed to oppose any Navy withdrawal when the Committee conducts
an Oct. 19 hearing on the subject.
- Senior naval officers and Navy Department personnel have
had the brazen audacity to question the patriotism of the American
citizens of Puerto Rico.
The stage is thus set for a tragically sorry spectacle. Might
is about to be pitted against right. And might may well prevail
unless our fellow citizens all across America unite behind the
people of Puerto Rico in a dramatic display of the humane decency
and sense of justice which have traditionally typified the American
spirit at critical moments like this one.
Pedro Rossello, governor of Puerto Rico, is a leading
advocate of U.S. statehood for his Caribbean territory.