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Vieques: Aim For Compromise
by Pedro A. Cortes
October 21, 1999
Copyright © 1999 ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.
What to do about Vieques? Is it really that important as a
Navy training site?
These are the questions that President Clinton and members
of Congress must ask themselves. I, and quite a few of
my Puerto Rican compatriots and friends, who are also veterans
of the U.S. Armed Forces, think that the training site is important.
I was a member of the Third Marine Air Wing from 1951 to my
honorable discharge in 1955. Even though I was born and reared
in Puerto Rico, my first visit to the beautiful island of Vieques
came while I was on maneuvers with the Marines in 1953.
Since then, I have returned to Vieques three more times. While
I was there on my most recent visit, in 1994, not even one person
complained about the Navy being there.
My friends and I also believe that both the president and Congress
should agree jointly on a decision. Clinton, alone, cannot be
trusted to make a decision based "on need" instead of
on politics. Past experiences indicate that he may put the well-being
of the Democratic Party above national security. On any decision
regarding national security, Congress should have significant
Regardless of what Puerto Rican politicians are saying, there
is time and room for a sensible compromise. It is never too late
to think with our heads instead of our hearts.
Furthermore, before Congress or Clinton takes unilateral action,
Puerto Rican leaders should welcome a meeting to try to reach
a compromise. We know that both sides cannot get everything they
want. But at least the U.S. Navy should get to stay in Vieques,
with some restrictions, and Puerto Rican leaders should be able
to say, "We did not give in. . . . We fought as hard as we
could and got the restrictions we wanted on the agreement."
My friends and I also believe that a sensible compromise will
have no effect on next year's elections in Puerto Rico. Pro-statehood
and pro-commonwealth parties will keep their voters. Defections
to the pro-independence party will be minimal.
Among the items that should be discussed about the future of
- Stopping the use of live ammunition. The range exists to practice accuracy.
This can be done by using some sort of blanks.
- Renting or lending the facilities
to other nations. Maybe only joint exercises should
- Returning some of the Vieques land
to the government of Puerto Rico. I doubt that the
Navy needs three-quarters of Vieques for its exercises.
Of course, detractors and those "who go with the flow"
will probably attack my way of thinking and that of my friends.
Yet if a sensible compromise is reached and the Navy is allowed
to stay in Vieques, and if another tragic accident does not occur,
I'm sure that 14 to 15 years from now, all of these arguments
will be forgotten. Only 3 percent of the Puerto Rican people --
the percentage of the vote usually won in general elections by
the pro-independence party -- will remember. You see, the ones
who are for independence for Puerto Rico will hold on to anything
that, in their minds, will help their cause with the electorate.
Pedro A. Cortes of Orlando retired
as a senior court clerk for the New York state court system.