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Navy Caribbean Giveaway

February 4, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION. All Rights Reserved.

But it is not likely.

The governor of the U.S. territory has agreed -- at a price -- to allow limited Navy training on Vieques, an island off Puerto Rico, and to let residents vote on whether the training will continue.

This apparently means the Navy can send a carrier battle group to the area, where naval forces have done live-fire training for nearly 60 years.

The Navy owns both ends of the island of Vieques, but about 9,000 people live in a strip on the middle, some miles from where explosives are used. However, last year an errant bomb killed a civilian security guard and various interests began pushing to stop the use of live weapons.

Under the new agreement, the Navy will train using dummy weapons, and cut the number of training days in half.

Navy officials say Vieques is ideal for training purposes and that the conditions cannot be duplicated elsewhere.

The issue is immersed in local politics and in U.S. politics. Only a small minority of Puerto Ricans -- 3 percent in a recent vote -- support independence, with the rest about evenly divided between those who want statehood and supporters of the commonwealth status quo. Those advocating independence seem to be driving the anti-Navy campaign.

The agreement calls for the Puerto Ricans to vote, possibly around May 1, 2001.

If the vote is in the Navy's favor, the administration will ask Congress for $50 million in aid to Vieques, on top of $40 million the United States is paying up front for the temporary agreement, The Washington Post said. That works out to about $10,000 per resident and raises the question again as to whether it wouldn't be cheaper simply to buy the private land, even at a premium.

If the vote goes the other way, the Navy will give up the eastern end of the island, where live-fire training is done, in May 2003.

What has escaped many news reports is the fact that the whole deal is a land giveaway, at substantial cost to U.S. taxpayers. In addition to $40 million in cash, the administration wants to give the western half of the island, 8,000 acres, to Puerto Rico. That's worth a minimum of $180 million.

In addition, if the vote goes against the United States, it would end up turning over another 8,000 acres on the eastern end of the island to Puerto Rico.

Clearly, the incentive is for residents of Puerto Rico to kick out the Navy, and reap millions of dollars in cash and land that may be worth billions.

Congress should review this proposed deal carefully and unless there is some benefit to taxpayers that is not readily apparent, put a halt to it, which would encourage the administration to seek a more reasonable and responsible plan.

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