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THE NEW YORK TIMES
Solution on Vieques Takes a Step Forward
by Manuel Ernesto Rivera
February 29, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 -- Despite growing protests at home, the
governor of Puerto Rico met with White House officials today and
reaffirmed his support for President Clinton's plan to resume
Navy exercises, which will be at least initially limited, on the
island of Vieques.
The governor, Pedro J. Rossello, also took possession of 110
acres of land on the western end of Vieques that the Navy transferred
to local control. The transfer was part of a deal to allow the
renewed training before residents of the island decide whether
to bar the exercises permanently.
''The first step in the overall resolution of the issue was
taken today,'' the White House press secretary, Joe Lockhart,
said after a meeting between Mr. Rossello and the White House
chief of staff, John D. Podesta. ''There's obviously a number
of other steps that will have to be taken, including a referendum
where the people of Vieques will decide their future.''
Exercises on Vieques, where the Navy maintains a bombing range
that it considers essential to the training of its Atlantic fleet,
were suspended last spring after a wayward bomb killed a civilian
security guard, an accident that intensified longtime protests
against the service's presence.
Mr. Clinton and Mr. Rossello agreed last month that the Navy
would be allowed to resume training using inert bombs. The pact
calls for a referendum, likely to be held in 2001, that will allow
Vieques residents to choose between the unfettered resumption
of training, with live bombs, and exercises with dummy bombs until
a Navy withdrawal in May 2003.
In San Juan last week, some 85,000 people demonstrated against
the agreement. But Mr. Rossello said today that the administration's
proposal was the best solution to the standoff between Vieques
islanders and the Navy.
He said that as details of the proposal became more widely
known, ''it will allow much more support for all aspects of that
The Navy has not announced a date for resuming training, but
Mr. Rossello pledged the Puerto Rican government's full cooperation
in clearing the test range of protesters.
''We will take any steps that are appropriate to make sure
that the range is available,'' he said.
The Clinton administration is seeking $40 million to address
the health and environmental concerns raised by the training on
''The people of Vieques have placed on the table concerns as
to what has happened to their health, to their environment, to
their opportunity for economic development,'' Mr. Rossello said
today. ''The funds that are requested are precisely to respond
to those very valid concerns.''
The 110 acres transferred today are to be used to extend an
airport on Vieques, allowing larger aircraft and so stimulating
A deed for the land was drawn up and signed by Mr. Rossello
and Adm. Kevin Green, commander of Naval Forces South, in a small
ceremony, said Maria Echaveste, deputy White House chief of staff.
''The governor believes that actually taking steps to implement
the president's directives would be helpful in helping reduce
the level of opposition down in Puerto Rico,'' Ms. Echaveste said.