Para ver este documento en español, oprima aquí.


Warner Plan Would Preserve Puerto Rican Bombing Range

by Dale Eisman

March 2, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE VIRGINAN-PILOT AND THE LEDGER-STAR, NORFOLK, VA. All Rights Reserved.

The disputed Navy bombing range on Vieques, Puerto Rico, should be put "in mothballs" if it can't be reopened, so that "a future generation of leaders" on the island might have a chance to reconsider their opposition to the bombing, Virginia Sen. John W. Warner said Wednesday.

Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that Puerto Ricans eager to see the Navy surrender the 60-year old range shouldn't "get the idea this land goes back on the market" if a referendum expected next year goes against renewed live firing.

Warner's proposal directly challenges a deal negotiated in January by the Navy, the Clinton administration and Gov. Pedro Rossello to have Vieques voters make the final decision about the Navy's presence.

It also could keep the dispute alive as a political issue. Republicans have complained about the administration's refusal to arrest demonstrators camped on the range, suggesting that the president is trying to help his wife appeal to Puerto Rican voters in her New York Senate race.

The deal announced Jan. 31 calls for the Navy to close the Vieques range permanently and surrender virtually all of its 20,000-plus acres on the island by the end of 2003 if it loses the referendum. Service leaders argue that a $90 million aid package, along with their agreement to limit firing to 90 days per year, will persuade voters to let live bombing resume.

Rossello, informed of Warner's suggestion, said it "would not really be very helpful."

"It maintains the animosity, it maintains the potential for confrontation," between the Navy and residents, the governor said. "And I think we should resolve this as fast as possible."

The 900-acre range at Vieques' eastern tip has been closed since April, when a mis-aimed bomb killed a civilian employed by the Navy as a security guard. Demonstrators took up residence soon after the accident, and for many Puerto Ricans their protest has come to symbolize a larger struggle over the island's status as a U.S. territory.

Military leaders say the range provides training that sailors and Marines can't get anywhere else in the Atlantic.

Alternative training arrangements the Navy made for the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower and its battle group for their current deployment to the Mediterranean are putting sailors' and Marines' lives in danger, Sen. James. M. Inhofe, R-Okla., said Wednesday.

Inhofe said Puerto Rican authorities are eager to obtain the Navy's property for what could be multimillion-dollar hotel and resort developments on the 25-mile-long island. "I don't believe that the national security and the lives of our military personnel should be sacrificed to increase the wealth of a few developers," he said.

Rossello has pledged to help clear the range for limited use with dummy bombs and shells until the vote.