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THE VIRGINAN-PILOT AND THE LEDGER-STAR, NORFOLK, VA
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.