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White House: Vieques to define federal funding and
Refusal by PR to accept Clinton's orders to be
read as desire to assert "national powers"
by Ivonne Garcia
March 16, 2000
Copyright © 2000 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.
WASHINGTON, D.C. A flat-out rejection of President Clinton's
directives on Vieques may echo through the halls of the U.S. Congress
as a desire by Puerto Ricans to assert "national power,"
creating reverberations in terms of additional federal funding
and status politics, White House officials say.
The refusal by a majority of Puerto Ricans to accept the president's
final offer on Vieques could be read by the powers that be as
a sign that island residents want to make a "national decision"
relating to military activity, which falls squarely under the
U.S. government's purview.
This also may be interpreted as meaning that Puerto Ricans
are unwilling to continue as part of the "American political
family," said Jeffrey Farrow, co-chairman of the White House
Interagency Working Group on Puerto Rico.
In an exclusive two-hour interview with CARIBBEAN
BUSINESS at his office in the Old Executive Office
Building, Farrow said the Vieques situation is a "defining
issue" for Puerto Rico.
"If after all this effort and attention that is being
paidmost people refuse to accept what the U.S. government says
is essential, then many people will come to understand that [Puerto
Rico] is not a place that ultimately wants to be part of our political
family," Farrow said. "This is not statehood I'm talking
about. I'm talking about whether [Puerto Rico] wants to be in
any way part of the American political family, where you have
basic political obligations."
Many members of the U.S. Congress--both Republican and Democrat--oppose
the president's agreement on Vieques, and some, like Senate Majority
Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., are using it as an argument to halt
the allocation of additional money and perks to Puerto Rico.
Although most of the more than $11 billion yearly federal allocation
to Puerto Rico at this time is not in jeopardy, additional funding--including
$40 million for Vieques alone-- may be jeopardized if Clinton's
directives can't be implemented.
"I can't say that it's irrational when people say why
should we provide more assistance to people who are unwilling
to meet the minimum requirements of national defense," Farrow
said, noting that the current commonwealth status gives the United
States exclusive responsibility for defense.
On Jan. 31, Clinton issued a series of directives after several
prior attempts to reach a compromise on Vieques were vocally opposed
by both the Puerto Rico government and a majority of island residents.
In his orders, Clinton allocated $40 million for economic development
and environmental protection in Vieques from the current fiscal
year 2000 U.S. federal budget, and mandated the transfer of a
total 8,200 acres worth $300 million from the hands of the U.S.
Navy to the Puerto Rico government. He also limited Navy exercises
to 90 days per year from the previous 180 days a year that was
the norm, and only with non-explosive or dummy ordnance.
Further, Clinton ordered a referendum among viequenses by
February 2002 to determine the fate of the Navy's presence in
the island municipality. If Vieques residents vote against the
Navy staying, all military exercises will cease by May 2003. But
should viequenses vote in favor of the Navy staying, and
resuming live-fire exercises, an additional $50 million will be
funneled to the financially strapped municipality.
"The president has addressed all of the issues and concerns
that the people of Vieques articulated with respect to the Navy
training on the island," Farrow said. "Safety concerns,
health concerns, economic concerns, [and] environmental concerns."
Last week, a House committee approved the $40 million for Vieques,
pending removal of the protesters from the restricted areas. Already,
the Navy has transferred 110 acres of land to extend the airport
and has begun removing its weapons from storage facilities on
the island municipality.
Clinton's directives came in the wake of the bombing accident
that killed Navy civilian guard David Sanes Rodriguez at the Navy's
firing range in April 1999. That accident galvanized public opinion
in Puerto Rico against the Navy's continued use of the municipality
for military practices. The Navy has been using Vieques for naval
military maneuvers since the 1940s.
Shortly after the accident, officials of the Puerto Rican Independence
Party (PIP) and other protesters settled within the Navy's restricted
areas in Vieques as part of a civil disobedience strategy to stop
the resumption of military exercises on the Isla Nena.
"The civil disobedience then threatens this assistance
being provided to the community in Vieques," Farrow said.
"Let's be clear about this, this is not a question of whether
people like this. The job of government isn't to do things that
are popular all the time."
He said Gov. Pedro Rossello was told in no uncertain terms
that this accord was the best Clinton could do. Rossello was accused
by the opposition of breaking the "consensus" on no
more bombing on Vieques by accepting Clinton's directives. "The
governor made the tough decision," Farrow said. "It
wasn't the one he wanted to make."
Despite repeated statements, even during an unprecedented televised
address by Clinton himself, that this is all that can be granted
right now, officials of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), the
PIP, and leaders of the Catholic Church in Puerto Rico continue
to hold out for a cease to all bombing.
"It's destructive to do this, to hold open these illusions
that have no basis," Farrow said. "The president has
said he has addressed the concerns raised [by viequenses]
to the fullest extent possible. It is counterproductive becausepeople
think this is another proposal.
They're not, these are directives, final decisions reached
after many months [of tough negotiations] and different versions
Although the Navy's original claims that they could never replace
Vieques have not held up, it is true that they have no other immediate
"ready and reliable" replacement, and that they won't
have one until May 2003, Farrow said.
In fact, moving exercises scheduled for Vieques to the Italian
island of Sardinia and to Scotland has created additional problems
for the Navy in terms of opposition in those countries to their
"Concern has been raised in Scotland by environmentalists
and the Scottish Parliament, including saying 'why should we do
this if Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, won't accept it?'"
"Those are not ranges that we can use every time we need
to do training."
In response to a question on the use of blanks, which don't
involve actual projectiles and only make an explosive sound at
the point of discharge, making them safer than live or inert ordnance,
Farrow said Navy officials are studying all possibilities. "The
standard we used in negotiating this agreement on non-explosives
is that if [the inert, non-explosive projectile] fell a foot away
from you it would not harm you," he said.
The bottom line, Farrow said, is that following the path the
opposition points to likely will define Puerto Rico's situation,
whether or not people realize it, and whether or not that's what
they mean to do. It may be, he said, that the Vieques issue has
made most Puerto Ricans dissatisfied with the current political
situation, even if they don't make the concomitant connection
that they should change their status.
"That's not unusual in history," Farrow said. "In
many historical events that are key, people didn't sit around
and say 'this is where we're going to make this fundamental decision
as a society.' Something happens that precipitates an action that
makes people decide they're going in a different direction."
This Caribbean Business article appears
courtesy of Casiano
For further information please contact www.casiano.com