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May 8, 2000
Copyright © 2000 DAYTON DAILY NEWS. All Rights Reserved.



May 7, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, INC. All Rights Reserved.



May 5, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE SUN-SENTINAL. All Rights Reserved.

THE PEACEFUL REMOVAL OF MORE than 200 protesters from Vieques Island in Puerto Rico this week shows that violence doesn't have to be the result when government and its citizens clash. Credit goes to both the U.S. Justice Department and the demonstrators.

Federal agents made special efforts to avoid threatening language and gestures. And protesters remained calm as U.S. marshals placed plastic handcuffs on their wrists and led them away.

Yet the forced end of the yearlong demonstration does not address Puerto Rican discontent about the military exercises at the U.S. Navy bombing range on Vieques .

But that festering issue may come to a head soon. Puerto Rico plans to hold a referendum on Vieques - part of an agreement reached last year between President Clinton and Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello. If voters support discontinuing military exercises, the base will be closed by May 1, 2003. If not, the base will be allowed to use live ammunition again, and Vieques would receive $50 million in extra federal aid.

Puerto Ricans are patriotic and not anti-military, says Jose Davila, who is on the board of the Puerto Rican Cultural Society of Dayton. But most strongly oppose continued use of Vieques for military exercises.

For about 60 years, Vieques - off Puerto Rico 's east coast - has been a U.S. and NATO training ground. The Navy controls the most fertile grounds of Vieques , protesters say, and its military exercises have damaged coral reefs, ruined fishing grounds, stunted economic development and caused health problems for islanders.

Yet Puerto Ricans have had virtually no say in how the Navy uses Vieques .

The current protest was triggered when a Navy pilot launched two bombs on April 19, 1999, that missed their target and killed a civilian security guard. Puerto Ricans complain that they never got explanations for this or other military errors that have endangered Vieques residents.

Under the Clinton-Rossello pact, Puerto Rico must hold the Vieques referendum within three years. Holding that election as soon as possible could offset any building of tensions between the mainland and the commonwealth.

In a precise and incident-free operation, the federal government peacefully cleared protesters from the Navy bombing range in Vieques , Puerto Rico . In all, more than 200 people demonstrating against the use of parts of their island as a military training facility were removed.

In an impressive show of willpower, some of the protesters had been at the site since April 1999, when errant bombs dropped by a Marine Corps F-18 fighter jet killed a civilian security guard. If the protesters truly want the Navy to leave, we recommend they muster up the dedication that preserved them over those months and refocus it on an upcoming referendum that will legally determine whether the Navy remains. In the meantime, as a concession to residents, the Navy already has announced it will begin using non-explosive bombs instead of live ammunition when it resumes training exercises.

The referendum could be held as early as August or as late as February 2002. Should a majority of the people of Vieques vote to allow the Navy to stay, the residents would see the Navy scale back military activity to 90 days a year.

They also would get $40 million for health and environmental projects and $50 million for housing and infrastructure improvements. If a majority vote no, the Navy would be gone by 2003. End of story.

Our own Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) was one of the protesters arrested at Vieques , and he insists that protests of the bombing range will continue. Why? A solution is already in place. Last Thursday, federal agents were commended for their light touch in removing the protesters, as were the Puerto Rican dissenters for their part in keeping the situation from escalating into violence. Unfortunately, the same results cannot be guaranteed in future clashes.

Gutierrez, a veteran of the electoral process on both the winning and losing ends, would be better off using that experience to rally the people of Vieques to the ballot box. The referendum is the only action that will decide the question permanently.

The removal of dozens of protesters from a Navy bombing range on the island of Vieques near Puerto Rico fortunately occurred without violence.

The protesters made their point, and most allowed themselves to be arrested or removed from the range without resistance. They included a bishop, a local ex-senator and at least one U.S. congressman. Federal marshals and FBI agents displayed a minimum of force and the U.S. Justice Department is to be commended for the professional and calm way in which it handled a potentially explosive situation.

Now the people of Vieques , who are U.S. citizens, should be given the opportunity to decide quickly whether they want Navy war games to continue on their 52-square-mile island.

President Clinton has proposed a special referendum on this difficult issue. This agreement was reached between the White House and Puerto Rico 's Gov. Pedro Rossello last January to end a civil disobedience campaign against the Navy. This campaign began in April 1999, when protesters camped out on the military range after an errant Navy bomb killed a Vieques security guard.

Not everyone in Puerto Rico , which includes the tiny island- municipality of Vieques , is happy with this agreement. This is understandable because many Vieques residents are fearful that Navy bombing drills may be contaminating their community and endangering their health.

The referendum would allow the Navy to continue target practices with dummy bombs for three more years. Vieques would receive $40 million from the U.S. government for infrastructure improvements, economic development and environmental protection. Voters also may choose to allow the Navy to stay indefinitely and practice with live explosives. This option would provide another $50 million for the tiny island.

This is not a perfect solution, but it is a democratic one. At the very least, Navy exercises should not resume until the referendum has been held. The U.S. government expropriated more than two-thirds of Vieques in 1941 for military use. It is only fair that the people of Vieques have a say in what goes on in their back yard.



May 5, 2000
Copyright © 2000 NEWSDAY, INC. All Rights Reserved.



May 4, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM. All Rights Reserved.

The secretary of the Navy says the Caribbean island of Vieques is an "irreplaceable" training site for Marine Corps landings supported by ships and aircraft. Just east of Puerto Rico and roughly twice the size of Manhattan, Vieques has an ammunition dump at one end and a bombing range at the other, plus plenty of beaches and deep water offshore. Irreplaceable it may be, but it may soon have to be replaced anyway-and right now the Navy seems to be in denial about it.

Ever since a civilian guard on the range was killed last spring by an errant bomb, protesters have prevented more explosions on Vieques , and President Bill Clinton has agreed to a referendum by the island's 9,300 residents on whether the Navy must leave by May 1, 2003. If it's allowed to stay, the Pentagon will cough up $50 million for Vieques -probably a lot less than it would cost to prepare a new site if one can be found.

Yesterday U.S. marshals and FBI agents peaceably removed most of the protesters from a dozen campsites they had set up on the federal property. That's good; Clinton's agreement with Puerto Rico 's governor provides for the use of dummy bombs on the Vieques range until the referendum is held.

But the future of Vieques has become an issue in mainland politics- especially in New York, with its large Puerto Rican community. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn/Manhattan/Queens), who was born in Puerto Rico , joined the protesters, along with a state assemblyman and a city councilman. And Democratic Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton chimed in with a complaint that "We don't have democracy in Vieques ."

But we do-or at least we will when the people there vote either to throw the Navy out or to take the $50 million and hang in there. That decision ought to be made sooner rather than later, and the Navy had better be ready with a plausible Plan B in case the referendum doesn't go its way.

What do Puerto Ricans protesting the Navy's use of Vieques really have to complain about?

Some people don't know how to play a winning hand.

Puerto Rican protesters attempting to prevent the U.S. Navy from staging maneuvers at the island of Vieques present a classic case of players in a high-stakes game who don't know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.

Here's the winning hand that President Clinton and Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello have laid out for the people of Vieques : They will receive $40 million up front for letting the Navy conduct exercises this spring using bombs that contain no explosives. At a date in 2002 to be decided later, the people of Vieques will decide in a referendum if the Navy is to be allowed to resume live ammunition exercises on the island.

Now here is the sweet part of the deal: If the people of Vieques say "yes," they will receive an additional $50 million, But if the voters reject the idea of future live-fire exercises, the Navy will have to clean up whatever mess it has made over the years and terminate all training there by 2003.

That's a winner either way. But the really smart thing would be to take the upfront $40 million, which is nonrefundable, and then vote the Navy out of Vieques . Forget the other $50 million. Enhanced tourism would more than make up for that.

The problem is that over the years, the effort to remove the Navy from Vieques has become a political crusade for some Puerto Ricans and a political opportunity for others. The protests, which suit the purpose of the Puerto Rican independence movement, provide a way of embarrassing both Clinton and Rossello.

By forcefully removing the people camped on Vieques to try to stop the exercises, the U.S. government could give itself a public relations black eye. But if the protesters succeed in stopping the maneuvers, Vieques could lose $40 million. And that would be dumber than the dummy bombs to be used in the exercise.

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