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Democratic Solution in Vieques?
No Peace For Vieques
The Island In The Bull's Eye
Time To Give Vieques Back To Its People
Bombs Away The Navy's Return To Vieques May Not Last

Democratic Solution in Vieques?

The Washington Post
Copyright 2000, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved

Most Americans do not know the history of Puerto Rican resistance to the Navy's bombing of Vieques Island ["The Vieques Standoff," editorial, May 4].

First came the arbitrary presidential order by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940s to take over 40 percent of Culebra Island and 66 percent of Vieques .

Second, the combined U.S.- Puerto Rican citizens' resistance to the Navy's bombing of Culebra led by university students, political parties, religious groups and the people of Culebra in the early 1970s resulted in the Navy's being forced to leave Culebra and concentrate its maneuvers on Vieques . Since 1978, resistance from Vieques fishermen and residents has stopped the Navy's bombing and amphibious landings on several occasions. On April 19, 1999, bombing killed a Puerto Rican security guard and injured three others. This tragic incident highlighted once more the need to stop the bombing and return the land used for military training to the Viequenses.

The referendum and proposal made by the Clinton administration and accepted by the Puerto Rican government are unjust ["U.S. Ousts 200 at Vieques ," front page, May 5]. The Puerto Rican government's conscience was bought with economic pledges, with disregard to the health of the people ( Vieques has the highest rate of cancer of all the municipalities of Puerto Rico ) and the destruction of its ecology. Is that what The Post considers to be a "democratic solution?"

San Jose Episcopal Church, Arlington

Community of Christ Church, Washington

No Peace For Vieques

The News & Observer Raleigh, NC
(Copyright 2000)

As a Puerto Rican in Raleigh I would like to communicate my indignation with the abuse the U.S. Navy has/is exercising over the island of Vieques , Puerto Rico , the subject of recent news stories.

We are U.S. citizens with a mind-set of peace and prosperity that is contrary to the character-example this great Navy is giving to our society.

My father's family comes from Vieques and as a child I spent many days enjoying its beautiful surroundings. I've been witness to the cruelty and negligence the U.S. Armed Forces have forced into our lives in the name of "peace, security and prosperity" - isn't that tragic?

The Puerto Ricans on this island have been living in a central strip of land that is one-third of the total land mass, with bombs falling to their right and more military movements to their left. That is not peace, that is not prosperity, and that is not what USA is about.

Now I have learned that the House Armed Services Committee is failing to honor the agreement between President Clinton and our government.

Don't we have the right to fight for our rights? Are the decisions agreed by your president honored by your Congress? It seems that the answer to both questions is no.

We'll keep fighting peacefully for our island until reason reaches their minds.

Carlos Gonzalez Raleigh

The Island In The Bull's Eye

The Grand Rapids Press
(Copyright 2000)

Someone ought to pass the word to the protesters squared off against the Navy over the Puerto Rican island of Vieques : Peace broke out five months ago.

President Clinton and Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello -- whose domain includes the 20-by-4 mile island -- in January reached an agreement on the Navy's use of part of Vieques . The deal calls for the Navy to have continued access to the island as a training site, using only dummy bombs, pending a vote by the island's 9,400 residents next year. If the referendum calls for the Navy to leave, the pull-out must be complete by 2003.

Despite the accord, protesters through the spring remained on Vieques , blocking the Navy's resumption of training. Federal marshals last week removed 224 of them. Though the Navy this week resumed its training, protester attempts to intervene have continued.

The Navy, by using only dummy weapons in its bombing raids, seems to be living up to its part of the bargain. The protesters should do the same. The election to be held next year also will determine whether the protesters, who include several members of Congress and Hollywood entertainers, truly speak for the people of Vieques .

Whether from Vieques or not, however, the protesters have forced a good point: that the Navy should not use the island as a training ground against the wishes of the local people.

The Navy has some considerable arguments, too. The Atlantic fleet and the Marine Corps have been training on Vieques for 60 years: dropping bombs and conducting amphibious landing operations. The Navy contends that Vieques -- because of its location outside commercial airline routes, off-shore depths, beaches and land formations -- is uniquely suited to this kind of practice.

For both the safety and effectiveness of assault forces, the Navy must have live-fire training sites that can approximate actual combat locales. The military cannot be restricted to moving pegs and tokens around on a board and still be expected to do its job. If the voters of Vieques say "not here," another place will have to be found. The Navy had better prepare for that. In the meantime, the protesters should stay out of range.

Time To Give Vieques Back To Its People

National Catholic Reporter
Copyright (c) 2000 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.
Copyright National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Aside from providing some great material for Letterman and Leno monologues, it is difficult to imagine what the U.S. military establishment expects to gain from its pathetic show of force against the demonstrators on Puerto Rico 's Vieques Island.

The demonstrators, who for the last year have taken over the area of the island that the Navy has used in the past as a bombing-practice range, were peacefully removed by FBI agents. They have been demanding that the United States stop bombing the island, clean up toxic chemicals and unexploded ordnance, and leave.

Use of Vieques for target practice has long irritated residents. Protests seeking the removal of a U.S. Naval base flared in the1970s, but after several leaders were jailed the movement quickly disintegrated. Then a year ago a Navy F-18 fighter dropped two 500-pound bombs almost a mile off target and killed island resident David Sanes. Four others were injured. The incident ignited long-smoldering anti-U.S. feelings among islanders, who launched a new wave of protests, this time bolstered by the active participation of a number of churches and labor unions (NCR, June 18, 1999).

The dispute over Vieques is tied in with the history of the U.S. conquest of Puerto Rico and that territory's odd status as a commonwealth, which gives its citizens essentially the same control over internal affairs as have citizens of the United States. But Puerto Ricans do not vote in general elections and are represented in Congress by a single representative, who has no vote, except on committees.

The removal of the most recent protesters, including 15 Catholic priests and 11 women religious will not end the dispute. Even the presence of two battleships and 1,000 marines to secure the perimeter of the target range won't keep protesters from pressing the case.

In the words of Bishop Alvaro Corrada del Rio, apostolic administrator of the diocese of Caguas, which includes Vieques , the demonstrators already have won (see story page 13). "This is a very great victory,"-he said. "For the first time, a massive number of people have taken peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience as the way to struggle against the Navy. That was never the case bed sore. And the campaign will continue until the Navy leaves for good."

It isn't that Puerto Ricans dismiss any obligation to assist in national security. But as Corrada del Rio said in an earlier sermon, " Vieques has borne more than its share."

The reason it has been asked to bear that heavy share is because it is viewed as not as significant as a full U.S. state. It is a land that can be violated at will.

The United States should stop acting the role of a muscle-bound superpower fumbling around for ways to assure its superiority. Vieques should be returned, in peace and without further destruction, to its residents.

Bombs Away The Navy's Return To Vieques May Not Last

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
(Copyright 2000)

Not In My Back Yard syndrome is usually associated with protests of group homes or halfway houses, but on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques , it focuses on a site more spectacular and intrusive -- a U.S. Navy bombing range. This fact gives the Puerto Rican protesters a greater claim on sympathy, but only so much.

Like more mundane cases of NIMBY, questions arise concerning options and responsibility. The fact is that practice bombing and shelling are crucial to maintaining military efficiency in a dangerous world. Moreover, the Navy contends that Vieques is the only place where the Atlantic Fleet can undertake simultaneous land, sea and air operations with live munitions.

Since 1941, Vieques has been used as a practice site for every major conflict involving the United States, but operations were suspended in April after a civilian security guard was accidentally killed by stray bombs. In January, President Clinton and Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello agreed that training with dummy bombs could resume and that the residents of Vieques Island could vote in referendum on whether the Navy should leave by 2003.

Last week, the Justice Department sent FBI agents and U.S. marshals to clear the range of more than 200 protesters -- a proper action given the agreement with the governor, even if it risked being seen as heavy-handed. In any event, the dispersal of the protesters went smoothly.

Now the Navy has resumed its bombing runs -- albeit with nonexploding ordnance -- but the victory is likely to be temporary. With Vieques now an issue tangled up with Puerto Rican nationalistic sentiment, the result of a referendum would appear predictable.

Nobody in his right mind would want a bombing range nearby, but Puerto Ricans have the luxury of wanting it both ways. They have several times voted against independence from the United States or statehood within the union, most recently in December 1998. As U.S. citizens belonging to a commonwealth, they cannot vote but they have a large measure of autonomy and they pay no federal income tax.

This case of NIMBY is no different from others: Local sentiment is heedless of a larger, more compelling interest.

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