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Vieques Part Of Puerto Rico's Investment In America

by Daniel John Sobieski

May 21, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE WASHINGTON TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

Luis A. Ferre, former governor of Puerto Rico , is just plain wrong in his assertion that "the most fundamental rights of equality and dignity . . . have been denied to Puerto Rico for more than 100 years" and that "recent developments in Vieques are but a symptom of Puerto Rico 's political status problem" (" Vieques and beyond," Commentary, May 17).

We are not occupying Vieques against the will of the Puerto Rican people, and Puerto Rico is not a colony of the United States. The people of Puerto Rico are American citizens who have expressed their will by repeatedly rejecting independence in referendum after referendum, most recently in December 1998, and voting to remain in commonwealth status with the United States. Vieques is the price of that democracy.

Every six months, America sends a carrier battle group and a Marine amphibious group from the East Coast to protect its interests and meet its security commitments in Europe and the Persian Gulf. Our forces must be ready for battle at all times. Exercises at Vieques get them ready.

In December 1998, the USS Carl Vinson battle group was in combat within eight hours of arriving on station in the Persian Gulf, firing cruise missiles against Iraq. The last seven carrier battle groups deployed have seen combat in such places as Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Vieques prepared them.

Vieques has a 10-mile buffer zone between its range and any civilians. The Navy lists six other bases that have civilians living within 9.7 miles of impact areas, including Fallon, Nev., just five miles from a naval air station where 2,000-pound bombs are dropped routinely. There are more than 50 such ranges in the continental United States. Live ordinance is used in 33 major range complexes in 14 states, two territories and six foreign countries. So it is not a unique burden imposed on Puerto Rico .

The peace and freedom we enjoy was obtained and maintained through a military deterrent that remains credible because of continuous practice and training. Yes, training accidents can occur. But American - and Puerto Rican - lives will be saved one day because the combat situations in which military forces may find themselves will look just like Vieques .



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