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The Star-Ledger Newark, NJ
Media Missed Some Bombshells On The Vieques Issue
by Paul Mulshine
June 22, 2000
The controversy over military training on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques brings up the question of how any sane person would feel living in a land of beautiful beaches that is subject to periodic bombing and strafing by helicopters and jet fighters.
That's not hard for me. I live in such a place. Not Vieques . Ocean County.
Vieques is getting all of the publicity these days, but it is far from the only sandy location in America where our military practices its skills. Right in my own Ocean County, we have a bombing range that is bombed far more frequently and more violently than the range in Puerto Rico that has become the subject of an international campaign against the U.S. military.
Col. John Dwyer of the New Jersey Air National Guard notes that the range in Warren Grove may be the busiest of the many bombing ranges in America. "We are probably doing more bombing at Warren Grove than anywhere," Dwyer says. The range is bombed or strafed almost daily, with few complaints from the locals.
Of course, you could argue that Vieques is a tiny island and the people there are much closer to the deadly gunfire of all those fighters and attack helicopters.
But you would be wrong. In fact Vieques is quite a big island. The residences there are a full eight miles away from the bombing range. In Ocean County, there are homes a mere 2.1 miles away from the range. The number of people within eight miles of the range is at least 50,000, according to my calculations, about five times the population of Vieques .
So why the fuss about Vieques ? I asked Newark Councilman Luis Quintana, who heads up the anti-bombing movement in these parts. "We should not have a bombing range where people live," he said.
I pointed out that people live in Ocean County and we have a bombing range. Could he suggest some different site along Puerto Rico 's expansive coastline? Quintana said no location in Puerto Rico would be acceptable. When I asked him where the facility could go, he answered, "Put it wherever you want. Put it on the moon."
Strip away the nonsense and you're left with the argument that Manuel Soriano, a member of the Puerto Rican Senate, made on a New York TV show. He said the bombing violates Puerto Rico 's "dignity." He and other separatists are using it to advance the cause of Puerto Rican independence.
Good for them. But something's wrong when a member of Congress takes a position hostile to the country he is serving. The leader of the anti- Vieques movement in Congress, Democrat Jose Serrano of New York, has said, "I was born in a colony and I'm a member of Congress of a colonial power." Serrano uses his government-funded Web site (www.house.gov/serrano) to link such sites as that of Bandera Roja ("Red Flag"). The red flag on the site (www.bandera.org) sports the image of anti-American fanatic Che Guevara. The site also praises the Puerto Rican terrorists who in 1953 shot up the same House chamber where Serrano now sits.
Imagine the situation were reversed. Imagine a Republican congressman used his office to link to a Web site praising Timothy McVeigh. The media would have a field day. Similarly, the Puerto Rican Day parade in New York City that had as one of its aims getting the Navy out of Vieques was also dedicated to the memory of Pedro Albizu Campos. Campos was involved in an assassination attempt against President Truman and the attack on Serrano's predecessors in Congress.
None of this has made it into news accounts of the Vieques controversy. Compare the media treatment of the Puerto Rican activists with that of the Cuban-Americans in the Elian Gonzalez case. The Cuban-Americans are enthusiastically pro-American. They seek nothing more than a chance for the people in Cuba to enjoy the same freedom we have here. Yet they have been portrayed as fanatics. But many of the Puerto Rican -Americans pushing the Vieques case have nothing but praise for true fanatics who have acted violently against the United States. Yet somehow that never makes it into the stories.
One more thing. Serrano has been quoted as saying that the United States would never consider locating a bombing range near an American tourist attraction like Long Island or Martha's Vineyard. "We're bombing Cape Cod, for God's sake," says Dwyer.
And the Air Force base there is as close to the Kennedy compound as the homes on Vieques are to the Navy base there.