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The Hartford Courant

Set Date For Vieques Vote

July 5, 2000
Copyright © 2000 The Hartford Courant. All Rights Reserved.

Protests that erupted in Vieques last week the U.S. Navy resumed weapons training might have been averted had residents of the small island off Puerto Rico felt at ease with the agreement that could end the Navy's presence entirely. (Las protestas que se produjeron la semana pasada en Vieques como consecuencia del reinicio de las maniobras con armas de la Marina de los Estados Unidos, se hubieran podido evitar si los residentes de la pequeña isla que se ubica frente a las costas de Puerto Rico, hubieran visto con buenos ojos el convenio que podría poner punto final a la presencia de la Marina.)

The compromise reached in January between the Clinton administration and Puerto Rico 's Gov. Pedro J. Rossello was a fair one. It allows the Navy to continue training -- that is, shelling a target area with non-explosive bombs -- until residents decide in a referendum whether they want a Navy pullout by May 1, 2003.

But the Navy gets to choose the date for the vote, which must occur between August of this year and January 2002.

The agreement also gives Vieques residents $40 million in economic aid and turns over the western third of the island, now used by the Navy as an ammunition deport, to its residents, subject to approval by the U.S. Senate.

When the agreement was announced, many leaders in Puerto Rico urged the Navy to set a date for the referendum. Specifying a date, they said, would assure the protesters who first occupied the target site in April 1999 that a final resolution of the issue is near.

The Navy hasn't listened and protesters who were removed from the range in early May returned when the shelling resumed recently. Two sailors were hurt and 135 demonstrators had to be evicted.

The Navy, which still regards Vieques as the only suitable place to conduct its training, says it wants time before the vote to show it can be a good neighbor.

That should not prevent officials from setting a date for the referendum. Being coy invites more trouble.

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