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New York Post

The Future Of Vieques, Battle To Accelerate

December 15, 2000
Copyright © 2000 N.Y.P. Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Vieques is back in the news.

On Monday, Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, along with outgoing Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello, set next Nov. 6 as the date that the 9,300 residents of Vieques , Puerto Rico , will vote yea or nay on ousting the Navy from its 50-plus-year-old target range.

The Navy argues, convincingly, that it needs Vieques so that its aviators and gunners can sharpen their skills - especially before overseas deployments that could involve live-weapon flights over Iraq and other hotspots.

Opponents - many active in the Puerto Rican independence movement - want the Navy simply to get lost.

Would that it were so simple.

The Vieques range is the principal reason that the sea service maintains the Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, a nearby base through which some $300 million is pumped into the Puerto Rican economy each year.

No Vieques , no Roosevelt Roads - and no 4,900 civilian jobs.

Ask supporters of the erstwhile Staten Island Naval Homeport what happens when a base-closure committee can no longer find utility in a facility.

Presto-disappearo, that's what.

Truth be told, most of the opponents view the Vieques issue as a club with which to beat the United States Navy, and the nation which it serves.

That message resonates in an age of global separatism.

But the Navy needs Vieques - at least until an adequate alternative can be found. (We nominate the Kennedy compound on Cape Cod.)

And it would seem that Puerto Rico needs, if not the Navy, then the jobs Roosevelt Roads provides.

There should be a basis for compromise - provided that the issue is approached in good faith.

Is that asking so much?


Battle Over Vieques To Accelerate

By Iván Román

December 18, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- The date is set for the unprecedented referendum for voters in Vieques to decide if, after 60 years of bombs and displacement, the U.S. Navy stays or goes.

Between now and Nov. 6, the race is on to win the hearts and minds of the island municipality`s 7,000 voters. The agreement hammered out between officials in Washington and San Juan allows training with dummy bombs until May 2003 at the Vieques target range, the Navy`s premier training facility in the Atlantic.

What happens after that date will be decided at the polls, so each side in this intense confrontation has to make its case.

Among the Navy`s salvos: $40 million in economic-development projects, four pianos, 140 new jobs, and a boat ride and visit for 32 Vieques elementary-school children to the Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba, across the channel from Vieques.

Navy spokesperson Ruth Diaz said a handful of people have already been selected to fill the carpentry, plumbing and office jobs being offered -- half on Camp Garcia in Vieques and the rest on Roosevelt Roads. Daily transportation will be free.

Military and civilian Navy personnel gathered donations for four new pianos for schools in Vieques when teachers complained they didn`t have musical instruments. And 32 children were brought by boat for a day of fun and friendship Thursday at the base`s elementary school.

Children from the base`s school welcomed the Vieques children with a Christmas concert. Then they paired off as buddies during computer and math classes. They had lunch together, and the Marine Corps` Toys for Tots program gave out toys.

"This is part of our being a good neighbor, which we want to be," Diaz said. "This has nothing to do with buying votes."

But Adm. Kevin Green, who heads the Navy`s Southern Command, has said he wanted to complete the economic-development projects and other goodwill efforts before the referendum for a reason -- action could be the Navy`s best campaign tools.

"The Navy fully realizes it must devote more resources to community relations in Vieques, and be the economic force that it is in civilian communities such as in eastern Puerto Rico," he said in The San Juan Star. "We are appealing to the people of Vieques that it is not too late."

Critics beg to differ.

Two-thirds of Vieques voters last month backed mayoral candidates who want an immediate end to all bombing exercises. Many blame the Navy for their having to live on one quarter of the 52-square-mile island. They say the Navy has taken the best beaches, is strangling tourism and the economy, and has polluted the island.

The Navy denies these charges and is trying to develop a new image. But given that the Navy has let residents down in the past, some of its critics think this latest attempt won`t work.

"They started this before the elections and didn`t get the results they wanted," mayor-elect Damaso Serrano said. "I don`t think people will let themselves be fooled by this ruse."

But others fear some goodwill can be bought. They complain that the directives let the Navy set the referendum date, giving them more time to win people over.

Furthermore, they say, the option of an immediate halt to all bombing will not be on the ballot. If those who think the referendum is undemocratic stay home, it gives pro-Navy votes more weight.

That`s why Gov.-elect Sila Maria Calderon wants to hold a referendum on her terms. She rebuffed the Navy`s threats to block the transfer of 8,000 acres of land by Dec. 31 and halt economic-development projects if she didn`t commit to the agreement.

She reaffirmed her pledge to reopen negotiations on the issue, remove police support at the Navy camp`s gates in Vieques and impose environmental regulations that would hinder military exercises.

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