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Puerto Rico loses its strategic military importance


March 31, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

In less than two months, Puerto Rico will learn whether Fort Buchanan will appear on the list of U.S. military installations targeted for closing or realignment under the federal Base Realignment & Closure Act of 1990 (BRAC). The likelihood that Fort Buchanan, the last U.S. military installation in Puerto Rico, will appear on the BRAC list is more than probable.

Little has been done by the Commonwealth government to keep the base off the BRAC list scheduled to be released on May 16, and with time quickly running out, we have yet to hear Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá voicing his strong support to help keep Fort Buchanan from closing. In fact, as one retired Army general says, the governor didn’t even mention the U.S. in his recent speeches much less express support for the military installation’s permanence.

Could it be that politics and partisan battles are keeping the governor from strongly expressing his support for Fort Buchanan? After all, the military base is located in the heart of Bayamón and Guaynabo, municipalities that are overwhelmingly New Progressive Party strongholds. There is also the fact that independentistas want all U.S. military operations out of Puerto Rico, and Acevedo Vilá knows that without their vote he wouldn’t be governor and couldn’t be re-elected.

The impact of closing Fort Buchanan goes beyond partisan politics. With Fort Buchanan gone, Puerto Rico ceases to be a strategic military site of importance for the U.S. Furthermore, the island will lose another $200 million for the local economy, bringing the impact of recent base closings to our economy to well over $2 billion. This at a time when Puerto Rico’s economy has been struggling and the Commonwealth is dealing with the worst fiscal crisis it has faced in the past 50 years. The closing of Fort Buchanan will also mean the loss of necessary services provided to more than 100,000 American citizens on the island and their families, who are either active duty, civilian, or retired personnel, and in one way or another have worked in defense of our country.

Unlike districts on the mainland where U.S. bases are being considered for closure or realignment, Puerto Rico does not have representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress with the vote and political power to save the base. Governors throughout the nation have been working aggressively to prevent bases from closings in their states. Although Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño has met with high-level Pentagon officials to keep Fort Buchanan open, he has found it difficult to overcome the negative sentiment that emerged in Washington during the Calderón administration and which continues today.

While Puerto Rico will have to accept the loss of its strategic military importance, it still has the opportunity to transform these former military bases into areas of economic development and of military value to our country. For example, the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station has the potential to become one of the most important transshipment ports in the Western Hemisphere, near the east-west trade routes that cross the Mona Passage, the only access to and from the Panama Canal. Transforming Roosevelt Roads into a world-class transshipment harbor also leaves the port as a potential naval base under the U.S. flag in case of war or threats to the Panama Canal. Fort Buchanan also sits on highly valuable property in the San Juan metro area that, if well planned, can generate substantial economic and social growth. The former Sabana Seca base in Toa Baja has over 2,000 acres of prime property just minutes from San Juan, yet nothing is being done to develop the site.

These sites all have tremendous economic potential, and Puerto Rico can’t afford to repeat the mistakes made with the Ramey Air Force Base in Aguadilla, Sabana Seca, Culebra, and other bases the local government has acquired over the years.

The economic impact of Ramey’s lands in the 30 years since it was turned over to the government of Puerto Rico has been minimal compared to what could have been if the Commonwealth, over those three decades, had understood true economic development and had the vision. Puerto Rico must not allow the same to happen to Roosevelt Roads, Sabana Seca, and Fort Buchanan.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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