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The Orange County Register
July 2, 2000
It's easy to sympathize with Vieques , the Puerto Rican island that the U.S. Navy uses for artillery practice. Tired of the constant drubbing, residents engaged in massive protests last week, which ended with many arrests, several injured soldiers and much ill will. The use of violence against U.S. soldiers was not justifiable, but the frustration residents have experienced certainly is.
Imagine our communities beset, not just by some noise from commercial airliners, but from weeks of artillery bombing, thundering fighter jets practicing overhead, constant shelling on uninhabited areas that leaves beaches and landscape barren and pockmarked.
Exercises have stopped for now. Yet there's a legitimate fear among residents and their politicians that the United States military will do whatever it wants to do.
The Navy claims that no other place on Earth offers the advantages of shelling the tiny island municipality. It offers the Navy air, sea and land exercises in one convenient location. But Vieques residents are still angry about an errant bomb that killed a security guard and injured four other civilians last year, and they say that the bombing disrupts their lives, destroys fishing habitats and mars the island.
The bombing started again earlier this month, but under the rules of a new agreement. The Navy would only use non-explosive shells, would reduce the number of days it used the base, would provide economic aid to the region and would agree to a referendum on its continued presence there in 2002, according to reports.
But that didn't halt the protests. There's still the noise, the safety issues, the environmental destruction, the sense that the referendum is too far in the future and that the Navy might squirm out from it.
What is particularly galling to Puerto Ricans is that they have no real say over the matter. Their politicians can complain and bluster, but they have no voting representation in the U.S. government.
So it's no surprise that the Vieques issue has brought forward deep-seated resentments. It has ignited the Puerto Rican Independence Party, which wants to make Puerto Rico an independent nation.
What should be done with Puerto Rico - continuing its current status, independence or statehood - should be left for another day. But as long as the United States claims control over the island it should exercise its authority there with compassion and restraint.