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Washington Post


Island Casualty

May 3, 1999
Copyright © 1999 The Washington Post Company

VIEQUES IS A gentle little Caribbean island that is just off -- and part of -- the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. At 52 square miles (the size of the District) and with 9,000 residents, it is also known as the largest area in the hemisphere for U.S. military exercises with live ammunition and the only place where bombing occurs near a substantial civilian population. This is how a Puerto Rican civilian security guard was killed and four others injured when a Marine F/A-18 dropped two 500-pound bombs near their guard post two weeks ago.

A bad accident, you might say, one for which regrets and compensation should be duly rendered. Except that it is more than an isolated accident. It is the latest instance of predictable harm to the people of Vieques that goes back through decades of military neglect of island interests. Vieques has been a prime training location for the fleet charged with safeguarding the United States' Caribbean interests. An uncounted number of the Marine and Navy pilots dropping live ordnance there simply have had no notion that people -- fellow American citizens -- lived there.

This time around, with all Puerto Rican parties in high dudgeon, the Navy temporarily has ceased the use of live ammo. The halt ought to be permanent.

The military can find another site. There simply should be no bombing on a small inhabited island. The real answer, however, is not expedient but structural. Like residents of the District, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens without a vote in Congress. That leaves them at the full mercy of powerful interests beyond their political reach. That shouldn't be.

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