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Miami Herald Editorial

No Place For Bombs Amid Civilians

Small island off Puerto Rico used for Navy target practice.

May 20, 1999
Copyright © 1999 Miami Herald

In the tiny community of Vieques off Puerto Rico's southeast coast, the inevitable finally happened. A U.S. Marine Corps fighter jet badly missed its target last month and dropped two 500-pound bombs on an observation post, killing a civilian security guard and injuring several other persons.

Many of the 9,300 islanders were outraged, and protesters demanded that the bombing be stopped. They have a point.

No doubt the base is important for U. S. military training exercises. But it also is one of the few U. S. military installations anywhere where live bombs are so near a civilian population. President Clinton should order an immediate and permanent halt to the use of bombs and live ammunition on the island.

So far, the Navy temporarily has suspended the use of bombs and live ammunition on Vieques while it conducts an investigation of what went wrong, and why. Even so, Gov. Pedro Rossello wrote President Clinton a letter requesting a permanent ban on the use of such weapons on the island.

Vieques is only 52 square miles, but the Navy occupies two-thirds of the island's total acreage and controls facilities on the island's east and west sides, with the civilian population sandwiched in the middle. It takes no genius to predict the inevitable -- civilians in the bull's-eye would be killed.

Though geographically small and relatively obscure, the base is important to a number of U. S. operations, including anti-drug training for Customs, FBI and DEA agents, disaster relief and preparation, a proving ground for Navy Seabees and realistic training operations for pilots and aircraft headed for Kosovo.

The Navy has apologized for the incident and promises more precautions in the future. But that's not enough. The United States should find a better, safer place for practicing with bombs and live ammunition -- someplace far away from civilian populations.

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