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Orlando Sentinel Editorial

No More Live Runs In Vieques

May 16, 1999
Copyright © 1999 Orlando Sentinel

David Sanes Rodriguez didn't know that it was his day to die. He simply was doing his duty as a civilian guard April 19 at the United States Navy base in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Suddenly, a U.S. warplane accidentally dropped bombs near Mr. Rodriguez's observation post, killing him and injuring others.

That tragic incident underscored not only the risks of military training but the ongoing dangers posed to the 9,300 nearby residents just 10 miles away. Vieques is one of a handful of places where the U.S. military practices bombing near a sizable population.

The bombing should stop -- permanently. The Navy temporarily has suspended use of live ammunition at the Vieques test range.

Two interests must be balanced here -- the need of the U.S. military to train and the need of civilians to be safe.

The U.S. base at Vieques serves vital functions, such as helping in the fight against drugs and teaching essential skills, such as special-warfare training. Also, it is a combined military-force range, used by all the services. In other words, the base's status ought not be at issue.

But there are plenty of training alternatives, such as using nonexplosive bombs -- like 80 percent of the ammunition now used at Vieques. The Navy could look for uninhabited locations for practice with live ammunition. The Navy could pay greater attention to safety.

Such steps wouldn't compromise the base's effectiveness but would allow the people of Vieques to breathe more easily.

Puerto Rico finds itself at a disadvantage in matters such as this. As a commonwealth of the United States, it lacks political clout at the national level. But Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, entitled to the same protections as other Americans.

Puerto Ricans, known for their lively debate of political issues, stand unified against the use of live ammunition at Vieques.

They deserve to be heard.

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